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Charlotte Elizabeth Oliver's major asset is her integrity, one of her clients says. Judah Passow
Charlotte Elizabeth Oliver's major asset is her integrity, one of her clients says. Judah Passow

Clearly an organiser to the manner born

Focus: Four years ago Charlotte Oliver came to Dubai and decided against returning to England. She has not looked back, for clients rave about the company she leads - with video.

Charlotte Elizabeth Oliver: it is hard to imagine that her parents deliberately gave her initials that stand for chief executive officer.

After all, it is largely an American term that became common elsewhere only in the past 10 years or so. Even so, they have an air of destiny about them, rather like (Michael) Colin Cowdrey, the English cricketer, who was deliberately given the initials MCC in honour of the Marylebone Cricket Club in the hope he would take up the game. It succeeded.

And it worked for Charlotte Oliver too. "As a child I always said I wanted to be a director if anybody asked," she says, "even though I didn't know what it meant."

It also probably helps that she is the daughter of a serial entrepreneur - she describes her father as a cross between "Del Boy [the character from the UK comedy series Only Fools and Horses] and Rod Stewart" - who has made and lost a couple of fortunes.

Her business in Dubai, minus her father, is a family affair, with her mother, sister and brother all helping out when required.

Ms Oliver grew up in Canterbury, Kent in the south of England. During A levels she worked as a model, and made the front page of The Sunday Timesfeaturing in a fashion show for Mini cars. Then she went to Kent University to study fashion and business before coming to Dubai on holiday about four years ago.

"I came to Dubai for a holiday for a month but didn't go back," she says. "I fell in love with the place, the sunshine, the people. At university I had worked as a hostess at corporate events. I started doing that and realised that there was a hole in the market for people who are enthusiastic.

"When you're new in a place there's a buzz. It was all about supply and demand back then. There was so much demand."

At the time Dubai was booming and Ms Oliver quickly set up her CEO Event Management company in a free zone, without the need for local partners.

"Business snowballed," she says. Now she employs up to 600 staff at the busiest times, based around a core group of just three. Annual turnover is now more than US$1.5 million (Dh5.51m) and growing.

"Business is very competitive, people have cut back," Ms Oliver says. "I've been very lucky, business has steadily crept up. I've had to pinch myself."

How easy is it to be a young blonde woman in the Middle East? "I don't find it a problem," she says. "I modelled when I was younger so I'm used to rejections and possibly I let a lot go over my head."

Even so, the clients are demanding more from Ms Oliver and her team. "They want people with product knowledge," she says. "It's no longer about just having a pretty girl on a stand."

You can hardly attend a sporting, social or corporate event in the UAE without bumping into Ms Oliver or one of her team. "Every week it's a different outfit," she laughs. "November is crazy, I average four hours sleep a night.

"For Mubadala [Development] we do all of their grassroots activities involving the community. We did something with HSBC on the Corniche at the time of the golf tournament. We also work for many other companies including IMG, Abu Dhabi Tourism Authority, Aabar and Blink Events."

Ms Oliver says the two most demanding events are the HSBC Dubai Sevens and the Al Ain Aerobatic Show.

"Every year we say we won't go back but we always do," she says. "I love what I do. With regular clients I get to go to brainstorming meetings. I know what works on the ground. I like this because it makes you feel like you are more involved.

"Sometimes I get stressed out, but you have to go with the Middle-Eastern flow. We all have good days and bad days,but generally I love it."

Her clients seem to love it, too.

"CEO Events have established a firm hold on the events market in the UAE - and through the leadership and vision of their industrious founder, are providers of world-class hospitality events," says Giles Morgan, the group head of sponsorship at HSBC Bank.

Jamie Cunningham, the chief executive of Professional Sports Group, agrees. "The company is built around Charlotte, who is one of the hardest working entrepreneurs here," he says. "Her attention to detail is great but her major asset is her integrity.

"With other agencies, the worry is that the team do not arrive on time, change at the last minute or behave in the wrong way for the company they are representing. With Charlotte, there has never been an issue. She and her team do a great job, which is why she has such a successful business."

Ms Oliver says while she is ambitious, her company is very much based in the UAE, although she would like to explore opportunities in Qatar.

"There's a lot happening with the [Fifa] World Cup and all that. I think there will be a boom like happened here and that's very exciting."

What is in store for the next four years? "I'm at a stepping stone, looking forward to the summer," she says. "You work hard but you play hard too. Now I have to decide whether to join with another company or merge or sell. I think I've still got a few years left in me yet. Life is what-ifs, but I follow my gut."

Ms Oliver is not yet 30 and her clients must be hoping she sticks around for a while. She still has one major ambition. While she is toying with buying a house near Canterbury, and drives a Supercharged Range Rover, her heart is set on a black Bentley GTC Convertible.

And she is only just learning to relax. "I am learning to let go," she says. "I have a shoe problem like many woman in the UAE, I love swimming and being outside. "I feel I should have more of a hobby but it's hard to unwind. I love food, eating out and enjoying places. But I miss the greenery of England."

 

rwright@thenational.ae

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