“Without influence, competence is powerless… if we refrain from engaging in politics we are effectively withdrawing ourselves as serious candidates for high corporate office.”
Named twice by Forbes Middle East – in 2014 and 2015 – as one of the “Most Powerful Arab Women in Business”, Caroline combines 20 years corporate business experience with the skills of a professional business coach. She branched out into coaching to share her firm belief in cooperative leadership and organizational development. Caroline held management roles in Europe, Latin America and the Middle East – learning best practices from Unilever, Mondelez/Kraft, Johnson & Johnson and Gillette. She lived and worked in France, Argentina and Dubai and is now resident in Lebanon. Caroline is also a shareholder, a board member and a senior executive at Fattal Group, a multidisciplinary distribution company operating in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA).
ON GENDER AND CAREER CHOICES
Indeed gender and culture influenced my life. I was born and raised in the Middle East in a family of 3 daughters. The unwritten rule of male primogeniture was still vivid at that time. Thankfully, my parents did not think the same way and both encouraged the three of us to be independent and to build our own careers.
At that time – although not so long ago – not many women had roles in men-dominated environments such as in sales or boards. I was the first woman Sales Director for Unilever in Emerging Markets (MENA and Asia) and had a male-dominated sales force and customer base. After having successfully worked for multinationals in several countries, I was the first Fattal woman to join the family business management team. At a later stage, I had the chance to be the first woman to take a board seat, 4 generations after the inception of the Group in 1897. I am a true believer that women in the Middle East should get more seats on boards, especially in times of economic turmoil and political instability, where having women in the boardroom leads to better-informed discussions and more thoughtful decision-making.
ON GENDER DIVERSITY IN INDUSTRY
There are many economic findings in favor of more gender diversity in companies. Studies by Credit Suisse, McKinsey & Catalyst show that the higher the percentage of women on boards and in executive committees, the better the return on equity, on sales and on invested capital. Findings from former Booz & Co study suggest that economic advancement of women doesn’t just empower women but also leads to greater overall prosperity. And there are many more that shows that diversity leads to better quality decision making and better use of the talent pool.
In the branding and marketing industry, women are the third billion. In the study that I mentioned previously, Booz & Co stated that “there is approximately one billion women in both developing and industrialized nations, whose economic lives have previously been stunted, underleveraged, or suppressed, and who could, over the next decade, take their place in the global economy as consumers, producers, employees and entrepreneurs”.
Women control nearly 75 percent of consumer purchasing decisions, therefore their contribution to the Marketing & Branding Industry is key.
Yet there are still 29 Fortune 1000 consumer companies with no women on their boards, according to research by CTPartners, a global executive search firm.
To help more women grow to the top, two parallel actions need to be done: from one side, the regulators and the corporations have to support and enable upward mobility for women, and from the other side, women have a very important role to play. There is much that women can do to improve their chances of getting promoted.
ON WOMEN AND LEADERSHIP
It takes a hell of a job for women in any industry to thrive and survive. As women, we have to push ourselves, nobody will spoon-feed us, and we have to find our way. I had the chance to have mentors and sponsors at different instances in my career.
One of my mentors was Peninah Thomson, co-author of two books: “A Woman’s Place is in the Boardroom” and “A Woman’s Place is in the Boardroom – The Roadmap”. Peninah has done extensive research on the topic of the development of senior women. She mentions a roadmap and highlights 8 important signposts to consider when thinking about women moving into senior roles. They have guided me along my professional journey.
ON WORK-LIFE BALANCE
I work because I love to work, it is not because I am forced to do so and this is a blessing by itself. That being said, it is indeed a big challenge to carry all the hats at the same time (mother, spouse, professional in various businesses, member of NGOs, etc). Hence, “work-life balance” seems more a myth than a reality. At times, it is work that takes the priority and at other times, it is family that prevails especially with 4 kids under 12 years old.
The biggest challenge for me is finding time. I am blessed to be able to count on the great help of my extended family: my mother, my sisters and my in-laws as both my husband and I travel extensively for work.
In my free time, I simply enjoy being with my family and friends and try to unwind from the city by going to the mountain.
ON RISK TAKING
I take calculated risks but when I am passionate, I become a real risk taker! The biggest risk I have taken so far in my career was to accept a mission two years ago, to turnaround an ailing affiliate in Iraq. It was a mixture of physical danger and business challenge: it took me to all the main cities and their local markets together with devising a strategy to rescue the company on all fronts: people, finance, suppliers, etc. In 18 months and despite ISIS invasion and oil prices dropping, the turnaround was achieved successfully thanks to the help and great support of my leadership team and the teams on the ground. It made me really proud!
ON LIFE-LONG LEARNING
I strongly believe in continuous education: that is how I started my second career as an executive coach and went through all the leadership development courses and needed certifications. On the other hand, to become a better Board Member, I developed competencies in governance through certifications from both the International Finance Corporation and the French Institute of Directors.
One area I still want to develop is how to blend competence and influence. Like most women, I have an extreme dislike of corporate politics. Yet as I mention to my women coaching clients, it is something we have to understand and work with if we want to achieve and remain in senior roles.
Competence and influence are both necessary factors in the assignment of power and neither is sufficient in itself. Without influence, competence is powerless. I understood it well from my own experience and the one of my coaches both male and female: if we refrain from engaging in politics we are effectively withdrawing ourselves as serious candidates for high corporate office.
The way I found best to “crack it” is to think of politics as building alliances, influencing, exercising diplomacy and creating awareness of who one is.
Finding a way to play the political game authentically is my challenge and I am still learning it day after day.
ON FUTURE CHALLENGES
We are experiencing troubled times in the Middle East North Africa region. The environment has never looked more Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous. So it is quite a challenge to project myself or the corporation five years from now… I will be approaching my 50’s, I hope myself and my family will be in good health and that I will be fulfilled both in my personal and professional journeys. I have had the privilege to be named twice by Forbes Middle East – in 2014 and 2015 – as one of the “Most Powerful Arab Women in Business”. This humbles me and makes me feel how blessed I am. It is an incentive for me to give even more back to the communities where I belong. The key is to work hard, persist, and believe.
I WILL NOT LEAVE HOME WITHOUT…
A kiss to my husband and kids, my hand bag and my smart phone!