Kyle McEneaney graduated with an AM in Middle Eastern Studies in 2007. Since graduating he has worked in consulting and investment banking, specializing in Iraq’s emerging economy. He is currently based in Dubai and works with an Iraqi group of companies focused on the oil and gas sector in Iraq.
What brought you to CMES?
I was attracted to CMES because of the array of different disciplines represented within the faculty and curriculum, as well as the broad range of intellectual resources available at Harvard. I entered with the intent to pursue a PhD in modern Middle Eastern history, but I wanted to get exposure to a variety of topics so that I could hone my focus on the handful that I found most interesting.
How did your academic interest develop while you were at Harvard? Did you find a specialization?
In fact, all that academic diversity that I valued actually made it somewhat difficult to focus in on a single area—I was interested in everything! Ultimately, though, I discovered a fascination with cities, urban history, and the intersection of social interactions with the built environment that became my primary academic interest. This interest was incubated in Susan Miller’s fabulous course on the Mediterranean city and nurtured in Cemal Kafadar’s illuminating course on the pre-modern Ottoman era, but I was lucky also to have great cross-pollination through the Graduate School of Design.
When you think back, what aspect of the program challenged your thinking most?
I greatly enjoyed the process of writing an AM thesis. There are all sorts of things you learn while conducting original scholarship that spur your intellectual development and growth in ways that you can’t necessarily recreate in a more structured, classroom environment. It’s very rewarding to learn from yourself, and you make so many mistakes that there are many learning opportunities!
For someone who is interested in “moving into the real world,” how did you feel coming out of Harvard? Did you have a perspective that others without your degree didn’t have?
After I graduated I still intended to pursue a PhD in history after taking a year off to work in between, but I found that I really enjoyed working in the private sector and so I stuck with it. The training I received at CMES was quite useful; I began working in consulting, performing political risk analysis and market research, which relied primarily on my regional knowledge, language skills, and writing ability.
Can you tell us about your current job, and what’s next?
I am based in Dubai and advise an Iraqi family conglomerate on business development and corporate strategy. Prior to this, I was the head of the Middle East practice at Ergo, which provides market research, political risk analysis, and a variety of other consulting services to clients investing in emerging markets. I was also a vice president at Northern Gulf Partners, an Iraq-focused investment firm. In the long term I expect to continue to use the insights I have developed into Middle East markets and the relationships I have built here to facilitate business between the US and the Middle East and vice versa.
What sorts of challenges has your work in Iraq brought you? How has your CMES background prepared you?
Iraq has been an incredibly interesting place to work, rife with challenges and opportunities. I think the instinct to question assumptions is the most valuable skill I developed at CMES that has served me in my work in Iraq. It’s an information-poor environment, and you really have to work to get to the bottom of any issue, whether it is how to incorporate a company, how to drive from Basra to Najaf, or what the demand is for hotels in Erbil. You have to be prepared to use different data sources and to evaluate different arguments to make sound decisions.
—Interview conducted by Salmaan Mirza (CMES AM '13); published November 2013.