Corporate ladder climbing - in heels: Forbes unveils MENA's most powerful ladies!

Published September 21st, 2014 - 14:53 GMT

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Rarely do women make headlines in the Middle East for a good reason. All that is about to change! For the very first time ever, this year’s Forbes Middle East ranking includes accomplished women who occupy the most senior positions in the corporate world. This coveted (and surprising!) list includes women from all walks of life - from family business and government, to top C-level executives in the corporate sphere. The move to include women in Saudi Arabia’s Shura Council (we said surprising!) also allowed strong Saudi government representation. Continue reading below »

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 Sheikha Al-Bahar- Deputy CEO, National Bank of Kuwait. She may look like a movie star, but this powerful exec has both Stanford and Harvard degrees and over 30 years of banking experience. As Deputy  CEO of the Gulf’s oldest and largest bank, she’s on lots of other boards also, including the International Bank of Qatar.
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Image 1 of 10:  1 / 10 Sheikha Al-Bahar- Deputy CEO, National Bank of Kuwait. She may look like a movie star, but this powerful exec has both Stanford and Harvard degrees and over 30 years of banking experience. As Deputy CEO of the Gulf’s oldest and largest bank, she’s on lots of other boards also, including the International Bank of Qatar.

Enlarge
Dr Nayla AlHayek- Chairperson, Swatch Group, Lebanon. She’s a timepiece tycoon and an international Arabian horse judge to boot! Hayek received the Swatch Group crown after her father’s passing in 2010. She’s since upgraded to CEO of luxury jewelry brand Harry Winston, which acquired the world’s largest flawless blue diamond in 2013.
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Image 2 of 10:  2 / 10Dr Nayla AlHayek- Chairperson, Swatch Group, Lebanon. She’s a timepiece tycoon and an international Arabian horse judge to boot! Hayek received the Swatch Group crown after her father’s passing in 2010. She’s since upgraded to CEO of luxury jewelry brand Harry Winston, which acquired the world’s largest flawless blue diamond in 2013.

Enlarge
Salma Ali Saif Bin Harib- CEO of Economic Zones of the World, UAE. The first female head of a free zone in the ME. Previously CEO to  EZW, a global industrial, warehousing and distribution hub. Unsurprisingly, she’s pretty excited aboutthe Expo 2020- maybe as an alumna of the Cardiff Institute she can bring along the British attendance!
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Image 3 of 10:  3 / 10Salma Ali Saif Bin Harib- CEO of Economic Zones of the World, UAE. The first female head of a free zone in the ME. Previously CEO to EZW, a global industrial, warehousing and distribution hub. Unsurprisingly, she’s pretty excited aboutthe Expo 2020- maybe as an alumna of the Cardiff Institute she can bring along the British attendance!

Enlarge
Huda Al-Ghoson- Executive Director of HR at Aramco, Saudi Arabia. Who better to bring in the best talent than one of the talented themselves? She’s head of HR for the world’s top oil and gas giant Aramco, but like the best of them, she knows the ins and outs of all the jobs because she’s done most of them during her 33 years of  experience!
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Image 4 of 10:  4 / 10Huda Al-Ghoson- Executive Director of HR at Aramco, Saudi Arabia. Who better to bring in the best talent than one of the talented themselves? She’s head of HR for the world’s top oil and gas giant Aramco, but like the best of them, she knows the ins and outs of all the jobs because she’s done most of them during her 33 years of experience!

Enlarge
Nabila Al-Tunisia, General Manager of Northern Area Projects. Aramco knows what it’s doing with it’s leading ladies! She’s known as the Iron Lady  but could be better known as the iLady with her background in computer systems engineering and the pivotal role she played to bring new technology company wide.
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Image 5 of 10:  5 / 10Nabila Al-Tunisia, General Manager of Northern Area Projects. Aramco knows what it’s doing with it’s leading ladies! She’s known as the Iron Lady but could be better known as the iLady with her background in computer systems engineering and the pivotal role she played to bring new technology company wide.

Enlarge
Dr. Amina Al-Rustamani. She’s an engineering extraordinaire with a bachelors, masters and PhD from George Washington, so she knows her stuff as the Group CEO of TECOM Investments. This powerful player is on boards to regulate the UAE’s media and to transform Dubai into a ‘Smart City’. With a brain like hers, Dubai can’t help but be smart!
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Image 6 of 10:  6 / 10Dr. Amina Al-Rustamani. She’s an engineering extraordinaire with a bachelors, masters and PhD from George Washington, so she knows her stuff as the Group CEO of TECOM Investments. This powerful player is on boards to regulate the UAE’s media and to transform Dubai into a ‘Smart City’. With a brain like hers, Dubai can’t help but be smart!

Enlarge
Fadwa Al-Homaizi. CEO of Kout Food Group, Kuwait. She’s not only the clout of Kout, but it’s founder too! This giant started out as the ‘Hungry Bunny’ in 1982 as the first local franchise, but with her help the company devoured other food franchises. In addition to feeding her bunny, she is on LoYAC's board- a youth organization.
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Image 7 of 10:  7 / 10Fadwa Al-Homaizi. CEO of Kout Food Group, Kuwait. She’s not only the clout of Kout, but it’s founder too! This giant started out as the ‘Hungry Bunny’ in 1982 as the first local franchise, but with her help the company devoured other food franchises. In addition to feeding her bunny, she is on LoYAC's board- a youth organization.

Enlarge
Maha Al-Ghunaim. Another founder of giants, this investment empress was one of four that created the Global Investment House Kuwait, in 1998. Like an Amazonian, she spearheaded the organization’s debut on the London Stock Exchange, as the first Kuwaiti company to list there. Her stock market savvy is thanks to her BSc in mathematics.
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Image 8 of 10:  8 / 10Maha Al-Ghunaim. Another founder of giants, this investment empress was one of four that created the Global Investment House Kuwait, in 1998. Like an Amazonian, she spearheaded the organization’s debut on the London Stock Exchange, as the first Kuwaiti company to list there. Her stock market savvy is thanks to her BSc in mathematics.

Enlarge
Sara Akbar-CEO of Kuwait Energy. Sara Akbar’s 28 years of oil and gas experience made her one of MENA’s most respected in the field, of either sex. She’s praised as the only female in Kuwait’s Wild Well Killers Team, aptly earning her the moniker “Firefighter”. The UN gave her a “Global 500 Award” for her environmental efforts.
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Image 9 of 10:  9 / 10Sara Akbar-CEO of Kuwait Energy. Sara Akbar’s 28 years of oil and gas experience made her one of MENA’s most respected in the field, of either sex. She’s praised as the only female in Kuwait’s Wild Well Killers Team, aptly earning her the moniker “Firefighter”. The UN gave her a “Global 500 Award” for her environmental efforts.

Enlarge
Elham Mahfouz. This fast-moving rising star in the Commercial Bank of Kuwait was GM of New York Branch, then GM of international banking, before becoming the Deputy CEO to now CEO - and all that in only 14 years! Mahfouz holds a bachelor’s degree in business administration from the American University in Cairo.
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Image 10 of 10:  10 / 10Elham Mahfouz. This fast-moving rising star in the Commercial Bank of Kuwait was GM of New York Branch, then GM of international banking, before becoming the Deputy CEO to now CEO - and all that in only 14 years! Mahfouz holds a bachelor’s degree in business administration from the American University in Cairo.

Enlarge

1

 Sheikha Al-Bahar- Deputy CEO, National Bank of Kuwait. She may look like a movie star, but this powerful exec has both Stanford and Harvard degrees and over 30 years of banking experience. As Deputy  CEO of the Gulf’s oldest and largest bank, she’s on lots of other boards also, including the International Bank of Qatar.

Image 1 of 10 Sheikha Al-Bahar- Deputy CEO, National Bank of Kuwait. She may look like a movie star, but this powerful exec has both Stanford and Harvard degrees and over 30 years of banking experience. As Deputy CEO of the Gulf’s oldest and largest bank, she’s on lots of other boards also, including the International Bank of Qatar.

2

Dr Nayla AlHayek- Chairperson, Swatch Group, Lebanon. She’s a timepiece tycoon and an international Arabian horse judge to boot! Hayek received the Swatch Group crown after her father’s passing in 2010. She’s since upgraded to CEO of luxury jewelry brand Harry Winston, which acquired the world’s largest flawless blue diamond in 2013.

Image 2 of 10Dr Nayla AlHayek- Chairperson, Swatch Group, Lebanon. She’s a timepiece tycoon and an international Arabian horse judge to boot! Hayek received the Swatch Group crown after her father’s passing in 2010. She’s since upgraded to CEO of luxury jewelry brand Harry Winston, which acquired the world’s largest flawless blue diamond in 2013.

3

Salma Ali Saif Bin Harib- CEO of Economic Zones of the World, UAE. The first female head of a free zone in the ME. Previously CEO to  EZW, a global industrial, warehousing and distribution hub. Unsurprisingly, she’s pretty excited aboutthe Expo 2020- maybe as an alumna of the Cardiff Institute she can bring along the British attendance!

Image 3 of 10Salma Ali Saif Bin Harib- CEO of Economic Zones of the World, UAE. The first female head of a free zone in the ME. Previously CEO to EZW, a global industrial, warehousing and distribution hub. Unsurprisingly, she’s pretty excited aboutthe Expo 2020- maybe as an alumna of the Cardiff Institute she can bring along the British attendance!

4

Huda Al-Ghoson- Executive Director of HR at Aramco, Saudi Arabia. Who better to bring in the best talent than one of the talented themselves? She’s head of HR for the world’s top oil and gas giant Aramco, but like the best of them, she knows the ins and outs of all the jobs because she’s done most of them during her 33 years of  experience!

Image 4 of 10Huda Al-Ghoson- Executive Director of HR at Aramco, Saudi Arabia. Who better to bring in the best talent than one of the talented themselves? She’s head of HR for the world’s top oil and gas giant Aramco, but like the best of them, she knows the ins and outs of all the jobs because she’s done most of them during her 33 years of experience!

5

Nabila Al-Tunisia, General Manager of Northern Area Projects. Aramco knows what it’s doing with it’s leading ladies! She’s known as the Iron Lady  but could be better known as the iLady with her background in computer systems engineering and the pivotal role she played to bring new technology company wide.

Image 5 of 10Nabila Al-Tunisia, General Manager of Northern Area Projects. Aramco knows what it’s doing with it’s leading ladies! She’s known as the Iron Lady but could be better known as the iLady with her background in computer systems engineering and the pivotal role she played to bring new technology company wide.

6

Dr. Amina Al-Rustamani. She’s an engineering extraordinaire with a bachelors, masters and PhD from George Washington, so she knows her stuff as the Group CEO of TECOM Investments. This powerful player is on boards to regulate the UAE’s media and to transform Dubai into a ‘Smart City’. With a brain like hers, Dubai can’t help but be smart!

Image 6 of 10Dr. Amina Al-Rustamani. She’s an engineering extraordinaire with a bachelors, masters and PhD from George Washington, so she knows her stuff as the Group CEO of TECOM Investments. This powerful player is on boards to regulate the UAE’s media and to transform Dubai into a ‘Smart City’. With a brain like hers, Dubai can’t help but be smart!

7

Fadwa Al-Homaizi. CEO of Kout Food Group, Kuwait. She’s not only the clout of Kout, but it’s founder too! This giant started out as the ‘Hungry Bunny’ in 1982 as the first local franchise, but with her help the company devoured other food franchises. In addition to feeding her bunny, she is on LoYAC's board- a youth organization.

Image 7 of 10Fadwa Al-Homaizi. CEO of Kout Food Group, Kuwait. She’s not only the clout of Kout, but it’s founder too! This giant started out as the ‘Hungry Bunny’ in 1982 as the first local franchise, but with her help the company devoured other food franchises. In addition to feeding her bunny, she is on LoYAC's board- a youth organization.

8

Maha Al-Ghunaim. Another founder of giants, this investment empress was one of four that created the Global Investment House Kuwait, in 1998. Like an Amazonian, she spearheaded the organization’s debut on the London Stock Exchange, as the first Kuwaiti company to list there. Her stock market savvy is thanks to her BSc in mathematics.

Image 8 of 10Maha Al-Ghunaim. Another founder of giants, this investment empress was one of four that created the Global Investment House Kuwait, in 1998. Like an Amazonian, she spearheaded the organization’s debut on the London Stock Exchange, as the first Kuwaiti company to list there. Her stock market savvy is thanks to her BSc in mathematics.

9

Sara Akbar-CEO of Kuwait Energy. Sara Akbar’s 28 years of oil and gas experience made her one of MENA’s most respected in the field, of either sex. She’s praised as the only female in Kuwait’s Wild Well Killers Team, aptly earning her the moniker “Firefighter”. The UN gave her a “Global 500 Award” for her environmental efforts.

Image 9 of 10Sara Akbar-CEO of Kuwait Energy. Sara Akbar’s 28 years of oil and gas experience made her one of MENA’s most respected in the field, of either sex. She’s praised as the only female in Kuwait’s Wild Well Killers Team, aptly earning her the moniker “Firefighter”. The UN gave her a “Global 500 Award” for her environmental efforts.

10

Elham Mahfouz. This fast-moving rising star in the Commercial Bank of Kuwait was GM of New York Branch, then GM of international banking, before becoming the Deputy CEO to now CEO - and all that in only 14 years! Mahfouz holds a bachelor’s degree in business administration from the American University in Cairo.

Image 10 of 10Elham Mahfouz. This fast-moving rising star in the Commercial Bank of Kuwait was GM of New York Branch, then GM of international banking, before becoming the Deputy CEO to now CEO - and all that in only 14 years! Mahfouz holds a bachelor’s degree in business administration from the American University in Cairo.

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In a region sometimes seen by the outside world as one which faces significant women’s rights challenges, to have not just one, but ten women rank alongside the most powerful sheiks, royalty and CEOs the region has to offer is a spectacular feat. Judged on their degree of power, years of experience, media interaction, number of employees and international presence, these women are a force to be reckoned with as they take the reins to guide this great region into the future.

How did these amazing women get to Forbes illustrious pages? When a mere 32% of the MENA workforce is female, who are the rare women breaking through the glass ceiling to reach the top of the proverbial corporate ladder?

Strikingly, all top ten women on the list are from GCC countries. Was it wealth? Or was it simply hard work, dedication and a drive to succeed - just like almost every other male CEO out there?  

Decide for yourself, as we shine a spotlight on the most powerful women in the Middle East and find out how they have risen higher than the Burj Khalifa itself. Women on top: Forbes finds the Middle East's most leading women!

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