An en­tre­pre­neur­ial pi­o­neer, Dr Shayma Nawaf Fawwaz has built an en­tire life­style em­pire with Gos­sip The Brand

Villa 88 - - Contents -

Dr Shayma Fawwaz on her jour­ney to cre­at­ing a home-grown life­style brand

IT ALL BE­GAN WITH GOS­SIP Café, born out of a de­sire to cre­ate a high-end but af­ford­able spot to en­joy good com­pany and good-qual­ity food. But over­achiever Dr Shayma Fawwaz was never go­ing to stop there. With a de­gree in bi­ol­ogy, a doc­tor­ate in ge­net­ics from Ge­orge Wash­ing­ton Uni­ver­sity, as well as an ex­ec­u­tive master’s from the Lon­don Busi­ness School, Dr Shayma was still work­ing as the Vice-pres­i­dent of Health­care at Mubadala De­vel­op­ment Com­pany in Abu Dhabi when she opened the gourmet out­let Gos­sip Café and Desserts. By putting the idea in her head that she would helm a global pow­er­house, it be­came a self-ful­fill­ing prophecy that Gos­sip The Brand would not only branch out, but also ac­quire its way into the world of fran­chis­ing.

To­day, the five arms of the life­style group com­prise F&B – in­clud­ing Mlk­cake by Gos­sip, which has a branch in Lon­don; beauty – in the shape of Glo by Gos­sip, a hair and makeup ser­vice that makes home and of­fice calls;

events, lux­ury re­tail, Gos­sip ini­tia­tives and CSR. Bold and in­trepid, with the cen­tral tenet of the busi­ness plan be­ing to com­bine Emi­rati cul­ture with in­ter­na­tional food trends and con­cepts, Gos­sip The Brand has legs – legs that in­tend to tra­verse vast dis­tances.

“From its in­cep­tion, I wanted to cre­ate a brand that was shaped to eas­ily go global while com­mu­ni­cat­ing our Emi­rati cul­ture. I’m def­i­nitely fo­cused on fran­chis­ing my brand to take it that one step fur­ther in es­tab­lish­ing it as a world­wide name,” Dr Shayma tells us.

With her proven track record for con­quer­ing ev­ery chal­lenge that comes her way, this dream doesn’t sound un­re­al­is­tic, es­pe­cially given the com­pany’s tra­jec­tory of suc­cess, swiftly grow­ing from nine em­ploy­ees when it launched in 2013, to 229 em­ploy­ees to­day, with café branches in Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Shar­jah. In Jan­uary 2018, Dr Shayma was awarded the Mo­hammed Bin Rashid Award for Young Busi­ness Lead­ers for Best Fe­male En­tre­pre­neur.

Her model for fran­chis­ing is some­what unique – some may say utopian – in that it en­tails Dr Shayma’s team pro­vid­ing the man­age­ment ser­vices to ev­ery fran­chise. “The first [ad­van­tage] is that it opens the op­por­tu­nity up to po­ten­tial fran­chis­ers that may not have the rel­e­vant hos­pi­tal­ity ex­pe­ri­ence to run a store on their own – they can sim­ply in­vest,” she ex­plains. “Sec­ondly, this method en­sures the Gos­sip stan­dard re­mains as true to the orig­i­nal con­cept as pos­si­ble.”

The brand’s DNA is one that is con­scious of how food is pre­pared and is all about know­ing ex­actly what goes into what. “It’s so im­por­tant to pre­pare meals like they would be [made] at home, with clean, or­ganic, lo­cally sourced prod­ucts,” says Dr Shayma.

A self-con­fessed foodie who has al­ways been a keen baker, she de­scribes the con­cept as “ed­i­ble art” with “an ar­ray of high-end gourmet dishes and deca­dent desserts that take peo­ple on a culi­nary jour­ney in an el­e­gant yet con­tem­po­rary set­ting.”

While she loved her ex­pe­ri­ence study­ing over­seas – “I found a new type of in­de­pen­dence when I was liv­ing in Wash­ing­ton, DC. You find out more about your­self and get to mix with dif­fer­ent peo­ple, which opens you up to new so­cial cir­cles” – Dr Shayma couldn’t be more grate­ful to her home, the UAE, for its sup­port.

“I have al­ways thought the UAE was great in sup­port­ing both men and women in busi­ness... I have been given the same op­por­tu­ni­ties as my male coun­ter­parts and have grown up around some truly in­spir­ing women who have mo­ti­vated me,” she says. “The UAE gov­ern­ment has made sig­nif­i­cant progress in its mis­sion to em­power women in the work­force across var­i­ous sec­tors and the na­tion’s women can to­day be clas­si­fied as role mod­els for the rest of the world.”

The back­ing she has re­ceived was one of the rea­sons Dr Shayma was so set on de­vel­op­ing a home­grown brand. “Grow­ing up, I saw a gap in the mar­ket for an Emi­rati com­pany that could be turned into a global fran­chise. I could never un­der­stand why busi­ness­men and women were al­ways fo­cused on fran­chis­ing global com­pa­nies in­stead of look­ing closer to home.”

Un­sur­pris­ingly, Dr Shayma is a cham­pion of fe­male en­trepreneur­ship. Hav­ing been brought up in a fam­ily of re­mark­able women, her sup­port of the sis­ter­hood may have started at home, but to­day, it tran­scends fa­mil­ial bound­aries. She de­scribes her mother, who was the first wo­man in the UAE to be awarded a PHD, and is one of

“I saw a gap in the mar­ket for an Emi­rati com­pany that could be turned into a global fran­chise”

the found­ing mem­bers of the na­tion, who was also in­stru­men­tal in help­ing to change the UAE’S ed­u­ca­tion sys­tem, as “my num­ber one idol”. Dr Shayma is un­der­stand­ably proud to be her daugh­ter. “The epit­ome of a suc­cess­ful wo­man, she jug­gled a fam­ily while pro­gress­ing her ca­reer. She made a large con­tri­bu­tion to the found­ing of the Min­istry of Ed­u­ca­tion and in start­ing the pro­gram for spe­cial needs and so­cial ser­vice. I am es­pe­cially proud of her rep­re­sen­ta­tion of the UAE in many global con­fer­ences and at the UN­ESCO con­fer­ence. Her in­ten­tion was to al­ways do good and this taught me a huge life les­son.”

Do­ing good could serve as the leit­mo­tif for Dr Shayma and her sis­ters’ lives. While she pur­sued an ed­u­ca­tion in the field of bi­ol­ogy and ge­net­ics be­cause she wanted to help save lives – “I was at­tracted to the idea of re­search­ing dif­fer­ent dis­eases and work­ing to­wards find­ing a cure for cer­tain types of ill­nesses” – her sis­ter Lamia is fo­cused on do­ing good for the en­vi­ron­ment in her ca­pac­ity as Ex­ec­u­tive Direc­tor, Brand and Strate­gic Ini­tia­tives of Mas­dar and Direc­tor of the Zayed Sus­tain­abil­ity Prize, while her sis­ter Noura has made it her mis­sion to spread a lit­tle sun­shine ev­ery­where she goes.

“Noura is the hap­pi­ness am­bas­sador of Gos­sip; she’s my best friend and part­ner in crime! We go out and travel to­gether and al­ways have a lot of fun when we are around each other,” says Dr Shayma. “She brings hap­pi­ness to ev­ery­one that she sur­rounds her­self with.”

The en­tre­pre­neur ad­mits that her pri­vate life and her busi­ness have in­ex­tri­ca­bly be­come rolled into one. “My job is not just a job. Gos­sip The Brand is a com­bi­na­tion of all my pas­sions; my brand and my busi­ness are within the same ar­eas of things that in­ter­est me on a per­sonal level, such as fash­ion and style, art, de­sign and food. This has helped me merge and bal­ance both my per­sonal and pro­fes­sional life.”

The com­mon thread run­ning through all as­pects of her life is the pur­suit of op­ti­mal health. “Health and well­ness are fun­da­men­tal to me and a ma­jor part of my daily rou­tine, no mat­ter where I am in the world. The best gift to your­self is to take good care of your health.”

Fam­ily and friends are cru­cial to Dr Shayma’s men­tal and emo­tional well­be­ing. “My re­la­tion­ships with my fam­ily and friends – and mak­ing them a pri­or­ity in my life – are so im­por­tant. I’m an out­go­ing per­son and love to have my loved ones around, whether I’m trav­el­ling, at events or at­tend­ing fam­ily gath­er­ings.”

Hav­ing worked so hard to de­velop its mo­men­tum, there’s no stop­ping Gos­sip The Brand. Luck­ily for Dr Shayma, she has the right peo­ple to join her on her jour­ney – peo­ple who will no doubt buckle up and en­joy the ride. @shay­mafawwaz

“My re­la­tion­ships with my fam­ily and friends are so im­por­tant”

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