The Emi­rati busi­ness­woman dis­cusses her jour­ney to the top, op­por­tu­ni­ties for women and the lessons she would like the younger gen­er­a­tion to learn from her au­to­bi­og­ra­phy

Gulf Business - - CONTENTS - By Robert An­der­son

RAJA EASA AL GURG is one of those Dubai busi­ness fig­ures that needs no in­tro­duc­tion.

Hav­ing started her ca­reer as a school­teacher, she now leads fam­ily busi­ness Easa Saleh Al Gurg Group as man­ag­ing di­rec­tor with a CV that would make most global ex­ec­u­tives en­vi­ous.

Her other po­si­tions in­clude pres­i­dent of Dubai Busi­ness Women Coun­cil, vice chair­per­son of the Dubai Health­care City Au­thor­ity and board roles at Dubai Cham­ber Of Com­merce and In­dus­try (DCCI), Dubai Women’s As­so­ci­a­tion, HSBC Mid­dle East, Coutts and var­i­ous UAE uni­ver­si­ties.

No sur­prise then that when it came to launch­ing her own au­to­bi­og­ra­phy the UAE gov­ern­ment sent one of its top of­fi­cials.

“Dr Raja Al Gurg has a great story to tell and she tells it in a com­pelling fash­ion. Her story is in many ways the story of the United Arab Emi­rates,” said min­is­ter of tol­er­ance HE Sheikh Na­hayan Mabarak Al Na­hayan.

Gulf Busi­ness se­cured a slot in the Emi­rati busi­ness­woman’s packed sched­ule to dis­cuss her sur­pris­ing ca­reer path, new op­por­tu­ni­ties for Emi­rati women, the fam­ily busi­ness and what ad­vice she would give to the next gen­er­a­tion.

What made you want to tell your story?

“I have been through so many ex­pe­ri­ences and chal­lenges in life, whether it was in the ed­u­ca­tion sec­tor, busi­ness or then phi­lan­thropy and med­i­cal, and I thought it would be a very good idea to pass all these ex­pe­ri­ences to the younger gen­er­a­tion. I also wanted to leave a legacy be­hind for my chil­dren and grand­chil­dren and fam­ily, show­ing them that even if I am called a grand­mother one day then my grand­chil­dren will not feel that I did not work hard or was not ed­u­cated. So I thought that this would be the right way to at­tract the at­ten­tion of the younger gen­er­a­tion and my own chil­dren and grand­chil­dren.”

You men­tioned in the book you didn’t al­ways want to get into busi­ness, what changed your mind?

“This is of course be­cause the chair­man [ her fa­ther HE Easa Saleh Al Gurg] en­cour­aged me. In the be­gin­ning of course, as I men­tioned in my book, I wanted to study busi­ness and pol­i­tics but I didn’t get the chance to be­cause the univer­sity classes were full. In­stead, I stud­ied English and de­cided to be­come a teacher and later a school prin­ci­pal. I stayed there for 13-14 years but then the chair­man en­cour­aged me to con­sider busi­ness be­cause he saw so much po­ten­tial. We were talk­ing about it for a few years, it was not an overnight de­ci­sion, then I came to the con­clu­sion ‘yes, why shouldn’t I?’ If my fa­ther sees I have that po­ten­tial and I can drive the suc­cess of

the fam­ily busi­ness then why not? Then I started think­ing se­ri­ously about it and came into the busi­ness in 1989.”

What are some of the key lessons you would like peo­ple to take from your ca­reer?

“Ded­i­ca­tion, trans­parency, time man­age­ment and keep­ing a good re­la­tion­ship with peo­ple whether you in­tend to see them again or not be­cause I be­lieve that one day you will need them for some­thing. I’ve never even cut my re­la­tion­ships with all the teach­ers and stu­dents at my school and also my col­leagues – the Emi­rati girls who were work­ing with me. We are to­gether and we sit on boards to­gether and that makes me very proud.”

The UAE gov­ern­ment has re­cently an­nounced plans for 50 per cent of the seats at the Fed­eral Na­tional Coun­cil to be oc­cu­pied by Emi­rati women and a se­ries of poli­cies to in­crease fe­male rep­re­sen­ta­tion in the ju­di­ciary, diplo­macy and busi­ness. Has there been a bet­ter time to be a wo­man in this coun­try?

“Our lead­er­ship has taken care of all of these is­sues right from the be­gin­ning and groomed us as women to take part in so­ci­ety. Women have proven them­selves to be suc­cess­ful in this coun­try whether they are put in min­istries or em­bassies or any other gov­ern­men­tal job. An­nounc­ing that 50 per cent of the FNC would be women is not some­thing that sur­prised us as women – let me be very clear. We knew that our lead­ers ap­pre­ci­ated the role of women and the em­pow­er­ment of women in so­ci­ety. I be­lieve that women in our part of the

“Women have proven them­selves to be suc­cess­ful in this coun­try whether they are put in min­istries or em­bassies or any other gov­ern­men­tal job.”

world, es­pe­cially the UAE, have oc­cu­pied po­si­tions from A to Z – from car­ing to em­pow­er­ing, work­ing and tak­ing her place in so­ci­ety. It was not a shock for us, it was a be­lief that it would come one day and it came.”

In some other coun­tries there is leg­is­la­tion man­dat­ing half of com­pany board mem­bers need to be fe­male. Would you sup­port a sim­i­lar move in the UAE?

“Well we are on boards, I my­self sit on two boards of in­ter­na­tional banks, HSBC and Coutts, be­sides the boards of three uni­ver­si­ties. I sup­port women wher­ever they have po­ten­tial and can con­trib­ute. It’s not only putting the name on the board, the most im­por­tant thing is whether she is able to give back in that sec­tor or not. If she can, then she is fit and if she can­not then it’s the wrong de­ci­sion. To­day I can see that so many girls are sit­ting on boards. So­ci­ety is happy about it and the women are happy within them­selves to give more and pro­duce more to prove to their lead­ers that they are the right peo­ple for the job.”

Mov­ing on to the fam­ily busi­ness, how has 2018 been for Easa Saleh Al Gurg Group?

“Well it’s been good. The whole mar­ket of course goes with the flow of the econ­omy and we can­not com­plain about that – I think that 2019 is go­ing to be more rosy than 2018. Last year was the first year of ex­cise tax and value added tax and that made busi­nesses more cau­tious be­cause they didn’t know if it would be suc­cess­ful or not. Now Jan­uary is here, it’s 12 months since VAT was im­ple­mented, and peo­ple have seen that the change will be to the ben­e­fit of the coun­try. I be­lieve 2019 is go­ing to give us much bet­ter re­sults as 2020 is com­ing. There are more pro­jects on the hori­zon and there is greater flex­i­bil­ity in the mar­ket.”

Speak­ing of 2020 and Dubai’s host­ing of the World Expo, do you see op­por­tu­ni­ties around the event for the com­pany?

“Well we are agents for Siemens, they are open­ing a head­quar­ters in 2020. We are look­ing into the pos­si­bil­ity of how to be part of that be­cause this is a big six-month event. Def­i­nitely we as a com­pany and di­ver­si­fied busi­nesses in gen­eral should ben­e­fit from Expo 2020 and we are look­ing into how to be part of it.”

Does the com­pany have any ex­pan­sion plans for its dif­fer­ent units?

“Of course, we are in Oman and ex­pand­ing in Saudi Ara­bia and we are look­ing for­ward to en­rich­ing this busi­ness. A big part of our plans in­cludes in­vest­ing in real es­tate in the United King­dom and that gives the com­pany a very good back­bone.”

You men­tioned pre­vi­ously how you are on the boards of banks and uni­ver­si­ties while also help­ing to lead your own com­pany and the Dubai Busi­ness Women Coun­cil. Is it dif­fi­cult jug­gling all those re­spon­si­bil­i­ties?

“I would say when you grow with things you don’t feel they are a bur­den on you. If all these re­spon­si­bil­i­ties came overnight I wouldn’t be able to do it. But be­cause it grew with me – one year it was one bank and then af­ter three years an­other bank came and then Dubai Busi­ness Women Coun­cil and so on – it was mov­ing with me as I grew into busi­ness. Every­thing was mov­ing in a pos­i­tive way and I took it as a nor­mal part of my daily life­style.”

Is it dif­fer­ent work­ing with mem­bers of your fam­ily rather than just work col­leagues?

“One thing I would like to say about our com­pany is we don’t work as col­leagues and em­ploy­ers and em­ploy­ees. We feel that we are in a fam­ily at­mos­phere and are there for the man­agers, the sales peo­ple and even for the tea boy who brings tea for us. We work as one fam­ily and we have that con­nec­tion that makes me so proud. Peo­ple are not just work­ing to get their salary at the end of the month, they de­vote and ded­i­cate them­selves to the work and that proves the hu­man re­la­tion­ship be­tween peo­ple, whether it is in a com­pany, a fam­ily or so­ci­ety, has to at­tract both sides’ at­ten­tion. I care for my peo­ple and my peo­ple care for me even more.”

What ad­vice would you give to young women con­sid­er­ing a move into busi­ness?

“The young gen­er­a­tion have to know ex­actly what they want and tar­get what they want. They also have to know the ways to move to­wards that tar­get. The most im­por­tant thing is to love their ca­reer. If they do love their work they will be the most pro­duc­tive peo­ple in that of­fice – they will be amaz­ing. If they just work be­cause they have to, with no aims, then that is the most bor­ing job in the world.”

Is there any­thing you would like to add?

“I want the younger gen­er­a­tion to take their part in so­ci­ety. The fu­ture of the United Arab Emi­rates de­pends on the ded­i­ca­tion of the youth be­cause this coun­try has given them a lot. We have to give back whether we are young or old. It’s also im­por­tant not to for­get young peo­ple can take a lot of ex­pe­ri­ence in work and so­ci­ety from the older gen­er­a­tion so they can keep the mo­men­tum up. If they are young they are still new­com­ers to life and should speak to peo­ple with ex­pe­ri­ence, as we did in my gen­er­a­tion, that’s what makes you re­ally suc­cess­ful. If you are young you can’t do every­thing or not care for the rest of so­ci­ety. The re­la­tion­ship should be there so that the younger gen­er­a­tion gain a lot of ex­pe­ri­ence and maybe they don’t need to spend two or three years on one idea but can learn from sit­ting with some­one who has that ex­pe­ri­ence. They can take a dif­fer­ent kind of ap­proach that will help them reach their goal.”

“women I sup­port wher­ever they have po­ten­tial and can con­trib­ute. It ’ s not o n ly putting the name on the board.”

Raja Al Gurg pic­tured with the Vice Pres­i­dent and Prime Min­is­ter of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai HH Sheikh Mo­hammed bin Rashid Al Mak­toum

Raja Al Gurg pic­tured with Prince Charles, HH Princess Haya Bint Al Hus­sein and Ger­man chan­cel­lor An­gela Merkel

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