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Hermes' Parfums executive chairman of the board Catherine Fulconis.
Hermes' Parfums executive chairman of the board Catherine Fulconis.
The founder of the Abu Dhabi Music & Arts Foundation and the annual Abu Dhabi Festival Hoda Kanoo.
The founder of the Abu Dhabi Music & Arts Foundation and the annual Abu Dhabi Festival Hoda Kanoo.
The owner of the French beauty brand Nuxe, Aliza Jabes.
The owner of the French beauty brand Nuxe, Aliza Jabes.
The CEO of Alliance Trust PLC, Katherine Garret-Cox.
The CEO of Alliance Trust PLC, Katherine Garret-Cox.
The associate director of sustainability at Masdar, Nawal Al Hosany.
The associate director of sustainability at Masdar, Nawal Al Hosany.
The president of the Republic of Kosovo, Atifete Jahjaga.
The president of the Republic of Kosovo, Atifete Jahjaga.
The CEO of twofour54 Noura Al Kaabi.
The CEO of twofour54 Noura Al Kaabi.

Seven powerful women on top of their own fields share their secrets

What does it take for a female to reach the pinnacle of her profession? We talk to seven success stories to learn how they scaled the heights and what tips they have for other women.

What does it take for a female to reach the pinnacle of her profession? And how does she handle the pressure once she's there, plus balance family and career? With International Women's Day coming on Thursday, we talk to seven success stories from around the globe to learn how they scaled the heights and what tips they have for other driven women.

 

ENVIRONMENT

Nawal Al Hosany

Nawal Al Hosany is the associate director of sustainability at Masdar. In 2007, she became the first female deputy director in the Abu Dhabi Police.

In a nutshell, describe your career history.

First a small consultancy office in 1992. Then the academic world as a research and teaching assistant (1993-1995) in the UAE University. In 1995 the projects engineering department in Abu Dhabi Police. In 1999 I started a PhD program in Newcastle upon Tyne University. I continued with Abu Dhabi Police. I joined Masdar in 2008, first as the sustainability associate director for Masdar City, then handling sustainability for all Masdar units.

Do you think women are particularly good at running businesses? Why?

I think most women are naturally born with leadership and management skills.

Were you always ambitious to reach the top, to be head of a company?

My ambition was always to excel in what I do. I think the recognition was a by-product.

If you hadn't pursued a sustainability career, what would you have done?

I would have been in an international organisation or the diplomatic sector.

How would you describe an average working day?

I dedicate 20 per cent of the day to my team, 20 per cent on our processes, 20 per cent on communication, a portion on administration and the rest on new initiatives.

What is the best piece of advice you have ever been given?

I was once told by [Lady] Barbara Judge that "to succeed in your career, know everything to be known about your industry".

What is your greatest achievement?

The first mountain I climbed was one of the seven summits (Kilimanjaro). On a professional level, an invitation from Bill Clinton to sit with him in the closing session of the 2010 Clinton Global Initiative.

How do you define power and influence?

I read once that power is making people do what you want them to. Influence is making people want to do what you want them to.

How did you develop your ability to influence?

I listen to people and observe how they react.

What defines your leadership style?

Junior staff need mentoring, while senior experienced staff should be empowered.

What's your source of inspiration?

All of nature is a source of inspiration.

What is the secret of your success?

Determination, hard work, positive attitude and passion to continually improve myself.

Who are your mentors?

My parents were my first mentors, and my PhD supervisor was a great mentor.

What ambitions do you still have?

Professionally to start my own company. Personally to build a beach house where the sound of the waves wakes me up.

What advice would you give to young career-orientated women?

I will say one thing: never stop learning.

How do you combine career and family life?

Sometimes I have long hours. But I always make sure that I have quality family time.

• As told to Helena Frith Powell

 

POLITICS

Atifete Jahjaga

The president of the Republic of Kosovo, Atifete Jahjaga was deputy general director of the Police of Kosovo from February 2009 until her election as president on April 7, 2011.

What is the best life lesson you have learnt so far?

That came from my parents, who placed a high value on raising a daughter who is respectful to the views and opinions of others.

What is your greatest achievement?

Last April my country was in the middle of a political crisis. I was the person who helped it overcome that impasse. I was the candidate they all trusted could serve as the next president of Kosovo, and help Kosovo's institutions regain the trust of our people.

How do you define power and influence?

My definition relates to the ability to influence. I have tried to lead by example, by setting high standards on public conduct, the spending of public money, the involvement of Kosovo's young generation in my team and in giving back to the country and society.

What defines your leadership style?

My commitment to inclusiveness is the key characteristic of my leadership style. I have opened the doors of my office to all the political parties in Kosovo, because I believe in dialogue and in overcoming differences.

What is your inspiration?

Kosovo's citizens and their will are the source of my inspiration. They have endured immense hardship and have made huge sacrifices because they believe in freedom and liberty, because they wanted their children, the younger generation, to be equal to all people living in the peace-loving countries of the world. I have seen them rise and rebuild their lives with their eyes firmly towards the future.

What is the secret of your success?

There is no secret. I have done what I believed makes me a better person and a better leader.

Who are your mentors?

They range from my parents and older family members to various professors who have shaped me through different stages of my life.

What ambitions do you still have?

I take a great interest in improving the role of women in my society, for I believe we need to unleash the potential of everybody in order to achieve equality and success.

What advice would you give to young career-oriented women?

We are creating a society of equal opportunities, nearing a period when women will be represented by 50 per cent in the workplace, their percentage in the population.

How do you combine career and family life?

I try to keep my official obligations and my family life separate, but of course we are all human and sometimes my husband and my family notice my concern and tiredness. But I don't want to take home the problems or the concerns of the office.

• As told to Helena Frith Powell

 

MEDIA

Noura Al Kaabi

Noura Al Kaabi is the CEO of twofour54 and a member of the Federal National Council. She is also a board member of Abu Dhabi Media, the Abu Dhabi Chamber of Commerce and Flash Entertainment.

In a nutshell, describe your career history.

I graduated in 2001 with a bachelor's in management information systems from Al Ain University, and started my career in Zayed Military Hospital's IT department. After three years of working in IT, I decided to embark on something that would allow me to work more closely with people. I joined Dolphin Energy to work with the training and development team. It let me help my colleagues to bring out the best in them. In 2007 the opportunity to join the Abu Dhabi Media Zone Authority (twofour54) presented itself. It was a major turning point in my career.

Do you think women are particularly good at running businesses? Why?

I don't think gender dictates whether someone would be successful at running a business. Whether a man or a woman, the ability to realise achievements is based on one's capabilities.

Were you always ambitious to reach the top, to be head of a company?

I always lived by the motto that hard work pays off. I believe my competitive spirit and my parents' support inspired me.

If you hadn't pursued a career in media what would you have done?

I always wanted to be an entrepreneur. There's something incredibly exciting about throwing yourself in the deep end to see if you can swim.

How would you describe an average working day?

Busy! My days are filled with meetings. I try my best to keep an open channel of communication, so I organise and attend meetings regularly. Email is a big component of my day as well.

What is the best piece of advice you have ever been given?

Never give up. There is always hope.

What is your greatest achievement?

People telling me I'm an inspiration. You touch someone's soul when you inspire them.

How do you define power and influence?

The ability to keep a cool head and work through the hardest of situations is what I consider power to be. This comes when people respect you and believe in your leadership, and people believe in your leadership when you empower them, which makes you influential.

How did you develop that ability to influence?

Influence comes from having the ability to listen, understanding and putting oneself in other people's shoes. I try to keep an open mind.

What defines your leadership style?

I continually develop myself. I also put a lot of effort identifying the right team to work with. Integrity and fairness are also key elements.

What's your source of inspiration?

I cannot possibly choose one thing.

What is the secret of your success?

Having family and people who love me close by.

Who are your mentors?

My parents, first and foremost.

What ambitions do you still have?

Every day my list gets longer.

What advice would you give to young career-orientated women?

The most important thing to remember is to always believe in yourself and work hard.

How do you combine career and family life?

We try to have family time, including an annual family trip and a weekly brunch.

• As told to Helena Frith Powell

 

GLOBAL BRAND

Catherine Fulconis

Catherine Fulconis joined Hermès in August 2006 as Hermès Parfums executive chairman of the board. She is responsible for overall business development and fragrance product design, in collaboration with Jean-Claude Ellena, Hermès in-house perfumer. She had previously made her career in the L'Oréal Group, in particular at Lancôme. More recently, she contributed to establishing the Kiehl's and Shu Uemura brands in Europe, was head of forward analysis for L'Oréal Luxury Products and then Helena Rubinstein's general manager.

What is the best piece of advice you have ever been given?

I love the expression, "The higher you climb the farther you have to fall". You have to stay grounded and level-headed.

What did you want to do growing up?

As a child I was in love with the arts. I played piano and wanted to be a classical dancer. To this day, I'm still attracted to music and ballet.

In a nutshell, describe your career history.

I got married at the age of 22, and my husband and I left for Indonesia. It's here that I started at L'Oréal. I stayed for 20 years. But I wanted a new adventure. So I switched to Hermès. It was a discovery of a new culture and creativity.

What is the biggest life lesson you have learnt so far?

Get to know yourself. I have two sides of my personality - I'm very rigorous but love fantasy and art. Luckily I can use both sides at Hermès.

What is your greatest achievement?

I'm more proud of my small successes. I could say that when I was at L'Oréal I created a best-selling  mascara or that I combine a family (husband and two sons) and my job and I pursue an interesting career and manage equilibrium.

How do you define power and influence?

Power for me is not my objective. It's passion that drives me and the love of the job.

What defines your leadership style?

The team is important. I want people to participate. It can't just be my suggestions.

What's your source of inspiration?

I'm curious. As a child, I met cosmopolitan people, which made me open to new cultures. I love anything that opens your mind. At Hermès we say: "Keep the eyes of a child".

What is the secret of your success and the success of the Hermès brand?

To stay simple, humble and modest. Intuition is also important, and learning to be courageous.

Who are your mentors?

At Lancôme I started work in the suncare division but the VP said I would be better suited in make-up. He understood my strengths.  At Hermès, [perfumer] Jean-Claude [Ellena] is fantastic. He is our equivalent to Yoda.

How do you balance work and play?

I realised early on that I need to pencil in a few precious moments of "me" time.

How do you combine career and family life?

My husband is supportive but sometimes complains that he misses me. But I say that my work brings me immense satisfaction. He understands this. I think I'm also a good role model for my sons. My boys tell me that they were happy as children because I was happy.

What ambitions do you still have?

To play the saxophone and keep loving life at 80.

What advice would you give to young career-orientated women?

I don't think women are confident enough. We compare ourselves to others and try to imitate what we don't have. But my advice is to never copy. We each have strengths and talents and only you can take the time to discover them.

• As told to Jemma Nicholls

 

ARTS AND CULTURE

Hoda Kanoo

Hoda Kanoo is the founder of the Abu Dhabi Music & Arts Foundation and of the annual Abu Dhabi Festival. She is a board member of the Abu Dhabi Authority for Culture and Heritage.

What is the best piece of advice you have ever been given?

My mother used to say: "learn how to love and forgive, for love is absolute."

What is the biggest life lesson you have learnt so far?

Never give up. Ever. As a philanthropist for art and culture I’ve learnt that to achieve goals and objectives you need perseverance, determination, and patience as we in ADMAF forge continuously to build cultural partnerships and nurture education in society.

What is your greatest achievement?

Apart from family, it would have to be the arrival at this point in time where the arts now matter. The journey was intensely challenging and ultimately life changing.

How do you define power and influence?

Power is unquestionable. Influence questions. At ADMAF we strive to help people think, question, act and reflect.

How did you develop that ability to influence?

By being humble enough to question, to listen, to think and to learn.

What defines your leadership style?

The key to leadership is communication and of course setting an example. As for style, my staff (lovingly) tell me The Devil Wears Prada is a good indicator.

What's your source of inspiration?

The creativity of art, diversity and goodwill of people, especially during difficult or uncertain times continue to be a source of inspiration. I am inspired by life itself.

What is the secret of your success?

The conviction that what we do is of supreme relevance and adds value to society.

Who are your mentors?

Sheikha Fatima for being the mother of a Nation. Sheikh Nahyan for inspiring generations and Dr. Abdul Latif Kanoo (my father-in-law) for being an inspirational teacher.

What ambitions do you still have?

To continue to influence creativity. To challenge, to think and to help ensure that the next generation are armed with unlimited creative possibility and knowledge.

What advice would you give to young career-orientated women?

Work from your heart, make a difference, make your own path and never compromise. You have to aim somewhere so aim high and always remember the sky is the limit.

How do you combine career and family life?

I am lucky because I have a beautiful family who support me with my chosen career.

• As told to Helena Frith Powell

 

BEAUTY

Aliza Jabes

The entrepreneur Aliza Jabes is the owner of the French beauty brand Nuxe, which is sold in more than 60 countries including the UAE. She has a degree in political science and an MBA from NYU.

Do you think women are particularly good at running businesses? Why?

Women have to fight more than men. Not because of different skills or capacities but because they have to balance their role as a mother and a businesswoman.

In a nutshell, describe your career history.

In 1989, I graduated from Paris Sciences Po University (Political Sciences Institute in Paris) and then went on to complete my MBA at New York University. My first job was as a financial analyst, but then I took over a small Nuxe laboratory based on aromatherapy and phytotherapy with the help of my family.

Were you always ambitious to reach the top, to be head of a company?

I always had a sense that I was made to be an entrepreneur. I had absolutely no experience but lots of enthusiasm. I embraced the challenge of taking over a small Parisian lab, to turn it into a recognised brand worldwide.

How would you describe an average working day?

I never have the same day.

What is the best piece of advice you have ever been given?

Have a vision to build a long-term brand and follow my ambition. My motto: "It is better to be a good marathon runner than a sprinter".

What is your greatest achievement?

In 2007, when Nuxe received the Industrial Innovation award from the French INPI [National Institute of Industrial Property], a key recognition for our R&D laboratory.

How did you develop that ability to influence?

I trust in my team so I easily delegate. I leave them to express their creativity but I am always here to guide them. I am not a woman of power. I am a woman of dialogue.

What defines your leadership style?

The entrepreneurial and passionate spirit that has always inspired me.

What's your source of inspiration?

I've always been passionate about plants and their powers. Women's needs are also an important inspiration. I test and approve every Nuxe product. I cannot sell a product to women if I cannot "sell" it to myself.

If you hadn't pursued a career in pharmaceuticals what would you have done?

I think I could have been an astrophysicist. I've always had a fascination with space.

Who are your mentors?

My father worked as a pharmacy researcher and I grew up listening to his stories about research in the world of medications.

What ambitions do you still have?

To become the international leader in natural cosmetology, and to keep growing while keeping our bold spirit and authenticity.

What advice would you give to young career-orientated women?

Do not be afraid of obstacles and sacrifices.

How do you combine career and family life?

The priorities in my life are my two sons and my family. You reach this balance when you make everything cohabit. My weekends are for my family. They are my oxygen.

• As told to Jemma Nicholls

 

BANKING AND FINANCE

Katherine Garrett-Cox

Katherine Garret-Cox is the CEO of Alliance Trust PLC, one of the largest UK investment trusts, managing funds of almost £3 billion (Dh17.49bn).

What is the best piece of advice you have ever been given or the biggest life lesson you have learnt so far?

Trust your instincts - they are invariably right.

What is your greatest achievement?

Identifying talent outside the organisation and harnessing it inside to achieve great things.

How do you define power and influence?

By "soft power", not by job title or status. I like to persuade people by encouragement.

How did you develop that ability to influence?

I am still learning. Listening is a critical factor in all of this. Too few leaders listen.

What defines your leadership style?

Collaboration and making sure that everyone knows they can make a difference.

In a nutshell, describe your career history.

I got into fund management rather by accident. I have had a wonderful and varied career, managing money, managing people and now managing a company.

Do you think women are particularly good at running businesses? Why?

I'm not sure success is determined by gender. However, I believe women can have an intuitive management style, which helps when building businesses that are highly dependent upon people, such as ours.

Were you always ambitious to reach the top, to be head of a company?

No, but I was keen to see if I could put my years of analysing companies into practice from a different perspective.

If you hadn't pursued a career in finance what would you have done?

I would have been an actress.

How would you describe an average working day?

No average, always interesting, sometimes challenging to fit everything in.

What's your source of inspiration?

Being intellectually curious. I read a huge amount and am constantly intrigued by stories of human interaction.

What is the secret of your success and the success of the Alliance Trust brand?

Be yourself. Strong brands stand the test of time.

Who are your mentors?

I have many, mostly informal, a bit like a personal board of directors. It is important to have some tough critics around you, people who know you well.

What ambitions do you still have?

To help those close to me to maximise their individual potential.

What advice would you give to young career-orientated women?

Keep going, keep focused, manage your career - you know yourself best.

How do you combine career and family life?

By keeping things in perspective and remembering that what really matters is family.

• As told to Helena Frith Powell

         

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