Female executives are now playing a bigger role in the future development of the nation's landscape. Kim Latham and Holly Sands talk to leading female business players to find out their views on being a woman in an industry pre-dominantly headed by men.
Amna BinHendi is CEO of BinHendi Enterprises, a business empire known for its success in the trade and distribution of international retail brands and products such as fashion, jewellery and food outlets across the GCC and India.
In 1994, BinHendi Enterprises launched Alpha Properties to its ever-growing portfolio.
The real estate venture focuses on the buying, selling and leasing of residential and commercial properties across Dubai. Alpha Properties is a small but significant step perhaps indicating that BinHendi Enterprises could lean further towards future investment in the real estate industry.
At just 28-years-old, Amna BinHendi is one of the region's youngest and yet most senior female executives working across industries that in the past have been predominantly led by men. She expects to see more female executives enter the property market in the near future and insists that a female perspective is essential in the UAE's booming real estate industry.
"It is extremely important that women have a say in the development of this nation. Men and women think differently. A developing country will flourish perfectly if its future is built by both men and women equally," she says.
BinHendi gained the position of CEO in September 2007. During this time she has had little choice but to learn - and fast.
"I've experienced business growth and success at every stage expanding three-fold in a short period of time. Dubai's increasing growth and opportunities and my passion to excel and strive for perfection doesn't make my work feel like work. I have the support, education and experience," she states.
Nevertheless, BinHendi says she has "a lot on her plate," and stresses that it is possible for those who have the right potential and enthusiasm to compete in a fast-paced corporate world.
"Achieving a title of such responsibility at such a young age and expectations of leading a huge organization is a huge challenge in itself. The three things I strongly focus on are my competition, staying ahead of the game, flexibility to embrace changes and retaining our employees," she emphasizes.
Asked for her views on the UAE's current booming real estate industry and if she believes it is a bubble waiting to burst, BinHendi says:
"Everyone is asking and saying this. There is no doubt that the current market is at its peak. But considering the current inflation, I see Dubai as a commercial hub. However, I also notice that many families are moving out of the country and are migrating. This could cause the property market to fall," she says.
BinHendi says "it's great" to be a woman in a position of power and believes there are many women that have the potential but they need a push from their families.
"The future sees both women and men having equal power and achieving success, finally to be rewarded equally. More and more women are getting educated and are being encouraged by their families to seek their careers."
As CEO, BinHendi clearly needs to makes vital company decisions on a daily basis and she is humble about her role.
"There are times when you have to make a decision and you wonder if this is the right move and the price you have to pay if it isn't. Then there are times when you wonder if you've been fair and if everybody who works is rewarded his worth," she says.
BinHendi is well-known for being an advocate of seeing more women in the business world and says she is happy to do this interview because it will "have an influence on other women to come out and perhaps start their own businesses. There are many families who have businesses, she says, but usually they are passed down to men." Ivanka Trump
Ivanka Trump, daughter of the infamous Donald Trump joined the Trump Organisation in 2005 as a member of the development team. She is currently involved in 33 national and international real estate projects actively working across all aspects of property from deal evaluation through to planning, construction, marketing and sales in the company's global hotel developments.
This is one woman, famous parents or not, who is firmly in the driving seat of her own career and who is quickly becoming a global name in her own right, even in a man's world.
"In the beginning, you have to fight a little harder to establish yourself as a serious player and command the same respect as your male counterparts. That said, there also exists many advantages to being a female in a male dominated industry. It never hurts to be a bit more memorable than the men in the board room seated to your left and right," she says.
As well as expanding the Trump Organisation's interests internationally, Trump is also responsible for playing a major role in bringing the Trump International Hotel & Tower brand to the global market - including the Trump International Hotel & Tower on the Palm Jumeriah in Dubai and she is quick to point out that "in presales we have realised the highest price per sq ft numbers in the whole of the Gulf."
Trump, who previously worked as a project manager in the retail development division of Forest City Ratner Companies, is now in a position that sees her jetting off to new Trump buildings in Honolulu, Toronto, Mexico and Dominican Republic to name just a few. She could quite easily be the envy of every female and male in the business.
"The best part of my job is the sense of accomplishment when I finish a deal and see it all the way from inception to completion. It is nice because I am not just behind the scenes working numbers but rather I get to guide each deal through a full development cycle; I am on the acquisition team yet oversee project financing, planning and construction," she says.
Trump is one Vice-President - she also serves on the Board of Directors of Trump Entertainment Resorts - that doesn't like to sit back and not be a part of something. She says she is comfortable with where she is in her career and likes to be a decision maker.
"I like being a strong woman and having a solid opinion to back me up. I really do not hold my tongue about much and I like it that way," she stresses.
Asked what her views are on the property market in the UAE she insists that people have been pondering the issue of a ‘bubble waiting to burst' for over five years since her first trip to the region.
"The market continues to grow stronger. The recent launch of Trump International Hotel & Tower Dubai is testament to that fact," she emphasizes.
With a Bachelor's degree in real estate from the Wharton School of Finance at the University of Pennsylvania, Trump is also known as an accomplished speaker and makes numerous appearances in magazines around the world as well as gracing our television sets with numerous appearances.
One might think that making company decisions and deals on a global level would be enough to think about but Trump has recently gone one step further down a different direction and has entered the diamond business with the launch of her diamond venture - a retail boutique on Madison Avenue in New York - enough to inspire the majority of women.
"Currently most of the women I work with operate only in the real estate sales and marketing sphere. I look forward to seeing more women enter the development field," she says.
Asked if she faces different challenges to a man in the same position as her, she says.
"No, ultimately we live in a meritocracy. Hard work, intelligence, and ability earn people, male and female, the respect they deserve." Natasha Gangaramani
Born into the second generation of a family who own and run Al Fara'a Construction, Industrial and Property Group, Natasha Gangaramani gained years of training and first-hand experience under the leadership of her father, Chairman JR Ganagaramani.
As Director of a company that plans to deliver over AED 30 billion worth of projects under the Al Fara'a Properties umbrella by 2010, Gangaramani, who took on the title of director in 2006, appears to be well on her way to making this property development arm serious competition for industry rivals.
"Women have always played an important role in the growth and development of economies all over the world. This is a fact and I believe it holds true in the UAE too. With the Government itself advocating a greater case for women to play an active role, I believe it is essential for women to contribute to the development of the UAE through having a say in the types of developments being constructed across the UAE," she says.
The success of property projects launched to date, she says, is down to long-term investors, end-users and the emergence of government bodies such as RERA and the set up of escrow accounts which she thinks is a steadfast sign of more transparency and growth in the property market. She also believes more women will play key roles in the future.
"I definitely believe the emergence of women in this sector will grow stronger with time. I also believe the current crop of women including myself are doing well within the sector, and this will definitely encourage more women to take on the challenge of leadership within this sector," she says.
The challenge of managing the growth of Al Fara'a Properties while remaining true to the timely delivery of projects and commitment to clients is what Ganagaramani enjoys best.
As a developer in a booming property market, she admits she is faced with numerous challenges in the construction and delivery of key projects just like any other director.
"Having launched Al Fara'a Properties just over two years ago, I have been able to drive the growth of the company acknowledging that power and responsibility go hand in hand. As such, Al Fara'a Properties will have a portfolio of projects valued at AED 10 billion by the end of 2008 and it is my aim to motivate and encourage more women to take on challenges and accept leadership roles in different sectors of business," she says.
While Gangaramani acknowledges that there is a higher percentage of male CEOs and directors in the property sector she believes there has been an emergence in the number of women taking on the challenge of leadership roles. What's more, she doesn't really see any difference in how employees relate to her.
"The concept or notion that I, as a woman, am any different is non-existent within Al Fara'a Properties and this notion trickles down into various elements of operations. The fact that I have been able to guide the growth and development of this company in to a trusted and valued entity within the regional real estate sector has further strengthened the team spirit within our organization," she stresses.
With a degree in electrical engineering and a major in design and fabrication of digital circuit and nano technology from the University of Michigan Ann Abor, along with experience in Germany, the United States, Singapore, France and India, her vision to creat sustainable developments has all contributed to her strong interest and expertise in the construction process which she claims to do with "passion" and "enthusiasm" and with thanks to her father.
"As a second generation business leader, I am truly privileged to take over the mantle from my father, J R Gangaramani, who has built the Al Fara'a Construction, Industrial and Property Group into a leading diversified conglomerate in the UAE." Billy Rautenbach
Better Homes was established in 1986 by CEO Linda Mahoney, and has since grown from a one-woman business venture to one of the UAE's best-known real estate companies.
Today, the company employs more than 300 staff who manage, sell and lease a sizeable chunk of residential and commercial properties in the region. Better Homes has operations in Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Jordan, Pakistan, India and the UK.
When asked what the best part of her job is, Billy Rautenbach, COO of Better Homes is certain of one thing, "Being the boss!" she says.
"I've been through the ranks," she explains, quick to ascertain it hasn't been an amble to the top.
Rautenbach outlines how being a woman has created opportunities for her in 20 years in the industry, "I've found that being a woman in this business has opened more doors to me. It's the way we speak and present ourselves, because we have a softer side," she says. "Being a woman in this industry, you have to know your stuff. Sometimes men are excused if they don't, because they're one of the boys."
As the boss, Rautenbach shoulders a lot of responsibility, particularly when it comes to problem-solving with her team, "You have to make a decision, whether it's good, bad or indifferent, you need to make it. When you've done that, you can move forward. If it's the wrong decision, you can sort it out when you've realized that, but nine times out of 10, the fact a decision has been made is already a big win."
Rautenbach admits there are certain challenges faced by women, "I think men are taken more seriously," she says, but suggests women have something different to offer in their approach.
"I think women have a more holistic view of everything. Businesswomen have a very strong business side, but they also have a strong mothering, earthy view."
She has a strong image of how the country would look if women played a bigger part in the real estate industry. "It's a generalization, but I think if women become more involved we would see less high-rises, lower density, more parks and more family-orientated kind of communities. We could also see that prices wouldn't be as high," she says.
The UAE's real estate market is more exhilarating than ever, according to Rautenbach, "It's still an exciting market to be in. The leasing market has improved dramatically for us because there's a lot more stock. Some areas are continuing to grow month-on-month," she says.
Plans for the future are well underway at Better Homes with expansion in the pipeline.
"We're very confident, which you can see in the way we're expanding, as we're intending to open another five or six offices this year. We're very bullish about the UAE market," she says, and she is clear in her reasoning.
"We feel there's still a lot of action because supply has not caught up with demand. With project delays and increasing construction costs, it will take time."
In a place as culturally diverse as the UAE, Rautenbach insists there are no differences in the way her employees relate to her as the boss, "There are so many nationalities and different people here it's not just about men and women. It's more about different backgrounds, whether those are ethnic, religious or cultural," she says.
"I feel I am respected in the market, and it's because of my knowledge," says Rautenbach, which she has achieved after years of devotion to her work. This experience also allows her to relate to her team, "There isn't anything in this organization I haven't done, so therefore they can't challenge me on that," she says.
In order for more women to achieve top positions in the real estate industry, Rautenbach's message is clear, "I think women need to look at their skills and look at what they have to add. They shouldn't be afraid to express their strengths to the person they're going for a job interview with. We're almost 50% of the population and we have 50% as much to offer as our male counterparts." Nadia Bin Zaal
Nadia Bin Zaal, CEO and co-founder of luxury property developer Zaya, has achieved more than most in a little over ten years in the business world. Living proof that success can come irrespective of gender, Zaal made a name for herself as the CEO of Al Barari, a US$2b mixed-use luxury development situated in the Dubailand mega-project.
With a combined 25 years experience across the team, Zaya looks set to do great things. Situated on an island just a few miles from Abu Dhabi, Zaya's maiden project, Nurai, will be one of the most spectacular luxury residential developments in the city, with sprawling beachfront estates and striking villas constructed over water.
"There are many powerful women in the business world today and each of us has got here by hard work, determination and ability," says Zaal, who believes progress in the business world is determined by one's accomplishments alone.
"I have a great team and an excellent relationship with both genders. My senior management is mixed with both males and females, which brings a perfect balance to the table," she explains, but admits to feeling pride at the achievements of women in the industry.
"Over the past few years an increasing number of women around the Arab world have been assuming positions of power and this makes me proud. The next generation shows a lot of promise and the numbers of women in business will continue increasing," she says, and remarks this will rise in tandem with the UAE's progress.
Asked for her views on UAE's real estate market, Zaal reveals unfaltering enthusiasm. "In recent years we have seen a tremendous boom in the UAE property market," she says, noting the apparently endless list of developments launched each week, "I believe the real estate sector will continue to flourish. Some key drivers in the growth of the industry can be seen in the increase in the number of tourism arrivals each year. The expansion of Dubai International Airport, new Jebel Ali Airport and the proposed upgrade of Abu Dhabi Airport."
Tourism is not the only factor Zaal believes will contribute to the country's progress, and she explains why the UAE is destined to continue booming, "Many global companies are relocating their headquarters to the UAE due to the favourable business and tax laws. Liberalised laws have created opportunities for foreign investors to buy freehold property, making the UAE an intelligent location in which to invest."
Lucky for Zaal, she is part of the industry for which she shows such passion. "Concept development and bringing in the right brand parties to make the best offering," she says and, unsurprisingly, admits a penchant for the smaller things, "I am a detail orientated person and I like to get involved in everything. I like getting involved in the creative process of marketing to make sure we have an outstanding sales experience," she says.
Her perceptive attitude to business is perhaps what makes Nurai, Zaya's first project, stand-out against the innumerable developments- island and otherwise- in Abu Dhabi. "Zaya realized a niche not being served in the market, which is based on understanding the finest needs of its discerning clientele," she says.
According to Zaal, the future of the company remains on the same path, "Unlike other developers in the region, Zaya's focus will stay fixed on serving the highest end of the market, which we believe will always survive the real estate market cycle," she stresses.
Her thoughts on the future for CEOs? "I anticipate seeing more women in senior jobs, not only in real estate but in also in other sectors," she says, adding there are already plenty of "very successful female real estate practitioners."
Zaal is adamant women will be included in the future plans of the UAE, and suggests many already play a part, "Women are playing a major role in shaping the future, female ministers such as Sheikha Lubna Al-Qasimi, members of the Federal National Council such as Najla Al Awadi and Maysa Ghadeer. This is a trend that we are not only witnessing in the UAE, but in the rest of the Arab world."
RELATED LINK:Leading the wayFor all the latest business news from the UAE and Gulf countries, follow us on Twitter and Linkedin, like us on Facebook and subscribe to our YouTube page, which is updated daily.
Subscribe to Arabian Business' newsletter to receive the latest breaking news and business stories in Dubai,the UAE and the GCC straight to your inbox.