If Mohammad Manki had it his way, he would live several lives simultaneously to satisfy his thirst for diversity of experience. As director of legal and corporate affairs for communications multinational MDA Corporation, he’s found the next best thing.
Manki has always sought out opportunities that would take him out of his comfort zone and give him exposure to different ideas and cultures. Indeed, it was a long and wide-ranging journey, both professionally and geographically, that finally brought him to the legal field and to his role with the Vancouver-based MDA.
He earned his undergraduate degree in business administration at Simon Fraser University. While learning the nuts and bolts of business and the strategies of profitability, he found himself fascinated with how organizations shape identity. Finding himself drawn more to academic theory than administration, he decided not to go for a master’s degree. Instead, he entered a program in organizational and social psychology at the London School of Economics, where he developed an influential thesis on how workers draw on other aspects of their social identity to resist organizational change.
“Power is totalizing,” Manki says, “but people have complex identities. They’re not just workers or managers; they are also parents, members of religious organizations, or leaders in their communities. They call on the unstable interplay between these identities to develop strategies to resist.”
As graduation approached, Manki was accepted to a doctoral program at Cambridge, but an opportunity emerged—a Government of Canada-funded internship with the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe that would take him to Croatia to do development work. He jumped at it.
“I thought, before I commit to a four-year program, I’m going to take a year out and do something completely different that I’ve always found interesting and important,” Manki recalls.
He was stationed in Vukovar, Croatia, a war-torn city in the country’s furthest eastern province, right on the Serbian border. Vukovar was where local forces quickly mobilized to defend the city against Serb forces. The war was over, but the ethnic composition of the town—a mixture of Serbs and Croats—reflected the fracture of national identity that occurred with the breakup of the former Yugoslavia.
Manki helped implement legislation to protect minority rights and worked on proving people’s property rights to residences in a country that had just gone through civil war. The experience was profound for Manki in many ways, not the least of which was in how it helped him realize that a legal career could gather all of his passions together and aim them toward very pragmatic ends. It was a way to put theory in action.
“We were dealing with fundamental legal issues,” Manki recalls. “We were looking at maintaining basic rule of law, protecting minority rights, recognizing property rights, and trying to understand how that structure is the bedrock of a society. I realized law was such a powerful and important tool and decided this was the direction I wanted to move in.”
With his decision made, Manki let Cambridge know he wouldn’t be attending, took his LSAT, and entered law school at the University of British Columbia. After graduation, he clerked at the British Columbia Court of Appeal for a year before working for the prominent regional law firm Farris, Vaughan, Wills & Murphy LLP. Shortly thereafter, an opportunity came up to work with one of the firm’s affiliates in Dubai, and he took it. That experience in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, turned into one of the most rewarding personal experiences of his life. He became steeped in the culture of the Gulf region, as well as becoming a part of the large expat community.
But as much as he noticed differences, Manki also noticed similarities that would serve him throughout his career. “Commercial deals are universal,” he says. “They are overlaid with a body of rules, regulations, and laws, but the basics of a business deal are the same the world over.”
“Commercial deals are universal. They are overlaid with a body of rules, regulations, and laws, but the basics of a business deal are the same the world over.”
Manki returned to Farris, where MDA was a client, after spending a year in Dubai. After learning more about MDA, Manki became enamoured with the company, as it’s one of the few multinational technology companies based in his hometown of Vancouver. Manki had determined, when law became his career, that he wanted to work with multiple countries and cultures, but he also wanted to be near family.
MDA brought all of these pieces together, so he approached the company to show what values he could bring. “I was here to convince them to take me because I thought my background would benefit them,” he says. “It was me who was selling it.”
At MDA, Manki has had the opportunity to work on transactions in the United States, the United Kingdom, Brazil, Russia, Ukraine, Indonesia, Bangladesh, India, and Azerbaijan, to name a few.
Manki says this international aspect is one of the things he loves most about working for MDA. Another is the way the company continually, and boldly, reinvents itself. In 2008, the company tried to sell its space division to an American company, but the Canadian government blocked the deal, ruling that the sale was not a net benefit to Canada. In response to the ruling, MDA altered its course and doubled down on its space division.
“These guys are all over the world and constantly changing,” he says in admiration. The same could be said for Manki.