Lookout Emirates

Family Flair
Photograph courtesy of Amna Bin Hendi. Photograph courtesy of Muna Al Gurg.

The number of women securing high-profile roles in the business sector in the Middle East is on the rise.

Amna BinHendi and Muna Al Gurg, two of the UAE’s most prominent businesswomen, talk to T emirates about following in their families’ footsteps and building their businesses.
By Orna Ballout

in a business developed by the people you aspire most to impress would seem a challenge. However, Amna BinHendi and Muna Al Gurg, two of the bestknown women working in the UAE, are both successfully playing leading roles in businesses founded by their families. BinHendi Enterprises, established in 1974 by Mohi-Din BinHendi, is a conglomerate that spans industries from fashion to real estate, and has been influential in introducing many high-end brands into the UAE. Since 2007, Amna BinHendi has headed the company as CEO. While Amna appreciates that working in the family business is a great honor, she says that it also comes with a responsibility to “preserve our family’s legacy” and, as the next generation, “to safeguard BinHendi’s achievements, and take it to the next level”. Muna Al Gurg similarly ventured into the familyowned company Al Gurg Group, founded by her father HE Easa Saleh Al Gurg in 1960. The Group covers sectors such as construction, real estate, retail and lifestyle, and has likewise brought many prestigious brands to the UAE. Muna acts as Director of Retail, and her siblings also play leading roles. Working alongside family members can be challenging, as “there’s a lot of emotion involved”, says Muna, adding: “There are a lot of good mentors you can learn from in a family business,” so it can also be very rewarding. Muna and Amna share a passion for working closely with various people to build the brands that fall within their conglomerates. “Even though I’m head of retail, I still end up sitting with the bloggers of Dubai to build a certain brand,” says Muna. Amna, meanwhile, enjoys “obtaining new brands and negotiating with the principals and pursuing them to come into this fabulous market.” Following in the footsteps of your predecessors can itself present difficulties, as people may have the perception that your journey to the top has been smoother than for others. Amna maintains that “nothing in life comes easily, no matter who your father or family is. I had to prove myself in a male-dominated industry,” she notes, “and we all know how challenging that is in our conservative Arab society.” Muna, for her part, says that when she entered the family business it was her father’s wish that she be treated like any other employee. “I tackle that perception [that things were easy for me] by speaking to people,” she says, “and telling them my story of how, 12 years ago, I started working as a


o many people, taking a key position

marketing executive, conducting questionnaires on the shop floor.” Aside from her role as director of retail, Muna chairs Young Arab Leaders, a government-led initiative to promote education, entrepreneurship and youth development in the UAE. Moreover, Muna has helped to develop “Job Shadow Day,” a partnership between the business community, educators and volunteers, who work together to inspire and encourage young people to realize their full potential. “I want to change the statistics in the UAE of locals working in the private sector, and I have introduced the program within our group to bring in more local young talent.” The number of women securing high-profile roles in the business sector in the Middle East is on the rise, which is “a very important milestone in the region,” says Amna. “Women have made strides toward equality both in the community and in the workplace, and we are finally seeing some results, with leading women making their mark in the Arab world, whether academically, politically or socially,” she adds. Amna says there are many things to look forward to from BinHendi Enterprises this year. “We’ve already inaugurated a few outlets earlier this year, including Now Café in The Dubai Mall, a new version of China Times in Deira City Center, and the new B&B Italia showroom on Jumeirah Beach Road. We still have many new restaurants and outlets to open in the next few months, with new concepts and brands in both the hospitality and retail divisions.” Al Gurg Group, meanwhile, is busy expanding into other territories, with new offices recently opened in Qatar and Saudi Arabia. “We’re exploring business possibilities in Tunisia, Libya and Algeria,” reveals Muna. From personal experience of working in her family’s company, Amna enthuses that although she’d love her children to follow in her path, “it would be their choice, and they would have to decide on their own which direction they wished to go in.” Muna agrees that while she too would like her children to follow her, “every young person should enjoy what they’re doing, and if that doesn’t mean being involved, so be it.” Offering advice to other women striving to carve out a successful career, Muna encourages them to “surround yourself with positive people you can learn from”, while Amna says: “Never let others get to you; try your hardest in everything you do, even though you may feel as though you’ll never succeed. Great things in life never come easily.”

Amna Bin Hendi, CEO, BinHendi Enterprises. 38 T Emirates: The New York Times Style Magazine

Muna Al Gurg, Director of Retail, Easa Saleh Al Gurg Group. Issue 3, 2013 39