Khalid Mohammed Abdulrahim credits GCU with helping him deliver Bahrain’s F1 circuit. Chris Fitzgerald moves through the gears of the honorary graduate’s fascinating story.
The fact that Khalid Mohammed Abdulrahim owns the Mini Cooper driven by Peter Sellers in the Pink Panther film shouldn’t come as a surprise. The man is as obsessive about collecting cars as he is about construction and philanthropy.
And while it is the latter two that resulted in him being awarded an honorary degree by GCU in June this year, the point serves to highlight that Khalid applies the same level of dedication to anything he pursues.
Founder and chairman of the KAR Group headquartered in the Kingdom of Bahrain, Khalid is predominantly concerned with the property and construction industries.
With a string of inspiring projects under his belt, it is the £100million construction of the Bahrain Formula 1 circuit in 2004 that he counts as his most impressive.
“I submitted the tender in 2002,” he recalls. “The project was 10 times larger than anything I had done before. In fact, people said it was too big for me to take on, that I would fail. I took this as a challenge. I find nothing more motivating.”
Despite the complexity of the project, Khalid decided simultaneously to study a Masters in Construction Management at GCU, to help him better understand the theory behind the process he was already so familiar with. This proved invaluable when his F1 project hit a potential skid.
“The brief stated the project had to be completed by May 2004,” says Khalid. “It had to be ready for the first race of the season. The penalty for being late was £30million. So when F1 suddenly told me they now wanted the circuit ready for April instead of May, I was faced with a crisis.”
The project was the brainchild of the Crown Prince of Bahrain, who had sought advice from another GCU honorary graduate, Sir Jackie Stewart, on how to promote the circuit.
“His Highness asked me outright, ‘can it be achieved, yes or no?’,” Khalid remembers. “He gave me one week to answer.”
Late nights of scheduling, planning and productivity followed, all of the things Khalid had learned while studying his Masters. Applying his learned theory, he was able to go back to the Crown Prince to deliver a confident ‘yes’. Needless to say, he went on to deliver.
“The Bahrain government had even asked international contractors to prepare a report on the project and all of them said it could not be finished on time. The word they used was impossible.
“When I collected my Award for Services to the People of Bahrain from the King, I smiled at that word impossible. That success has now become my brand.”
It is a success he says he owes to one place. Glasgow Caledonian University.
“A friend of mine told me it was the place to go. Thank god I listened to him. My education at GCU allowed me to take that calculated risk with the F1 circuit. It gave me the confidence to commit because I had considered all eventualities in a structured and methodical way. I am beholden to GCU for all it has taught me.”
As a token of gratitude, Khalid has been a generous contributor to the University for the past decade or so. His donations have helped fund prizes, study trips and even an Arabic language and culture course for students planning to study in Dubai.
“I want to give students every chance. I was not so fortunate,” Khalid says, referring to his first attempt at studying a degree, which was cut short when he was asked to return from St Edwards University in Austin, Texas, to Bahrain and the family business.
“My father owned a company that was concerned with earthworks and roadworks. In 1979, he left the company to me and my three brothers. The two elder brothers took over but there was family pressure, so I had to return. I worked with my brothers as I wanted to expand into construction, but they didn’t. They said it was too risky. I wanted to do something big, so I took my share from my brothers and started my own company. That is how the KAR Group eventually came into being.”
Perhaps the most significant use of Khalid’s donations has been the establishment of the KAR Construction Scholarship Programme within the School of Engineering and Built Environment, which enables GCU students to experience international construction first hand. Now entering its fifth year, the KAR Scholarship continues to enhance students’ preparation for the working world and create new networks for GCU.
“The KAR scholarship helps keep my relationship with the University active,” Khalid says.
“It helps create the engineers of tomorrow. Engineers who may one day come to work for me.”
Away from his business, Khalid is something of a philanthropist, supporting charities, societies and sports development, all of which chimes with the University’s commitment to the common good.
“I believe in giving back,” he says. “I support the Red Crescent Society, Al Noor Institute of the Blind and several other medical-related societies, as well as the development of places of worship – Muslim, Hindu and Christian, among a great many others.”
What little spare time he has, he devotes to his car collection, which includes unique and rare vehicles from supercars to the aforementioned Peter Sellers Mini Cooper.
“My chief executive [ironically, also called Peter Sellers] read an article on the most famous Mini Coopers in the world,” Khalid explains. “One of these belonged to the late actor Peter Sellers. My chief exec joked, ‘Wouldn’t it be cool if you owned this’. I said, ‘Yes it would, buy it’.”
Khalid’s collection also boasts an Aston Martin DB5 that belonged to Mark Knopfler of Dire Straits; a Lamborghini that belonged to Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, the late Shah of Iran; and a Jaguar that belonged to Phil Hill, the only American-born F1 champion.
“I’ve always had a passion for cars, but working with F1 people really increased my education and love of these vehicles. It’s not frivolous, though. They are an investment as well as a hobby.”