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GEEK OF THE WEEK: MOHAD ALI

by Nicole Wright | Nov 19, 2014
mohad-ali Super Client Advocate Hero

According to Mohad Ali, you can learn a lot about life from comic books—even what your next career will be. At least that was the case when Mohad was in high school and under pressure to choose a major for his university application. He didn’t yearn for a particular vocation, nor did he know what he wanted to study, so he figured he’d just pick something that reflected his interests at the time: comic books. At that point in his life, he and his friends were deeply immersed in the world of comic book icons, with Iron Man, Green Arrow and Batman among his favourites—all were businessmen by day, heroes by night. “Their day jobs were as interesting to me as their night lives, so I figured a career in business could be pretty exciting,” Mohad says. “If I’d been reading Spider-Man or Superman at the time, I probably would’ve studied journalism.” And with that logic—or lack thereof, he admits—he attended York University and earned a Bachelor of Administrative Studies degree.

After completing his undergrad education, Mohad worked as a Program Support Officer at the Certified Management Accounts of Ontario. But he wanted to further develop his business skills, so he applied to the University of Ottawa for a master’s of business administration. During this time he had the opportunity to work on a project with the Canadian Soccer Association as a management consultant, and he recalls the excitement of trying to expand the Team Canada brand in advance of the 2015 FIFA Women’s World Cup. “At the time I was playing soccer with some guys from my program who were born in France, Paraguay, Peru and Senegal,” recalls Mohad. “So we figured we all had to work on the project together. These guys were totally passionate about the sport.”

His MBA program coursework required team effort, juggling multiple projects and deadlines. But as a self-described serial procrastinator, Mohad says his natural inclination was to stall when deadlines loomed. Back in high school, he’d routinely pull all-nighters to prepare for exams. But the team-focused approach of the MBA program meant embracing a more disciplined style, and he grudgingly adopted a new attitude.

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With his newly-minted MBA degree, Mohad undertook an internship as a market analyst at Bell Mobility but he remained intrigued by the world of market research. He says much of what he learned about marketing during his undergraduate studies was applicable to the performance management and analytics projects he did during his MBA studies, so he figured he could combine research and management into some kind of career. After applying online, he landed a position as a Client Advocate in the finance, insurance, technology and telecommunications practice at Environics Analytics (EA). He describes his job as fast-paced and intense and, given the ever-shifting deadlines, he simply can’t procrastinate. But he admits some of his most gratifying moments come from working with his colleagues under tight deadlines. “My teammates are smart and have different skill sets and backgrounds,” he says with a smile, “so I’m always learning new ways of approaching problems and finding solutions.”

On a typical day, Mohad finds himself analyzing client data for one project, using data to tell a story for another presentation and verifying numbers for another project. But he says the best part of the job is playing with the “toys” like EA’s ENVISION software or the Tableau data-visualization tool—which he uses to enhance a data-based story and bring consumers and markets to life. The days are full, but once he steps out of the office and pushes the elevator button, he leaves the challenges of the day behind. “At that moment,” he says, “I move into another mindset. Once I’m out of the building, I can hardly even remember the address.”

That’s probably because his mind is on to his latest personal challenge. Mohad makes a point of experimenting with new pursuits each year, and he’s currently expanding his skillset with martial arts, ball hockey and web design. He also enjoys listening to all types of hip-hop and says he finds the genre inspiring as many artists narrate stories of overcoming adversity while enjoying life to the fullest. He particularly appreciates older songs by performers like The Roots, A Tribe Called Quest and Rakim, as well as current hits from Drake, 2Chainz and Rick Ross; they serve as motivation at the gym and good cruising tunes while in the car. Mohad admits a love-hate relationship with working out so, to remain true to his fitness commitment, he marks off gym days on a calendar with an “X.” At the end of the month, he proudly totals the gym days, though he confesses some months are X-less.

"This one retired guy was doing pull-ups one after another. He did so many reps that I became exhausted just watching him."

Born in Texas, Mohad came to Toronto with his family when he was a toddler. He lived in the same area in a northwest Toronto neighbourhood with his mother and three sisters most of his early years. After going to graduate school in Ottawa, he moved back home with his family, now living in Etobicoke. According to the PRIZMC2 segmentation system, the community is classified Grey Pride (middle-class, suburban condominium-dwelling seniors). And though he doesn’t match the demographic profile of most area residents, Mohad observes that seniors have a unique culture all their own.

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“They’re three times my age and the level of ethnic diversity is very different from the neighbourhood where I grew up” he says, noting that longtime residents know neighbours and nearby shops so well that impromptu conversations on street corners are common. With most retired, they also have the time to go to the gym regularly—a fact not lost on Mohad. “Their willingness and commitment to take care of their health is amazing,” he says. “I remember one time when I was in the gym trying to muster up the energy to work out, and this one retired guy was doing pull-ups one after another. He did so many reps that I became exhausted just watching him.”

While other neighbours may prefer knitting and fishing, Mohad and his friends indulge in more Millennial-appropriate activities. He describes a shameless pleasure as an entire Saturday spent watching superhero movies or scanning the entertainment websites for news on comic books, superhero movies or the latest video games like Mario Kart 8. In the evening, they might catch an action adventure or sci-fi film. A self-professed entertainment junkie who will watch anything, he jokes that he’s probably shortened his lifespan sitting through some pretty bad films. But he admits that, since he’s an introvert, movies are the perfect form of socializing: he can be with friends without talking. Regardless of whether the movie is Oscar-worthy or a rotten tomato, afterward the gang will head to a restaurant and critique the film or debate the next best video-game. According to Mohad, the soon-to-be-released Super Smash Brothers game looks like a must-play.

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But Mohad isn’t just a super-hero spectator. Each year, he tries to attend the Fan Expo convention in Toronto, where fellow devotees can gather to celebrate science fiction, anime, horror, comic books and gaming. This year, he even convinced his girlfriend to join him. He maintains his enthusiasm was mostly restrained compared to his kid-in-a-candy-store behaviour in 2012, when he attended the famous comic book convention, Comic-Con, in San Diego.

Yet for all the costumes, glitz and geeks, Mohad insists that the comic book world offers important lessons “like keeping a level head and maintaining your principles under difficult circumstances” he says. With his quiet nature, Mohad listens first, thinks for a bit and then acts, following his personal philosophy to maintain a closed mouth and an open mind. It’s an approach that has served him well, whether he’s gearing up for the hoopla surrounding the release of a new superhero comic book or tackling a difficult analytics project. And it’s what any good businessman-by-day and super-hero-by-night would do.

—Nicole Wright