Haidar Awad ’09
Businessman / Hawthorne City Council Member

Oftentimes, the greatest leaders are the ones who are willing to take the biggest risks. They are always moving forward, not just for themselves, but for the benefit of others. Alumnus Haidar Awad ’09 is a leader who checks those boxes, and more. Following graduation, he received a degree in Business Administration from UC Riverside and returned to his hometown of Hawthorne to put his business and financial skills to work at his family’s business, Hawthorne Auto Square. As the Head of Strategic Development, he brought the company into the digital age with a new marketing plan. Within a few years, Hawthorne Auto Square has become the fastest growing auto dealership in the South Bay. Always looking to learn and improve, Haidar earned an MBA last year from USC’s prestigious Marshall School of Business and this year received a Master’s in Public Administration from USC’s Price School of Public Policy.

In his role at Hawthorne Auto Square, he witnessed firsthand how government policy can have an impact, both positively or negatively, on local businesses and residents. He watched his hometown suffer for a decade with scandal, mismanagement, and fiscal malfeasance. No longer content with just voting, Haidar jumped into the political realm with the idea that he could make a positive impact using his degree, skills, and experience. In 2015, he ran for a seat on Hawthorne’s City Council and, at age 24, became the youngest elected official at that time. Now into his fifth year on the city council—serving two of those years as Mayor Pro Tem—he decided to take the bold risk of giving up the safety of his city council seat to run for Mayor of Hawthorne. “My goal is to take our city to the next level,” says Haidar.

Describe your role as a leader in your profession. What, in your opinion, is the most important quality that a leader must possess?

“Although I have two professions—public servant and businessman—they have similar roles: to motivate, communicate, establish accountability, build relationships, and make informed decisions. Compassion and empathy is the most important quality, in my opinion, that any leader should have. Regardless of style, leadership is about ‘leading’ or guiding people, and there are many ways to achieve it. With compassion, a leader can work with anyone under any circumstances, hear them and see them as a person of value. As a leader, compassion will source your language, style, motivation, purpose, and so on. Although your question didn’t ask, a close second is deep listening.”

How would you describe your leadership style?

“I would describe my style as both strategic and transformational. Strategic leaders can see where we are today with clarity. They have a vision for the future and can plan a path to take everyone along. Articulating that plan so everyone understands it and sees their role in getting there is critical. ‘Transforming’ is about improvement. Its source is not making wrong what you are currently doing or where you are. Rather, it is about innovation and looking forward. President J.F. Kennedy said, ‘Some men see things as they are, and ask why. I dream of things that never were, and ask why not’.”

What are some examples that illustrate your leadership style?

“In May, I secured a COVID-19 testing center for Hawthorne residents after working with the Governor’s Coronavirus Testing Task Force and the County of Los Angeles. There were so many elements, some out of my control, that needed to coalesce to make this happen. At times it was by sheer willpower and the need to help our community that drove the project. Today, the free testing center is a major factor to reopening Hawthorne, the county, and the state, and is recognized as a regional success while other centers have closed.”

“Last year, I assembled leaders from veteran organizations throughout Los Angeles County and formed a Veterans Housing Collaborative. It resulted in a comprehensive plan to develop a city-owned vacant lot into a veterans’ affordable housing project focused on families and providing wrap-around services.”

As a leader in your profession, what qualities do you try to cultivate in others?

“People are everything. Both at the family business and in the City of Hawthorne, I encourage others to take risks, obtain more training and education, listen as much as possible, read, and spend time with family and friends.”

What leadership qualities did you learn while you were a student at BMHS? Were there any faculty or staff members who had an impact on your life?

“Bishop Montgomery gave me a powerful sense of morality, service to others, and, even though I’m not Catholic, spirituality. It says something that my Muslim parents, who wanted me to have the best education available, chose to send me to Bishop Montgomery. The entire faculty and staff at Bishop collectively helped shape who I am today. I am deeply grateful for all of them and for all the values they have instilled in me.”

Who are some people in your life who inspire you to lead?

“My father and all his sacrifices to raise me, my sister, and two brothers are the primary people who inspire me. My father escaped Lebanon during the civil war. He came to the United States with nothing and built a successful family business. His struggles inspired my interest in business and instilled in me the values of hard work, integrity, and the importance of having a good education. Because of his sacrifice and example, I now have a Master of Business Administration (MBA) and Master of Public Administration (MPA) from USC and am keeping his legacy alive by working in the family business.”

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