Reading the vital signs: Isobel Abulhoul, Emirates Literature Foundation

Isobel Abulhoul OBE is the CEO and Trustee of the Emirates Literature Foundation, whose passion for education and reading underpins the annual event that brings people of all ages and backgrounds together with authors from across the world
Reading the vital signs: Isobel Abulhoul, Emirates Literature Foundation
Promoting reading. His Highness Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed Al Maktoum, Chairman of the Emirates Literature Foundation, pictured with Isobel Abulhoul
By Jola Chudy
Thu 05 Sep 2019 06:58 PM

What’s the story behind your business?

A lifelong passion for education, in particular reading for pleasure. With this as a focus, I have tried over the years to allow as many people as possible to discover the joys that reading a good book can bring, plus so many other benefits. Young people who read regularly, will outperform their peers, just because of this one key element.

If all goes well, where do you see it going in the next five years? The next decade?

I think it is important to remain true to your vision, and be prepared to innovate and try to be a trailblazer.

What’s the single biggest challenge facing your industry today?

There will always be challenges of many different kinds. The important thing is to remember to be a destination for your target audience, who will come to you because you offer a great experience that they will want to repeat and can’t be replicated easily elsewhere.

Where do great ideas come from in your organisation?

From gathering passionate individuals who share the vision of the organisation. It has to be more than a job for everyone to contribute their ideas and feedback to improve on how to deliver the vision.

How do you encourage creative thinking within your organisation?

The right mix of team members, opportunities for everyone to contribute their ideas, and a chance to voice their views.

What is most important in your company – its mission, core values or vision?

Its mission.

What’s your decision-making process?

To discuss with the department heads at weekly meetings, and whilst putting my point of view forward, allow for majority vote decisions.

What do you enjoy the most about working at your company?

The way that each day is different, and always exciting.

Can you name a person who has had an impact on you as a leader?

My parents, who always believed in me, and gave me the confidence to dream and try and achieve the dream, but also to understand that failure is a necessary step to success.

What would you say to a new employee about the culture of your organisation?

Please join us if you share our passion for making our world a better place: one person, one book at a time.

When faced with two equally qualified job candidates, how do you determine whom to hire?

Gut instinct and body language.

What are characteristics that you believe every leader should possess?

Courage, determination, and a willingness to keep going.

What advice would you give to someone going into leadership for the first time?

Don’t expect everyone to be your friend: you sometimes have to make tough decisions, so it is worthwhile to keep business and friendship separate.

What’s your greatest fear in business?

To wake up one day and not have the motivation to keep going with the same level of passion.

What’s the best way to prepare for uncertainty?

To always have a Plan B, and keep your finger on the pulse of your industry.

What’s one thing most people don’t know about you?

I love trees.

What’s one productivity tip you wish everyone else knew?

Make decisions and don’t prevaricate.

What is your most prized possession?

A battered book of poems from my childhood.

If you could give an old boss one piece of advice, what would it be?

Try to focus on the overview.

If something were to happen to your business, what would be your backup?

Probably enjoy retirement!

How do you manage a large company and still find time for things like family?

By always understanding your priorities.

What does a typical day look like for you?

I’m an early riser and try to swim every morning. It is a quiet time when I can think about the day ahead.

Do you have any daily rituals that help prepare you for the day?

I meditate if I am stressed. A good night’s sleep is vital to performing well at work, so I try and switch off from work matters an hour before bedtime, when possible.

Finish this sentence, “the world would be a better place if only….”

If only we all had time to stand and stare.

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