Women at the Helm

Post 7 of 1734

It takes guts and gumption to forge your own path. But for these women, making the hard calls is all in a day’s
work. Yasmeen Maqbool and Sharon Carvalho sat down with some of the most powerful women in the country to find out what it takes to run your own business


Fatma Buti Al Mheiri

Chairman of Dubai Quality Group

Dubai Quality Group is a non-profit organization set up by the Dubai Department of Economic Development
under the patronage of H.H. Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed Al Maktoum. Guided by the vision of H. H. Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, Dubai Quality Group was established in 1994 to develop and promote Quality and Business Excellences practices in UAE. DQG organizes mainly Quality and Business Excellence topics related training programmes and events throughout the year with the objective of improving and promoting Quality of Service and Business Excellence in the Region.

What is common between an under graduate in Business Administration, a member of the Dubai Chamber of Commerce and the Chairman of a non-profit organisation?
The common point would be the zeal and enthusiasm to strive and better myself, which has always been my drive. It is this passion and commitment that has catapulted me from one position to the next. I envision a change towards progression and this helps me achieve what I am set out for.

As a 7/8 year old, who did you want to be?
Being educated in a government school where Arabic was the medium of instruction, I motivated myself to learn the English language. Dolls never amused me as a child. With the limited resources available to me I would buy English magazines, books and watch movies to tutor myself in the language. I would pick up the Yellow Pages and start checking it out from the left as that would be in English and pretended to read something important and start signing. Thus, role playing a manager appealed me. With growing exposure, my interest in studying management picked up and I completed my Masters in International Business from the University of Wollongong, Dubai Campus.

What’s the difference between a boss and a leader?
As a leader we must have a clear vision, passion and commitment towards what we believe in and towards those who have instated their trust in us. But to answer the question: The ability to face a challenge is
what differentiates between the two. You must know your limitation and capacity. When it comes to your limitation you should not perceive it as a competition, you must rather see it as an opportunity to complete you
and allow others to lead. This is what allows you to achieve more. As the end result is of utmost importance, I understand that it is not important to validate myself at each point. Eventually it is the work that needs to be
recognized. And having a shared recognition will not make the success less for others or me. Thus, our own exposure is bigger as we have more people to share the success with. Moreover, leadership is productive when
you have followers who believe in you out of choice and you are their choice. When you become the choice you must never let them down.

What are the qualities of a leader?
1. Communication is vital
2. Ability to mentor
3. Nobility
4. Striving the best for their subordinates
5. Never, stop learning no matter how
experienced you are. The more you learn the more you realize what you don’t know.

Are you a perpetual learner or teacher?
To be a teacher you have to be a learner. And to be a learner you need a teacher. I’ve been very fortunate to have a mentor very early in my career, 18 years ago. My first mentor was Dr. Qassim. He would push me to perform beyond my job description. Being an enthusiastic learner I would take up challenging projects and responsibilities hurled towards me even if it meant leading teams of those senior to my position. I remember the frustration I would feel then, but today appreciate my mentor for putting me to test and helping me fine tune my leadership skills. He believed in my abilities and me and helped me realize my potential.

I believe that when you share knowledge you gain more. And the more you give you create more curiosity to learn more. I have always been on a journey of continuous learning and I appreciate people who add value to my life and benefit from what I know. I like to teach and like to learn. Thus, I moved from Civil Aviation to Service Industry to Federal to Social Industry. And having acquired skills through working across a diverse range of industries has added value to my career.

I believe that investing time in mentoring a forming a great team is key to success. I, thus spend mentoring, coaching and teaching. Nevertheless, if any of my team members has a better way of doing certain thing, I adopt and keep myself open to suggestions. But I insist on doing certain things a certain way if my team cannot see the way I am envisioning it. You need to stick to what you believe in even if everybody else is opposing it. You must communicate to extend. It is a give and take.

If its lonely up there, how do you keep yourself amused?
It gets lonely if you stay superior to others. I believe in shared recognition. Success means more when you have a team to share it with. Besides, I believe the challenge is not outside but within a person. We create our own challenges. If you know yourself and you accept the challenges withinyourself, you will understand your strength
and weaknesses. I choose to communicate openly with my team and learn from them along the process. Team forming is the most critical part of management. Remember there is no solo success. It has to be an orchestra. The more the no of instruments playing in harmony, the more joyful the music is.

How do you maintain your work life balance?
The key to a great work life balance is communication. I keep connected with both my teams – at work as well as at home, my team at DQG and my team comprising of my two daughters Shamma and Shaikha, aged
11 years and 9 years old.

The approach that I follow with both teams stems from my strategist approach. We plan, negotiate, fix a date, prepare a to do list, prioritize and follow all the aspects of management (planning, evaluation, feedback, leadership and analysis). This allows me to be in a balanced position both at work and home. I sleep
well (alhamdulillah), eat well (alhamdulillah) and travel loads.

What makes you unstoppable?
My earnest desire to work for the betterment of my country motivates me to be unstoppable.


Sophie Le Ray

CEO, Naseba

Sophie Le Ray is an entrepreneur, an author and an experienced business facilitator. In 2003, she co-founded
Naseba (which is Japanese for “where there is a will”), a business facilitation company specializing in emerging markets. She was appointed CEO in 2009, and is responsible for overseeing the operations of the
company across its offices in the Middle East, India, the US and Europe.

Sophie has over twenty years of experience in producing and organising business platforms, and has been based in the Middle East for over a decade. She began a career in public relations before finding her niche in B2B conference production.

She is the founder and spokesperson of the Global WIL Economic Forum, an annual platform that aims to promote female leadership worldwide. She is also the co-author of ‘Game Changers: How Women
in the Arab World Are Changing the Rules and Shaping the Future’, published by Motivate Publishing in May 2016.

Sophie was born in Nice, France in 1970 and holds a Master’s degree in Ancient History. She is a proud mother of two girls and her passions include ancient cultures, mountain trekking and vegan cuisine.

She believes that success is a choice and where there is a will there is always a way. She says, “You bring yourself to success by wanting it and working for it.”

What is common between a post graduate in Art History, a PR to a B2B conference producer and the founder of the Global WIL Economic Fourm?
The fact that I have looked at each of these experiences, as opportunities, as and when they presented themselves is what links and ties it all together. Though graduating with double majors in Arts and History, I went on to pursue my PhD, and in my second year I realized that I did not want to become a professor. I was 29 years old and understood that though I enjoyed the teaching aspect, I didn’t care much for the system. The
entrepreneur in me was suffering from the structure of the academia. Besides, I wanted to travel the world. I liked the dynamism of events and meeting new people. During one of these events I met Scott, my husband
and partner, and we decided to combine our skill sets, do what we have learnt and create conferences where people can do businesses together in emerging markets. I have picked up chances, been lucky and met the right people at the right time.

As a 7/8 year old, whom did you want to be?
I wanted to be Indiana Jones, my version of it. Though I don’t dig ancient monuments, I like exploring cultures and adventure. Besides, just networking isn’t me; I like spending time with people and getting to know them. I think I am doing all of that today because I consciously made a choice for it. Being the CEO of Naseba allows me all of that and much more.

What did you learn from your failure?
I like failures. Failures put you to test. I believe every time you fail you become aware of your level of resilience. We usually don’t learn from success. However very recently, I have come to realize: ‘Not to let my failures define me and not to limit myself by closing the doors to my heart’. I have learnt to embrace my failures because I realize its part of the growing process.

What’s the difference between a boss and a leader?
Because you have a responsibility, you have to lead and be a boss. Nevertheless, I recognize that the only way forward is inclusive leadership. I encourage feedback and opinion of people during a conversation, then take a decision and accept whatever its consequences may be. (Laughs) In fact, I usually tend to recruit leaders.

Are you a perpetual learner or teacher?
I believe to be a good teacher you have to be a perpetual learner. It’s hand in glove.

If its lonely up there, how do you keep yourself amused?
Interestingly, I do not feel high up there, so I don’t feel lonely. I have my husband for a partner, and my team is always by my side.

What’s your biggest dream to date?
Professionally, I dream to take Naseba to a level where it has an existence of its own and does not require me to be in it to continue to serve the companies that want to enter and prosper into emerging markets.

On a personal level I’d like to be able to travel at least for six months in a year. And its probably only going to be possible when I can learn to let go, which is work in progress (laughs).

What is the deciding question when interviewing a new hire?
It’s the answer that decides more than the question. I ask always, where will they see themselves in five years. Over the years I know that there is a very specific profile of people that succeed at Naseba: We are very passionate and demanding, but in return we give a lot of opportunities, training and options for people to grow. However, to be able to succeed at Naseba you must have drive and I can recognize drive when I see one. There is a clear difference between those who tell they have the fierce passion and those that actually have the fire in them. I believe, you must know where you want to go for anybody can succeed but you must have a goal to reach to.

What do you do in your ‘me’ time?
I am very sensitive to music. I’m tuned into folk music right now so am enjoying Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen … I love hip hop, as it is poetry on music – basically reinstating a message through music.

In my ‘me time’ I read a lot of news, fiction and sometimes business books (‘Leading with Integrity’ is amazing). I also absolutely love hiking, yoga and cooking.

How do you maintain your work life balance?
I have learnt to be. It definitely is more fulfilling when you are present in the ‘now’.

I have stopped multi-tasking all the time and delegate more. I have learnt to prioritise and compartmentalise my work which helps we perform efficiently in all realms of my being. I realise the importance of toning down my
level of perfectionism too.


Dr Nashwa Al Ruwaini

CEO and Board Member of Pyramedia Productions,
CEO of Delma Medical Centre and Spa, Member of the
International Academy of TV Arts and Sciences,
CEO of the Nashwa Charity Foundation and Co-Founder
and Board Member of the Abu Dhabi Film Festival

Described as ‘an energy source, a fountain of ideas and an iron woman’, Dr. Nashwa became a household
name in the Middle East when her talk show ‘Nashwa’ was launched in 2006. Since then the “Oprah of the Arab world” has made her mark as a TV personality and producer. Cairo born, Dr. Nashwa started her career on Qatari Radio before becoming the youngest Arab woman on TV while working for Qatar TV. In 1998 after time in London and Cairo, she established her own production company Pyramedia in the UAE. Pyramedia is today
one of the largest of it’s kind in the region, producing popular TV shows such as Million’s Poet.

What is common between a media consultant, a charity founder and someone who heads an investment firm?
The common factor is the drive to succeed; there is no set blueprint for an entrepreneur. Anybody, no matter their background, upbringing or level of education can succeed in many different business areas. I have never
been afraid of taking risks, and I’m delighted to say that has paid off for me. If you’re going to be a successful businessperson, you have to be prepared for the risks and challenges that come with it. Don’t get me wrong, I have had failures along the way, but it’s how you deal with them and learn from these failures that ensures a prosperous business venture in any field. Never give up on yourself, be confident in your decisions and focus on the end rewards,the challenges are only as big as you perceive them to be!

As a 7/8 year old, who did you want to be?
At that age I was obsessed with being a doctor. I wanted to make a difference to people’s lives and loved the idea of genuinely being able to help someone feel better. I think that nurturing aspect of myself never lessened,
even when my interests shifted, as I got older I still wanted to make a difference to the world.

What did you learn from your failure?
I learned how to become strong and the true meaning of resilience. Failure can really make or break the strongest of people and it’s not easy to get back up again after you have experienced failure. I think you become better equipped to deal with problems that arise and develop better coping mechanisms when they do. If you never fail at anything, then what do you really learn? I honestly think failure makes you a better person, I’ve always believed that anything is possible and that’s the drive that has picked me up and driven me, even in the
most adverse of situations. Failure makes you a fighter!!

What’s the difference between a boss and a leader?
I think a boss can provide good or bad leadership, but a good leader can never be a bad boss. I think it’s vital that a person recognises and understands the difference between being a boss and a leader. Leadership
comes with wisdom, the wisdom to know when to delegate rather than micromanage and knowing how to get the best from people in tough environments. It takes confidence, charisma and commitment to be an effective
leader and these are not traits found in all bosses.

Are you a perpetual learner or teacher?
I think you need to be a perpetual learner to be a teacher!! Teaching is not a goal, the purpose of teaching is to bring about learning. If you consider yourself a teacher, then your lust for knowledge and learning doesn’t stop, it evolves and grows as you do; it is in itself perpetual. There is always room for improvement and always more to learn to become a good teacher. Every teacher should practice and encourage lifelong learning, so to answer your question, I would say I’m both.

If its lonely up there, how do you keep yourself amused?
I am truly blessed to have a wonderful family that keeps me both amused and very much on my toes!

What’s your biggest dream to date?
I want the whole world to discover the true essence of the Arab World. We are like a Pandora Box to all. They know us as an area of political turbulence but little do they know about our people, our rich culture, and our
heritage, about our human-interest stories. I want to create a cultural group of ambassadors of the Arab World that would likely make enough media concert and buzz to make us more visible.

What is the deciding question when interviewing a new hire?
I like to hire people that have a strong belief in their own abilities and who can recognise what is needed to get the job done successfully. When I ask this question people really need to identically there own core values and goals, it gives me a good insight into whether or not they would be suitable for the role and our team within the company.

What do you do in your me time?
My children and family are my life and this is how I spend all my quality time. I try to combine something that they love to do with something that appeals to me too, a family trip to the cinema or an afternoon swimming usually keeps everyone happy.

How do yo maintain your work life?
I would be lying if I said it was an easy task to balance both! I work very hard to get that balance right, to do the right thing by my family and my businesses, When I get home in the evening I make it a priority to sit down and spend time with my children and we always have dinner together every night as a family. When my children go to bed i will spend another few hours working. I try my best to be a good wife too, so sometimes between work, children and husband, I get the shorter end of stick, but seeing them all blessed, gives me the self-satisfaction that I need to go on and on.


Alia Khalifa Al Nabooda

Co Founder, VoucherSkout Inc.

Growing up in a business environment, overhearing conversations and attending meetings, dinners and
events with her father, Alia has always been ambitious and aspired to contribute to the business world. She started her first venture right out of university in 2006 and in 2009 she decided to apply her knowledge and support the family business. In 2015, she became a partner at Acumen Advertising DMCC and along with her partner, David Tobias, they started developing VoucherSkout, an app that invites its users to get discounts over a variety of hospitality, wellness and entertainment venues across the country.

You grew up in an environment surrounded by business. How did this impact you?
I think it has had a positive impact on my life, as it encouraged me to be a part of the business world, and to study and work hard to be successful in it. Also, coming from a business background I think I had an advantage where learning theories in university came easy and clicked because I had already seen or heard of the practical part from the business environment I grew up in. I believe I am blessed to have such a vast knowledgeable background as it helps me add value to my own businesses.

As a 7/8 year old, who did you want to be?
I have always wanted to be a person who makes the world a better place so as a 7 year old, I wanted to save all the animals and become a veterinarian. Later on, I decided that I wanted to make difference through my ventures. My business concept is based on making it possible for people to enjoy life more and that is one of the main reasons I started this project.

What have you learnt from failures?
I have learnt that they are never failures, just lessons learnt. I always try to take the positive from any experience and look at what went wrong and how can I prevent it from happening again. So, failures are always the
best learning opportunities.

What is the difference between a boss and a leader?
In my opinion, a boss is someone who orders their people around to get a job done. A leader builds a team based on trust, values, and visions. Team members go above and beyond to accomplish the task at hand because they are motivated to do it, not just because its their job, but because they are invested in the project just as much as their leader.

Are you a perpetual learner or teacher?
I believe I am both. I am constantly learning and I am teaching what I know. I always ask questions even if they may seem silly; it’s the best way to learn more. And I believe we can learn so much from people of all different ages and backgrounds. I am always looking for new courses, whether it’s a finance course to brush up on my theoretical knowledge or an art course. I also try to spread as much knowledge as I can and motivate others. I
regularly give advice and help with others projects and I have participated as a speaker in forums, as well as giving motivational speeches to high school students. Knowledge is meant to be passed on and if I have some
insights, I am always happy to share them.

They say it is lonely at the top, so, how do you keep yourself amused?
Who said it was lonely at the top? Everyday is a new adventure. There is so much to do, I secretly wish there were a few extra hours in the day. I am constantly meeting new and interesting people and making new
acquaintances. I think if you isolate yourself at the top that’s when it becomes lonely.

What is your biggest dream to date?
My biggest dream, to date, is to leave this world a better place. I am still figuring out how to do that but I believe if I can help one person to accomplish their dreams, then I will have fulfilled my purpose.

What is the deciding question when interviewing a new hire?
My deciding question will always have something to do with attitude. I usually ask them where they see themselves in five years. I know if the new hire has a positive attitude, they can grow within the company and help the company grow too.

What do you do in your ‘me time’?
‘Me time’ is usually mom time. I am happiest when I spend time with my husband, children and family. That time can be spent doing anything, from a movie and dinner at home to a short break abroad. Most things in life come
and go but time is not recoverable so I try to make the most of my time by spending it with the people I love.


Zeina Abou Chaaban

Founding Partner & Managing Director, Palestyle

Zeina’s professional experience spans across 10 years having worked in Strategic CSR, Business Development, Account Management, & Social Development. Having visited refugee camps in Lebanon for the first time in 2009, Zeina was moved by what she witnessed. At the camp, she met a group of brave women who spent their time embroidering despite those harsh conditions. Their desire to contribute to their families was so inspirational that Zeina decided to take action. It was then that Palestyle was conceived as a social fashion
brand. She was able to land valuable partnerships for the brand with reputable companies including Coca-Cola, LVMH, British Museum of London and HSBC Bank-Dubai.

How does the social aspect of the brand impact the business side of it?
At Palestyle the social aspect of the brand is the DNA of the business itself. We run the business in a manner to ultimately achieve the social goal and that is the key differentiator between us and any other fashion brand. We really want to empower these refugee women and consider this element before making decisions in any aspect of the business, be it the design element on the handbags or the business cycle as a whole.

As a 7/8 year old, who did you want to be?
Funnily enough, I always wanted to be an animal scientist; till this day. But I don’t know how I would have done it since I was scared of most animals.

What have you learnt from failures?
The word failure in my dictionary is a synonym for learning. I am a believer that, in most cases, it is not the idea that fails but rather the execution of it. Therefore, it is a signal to try to execute the idea in a different way or work
harder and smarter towards it. This teaches us that being brave enough in tackling the situation in a different manner. Every learning opens up a new door and maybe a different road to success.

What is the difference between a boss and a leader?
To begin with, anyone can be a boss, but only few are capable of becoming a successful leader. The major difference between a boss and a leader is that a boss usually depends on authority and micromanagement with his or her team and the credit for any success is awarded on an individual level. A leader on the other hand sets a vision and keeps the entire team in mind; thereby inspiring and empowering everyone to go after the vision whilst coaching them alongside. A leader is someone you would always look up to.

Are you a perpetual learner or teacher?
A person can be both: a learner because life has so much to teach through our journey on this planet. One can also be a teacher in the same life and impart the knowledge and skills gained onto others. I like to look at myself as a forever learner as I believe there is still so much for me to absorb and I find the journey of knowledge very exciting.

They say it is lonely at the top, so, how do you keep yourself amused?
I do not think I am at the top yet, however I do admit being an entrepreneur can become very lonely at times since you are usually running a one-man show as opposed to having a whole team with you. You also find yourself thinking about the business all the time and working outside work hours; therefore taking you away from the rest.

What is your biggest dream to date?
My biggest dream would be to turn Palestyle into one of the top 10 social luxury fashion brands in the world having continued measurable impact on the lives of refugees.

What is the deciding question when interviewing a new hire?
I always look out for proactivity in anyone I am interviewing. Someone who can come on board and become an ambassador for the brand, shares the passion for what we do at Palestyle, and is proactive at taking the business to the next level with their commitment and creativity.

What do you do in your ‘me time’?
Right now, sadly, I have no ‘me time’, with one baby and a toddler too and, of course, the business to run. However, when I do get a little time for myself, what I would love is to sip a cup of coffee with a bit of cake while reading a good book or enroll myself in a personal development course.


Elissa Freiha

Co-Founder, Womena

She is one of the regions most active angel investor sand the co-founder of Womena, a UAE-based angel
investment platform that encourages women to invest in tech startups. Since it’s launch in December 2014, Womena has empowered and educated women to invest over AED 1.7 million in MENA startups, with their investment platform and educational workshops.

Why is the one question about angel investing you get asked the most? And what’s the answer.
‘How does it work if women are the investors?’ This question drives me absolutely insane. What do you mean by ‘How does it work?’ It works the same, only our investors would never think of asking such a question.

As a 7/8 year old, who did you want to be?
I wanted to be Lara Croft from Tomb Raider.

What have you learnt from failures?
I have learnt to trust my own voice and speak up. You will think things are trickier than they are, or harder than they are but the truth is that you know more than you give yourself credit for and you should believe in yourself.

What is the difference between a boss and a leader?
A boss has a drive to succeed, while a leader drives everyone to succeed.

Are you a perpetual learner or teacher?
I am a learner for life.

They say it is lonely at the top, so, how do you keep yourself amused?
‘They’ say that because ‘they’ probably sacrificed many of their most valuable relationships to get to the top. It is easy to become self-centered and forget about everyone but the work. I actively make an effort to stay close to my wonderful friends, to paint once a week, and to stay true to my weirdness.

What is your biggest dream to date?
To pass on the principles of compassion, collaboration, and creativity to the world.

What is the deciding question when interviewing a new hire?
I ask them how they feel about Chris Brown. This can tell you a lot about a person’s values.

What do you do in your ‘me time’?
I listen to podcasts, paint wooden furniture, and try on all the weird beauty products I never have time to experiment with.


Dr. Lamees Hamdan

CEO, Shiffa Dubai

Having graduated from the Royal College of Surgeons, Dr. Lamees focused her interest in dermatology
to form Shiffa Dubai, a luxury skin and body care company that combines the latest advances in science and dermatology using premium grade organic, natural products. She is also a Board Member of the Dubai Culture
and Arts Authority and the Dubai Women’s Establishment.

Why is beauty such an important aspect for you?
Beauty is a natural aspect for all humans. We buy art to beautify our homes, we love looking at beautiful sunsets, we appreciate the beauty of nature, and so much more. The problem with it is when we look at ourselves and don’t see our own beauty. We are often too negative with the association but, in it’s true essence,
beauty is a very positive word.

As a 7/8 year old, who did you want to be?
At that age, I was not looking too far ahead. I was happy being a child, playing outdoors and owning my own Barbie doll.

What have you learnt from failures?
We judge ourselves too harshly, so I don’t like using words that shine a negative light on a person. I do not believe there are failures. It is all a journey. Sometimes the path takes you uphill and sometimes downhill. But, rest assured, you will eventually get to the place you need to be. Don’t be afraid to make an attempt because even if it doesn’t work out, at least you tried. The biggest regret one usually has is the thought that what if they did it not that they did it and it didn’t work out. If you are afraid of failure then you will never grow, both personally
and professionally.
What is the difference between a boss and a leader?
A leader leads by example and inspires others.

Are you a perpetual learner or teacher?
I think I’m a little bit of both. I’m constantly learning as this is the purpose of life, and I’m trying to be an excellent example for my children and the people I care about. I am also a teacher in that I am happy to impart the
knowledge I have gained freely.

They say it is lonely at the top, so, how do you keep yourself amused?
First of all, I believe I am still climbing. I haven’t reached the top yet, and I don’t think I ever will because they will always be other mountains to climb. You must feel happy with what you have today, and not think that happiness
comes once you are at the top. Be secure with yourself as you are today and be content with what you have. I am not lonely; I am lucky to have many friends and family all over the world. And even when I am alone, I don’t feel lonely. How do I keep myself amused? I love the sea and sports. I have recently taken up playing soccer as a family and we have a weekly game where the rules are very lax.

What is the deciding question when interviewing a new hire?
I just want to make sure that they have a sunny disposition and have a genuine love for beauty and skincare. I also try to see that they love to try new things.

What do you do in your ‘me time’?
A weekly massage is a must. And a weekly acid peel too. And believe it or not, I love browsing décor magazines. But, in all honesty, these days, it’s a luxury to have time to do nothing.