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The sparkling shine of a retail star

She's one of the brightest business stars to come from the UAE and was recently honoured by Forbes magazines as part of their annual line-up of stellar movers and shakers in the Arab world. AW talks to Amna BinHendi, the heir to the BinHendi empire and the newly appointed CEO, as she reveals her plans for the company and reality of working in a predominantly male business world.

In this part of the world where family-owned businesses account for over 75 percent of total market, it's nothing out-of-ordinary to hear that the eldest son is in charge of the business.

However, rarely do you hear that it's a 27-year-old daughter managing a company with annual revenues that amount to over the multi-million dollar scope. It's more so surprising given the statistics which reveal that many of these family businesses barely survive and that only five percent of them make it through to the third generation management. However, Mohi-Din BinHendi, Chairman and founder of the BinHendi Enterprises in a decision that proved everybody wrong, selected the very best person (his daughter) to take his multi-faceted retail business to the next level.

After a few months in the top job, Amna has felt the public scrutiny as well as heard of the incessant comparisons to her father's achievements, but this has not fazed the headstrong and shrewd business executive at all. This is a woman with a definite plan and no lack of confidence to expound just how she intends to realise what may seem impossible to many, but an achievable strategy and objective to her. BinHendi

Enterprises is one of the most successful and diversified businesses in the UAE. Apart from having investments in the property, furnishing and oilfield supply sectors, BinHendi Enterprises today have a presence in hospitality, construction, real estate, fashion, jewellery, media, exchange houses and interior design segments as well.

Asked about the challenges of managing such a diversified range of retail business the young BinHendi says, “Well it's very demanding. There's a lot on my plate as the CEO, but I'm enjoying the scope of responsibility and work. We're always trying to come up with effective strategies to infuse new and different ideas into our business. And I've been working towards this end for the past five years so I am aware of the shortfalls, and therefore prepared with realistic solutions. The nature of business is that it's always evolving and even today there are so many changes from the company's previous management and I think that with the ideas we've come up with as an executive team, we can only get better.”

Surely this confidence would have taken some beating, especially when she heard industry naysayers dismiss her education and ability to run her family business. Many labeled her ascent to the top job at BinHendi as pure nepotism and nothing else, offending her credibility, we discover. BinHendi clarifies, “I believe that ability should always be the first consideration when hiring anyone.

The process has to be fair and equal and each person should be given the opportunity to grow and prove themselves. I know that in my case; all of this was taken into account and I did not take this position away from anyone. It's not as if we at BinHendi had designated the CEO title exclusively for anyone in the family. In fact a non-family member was the previous CEO and he ran the company for nine years.”

At the time of BinHendi's appointment, the position was vacant and after extensive interviews for an outside hire, the decision was made for her to fill this slot. “I actually did not accept the offer initially, but a few months later, I reached a certain stage in my professional career, which allowed me to take on the role and also I had to prove to myself that I could really do this job well. It did not come easy. My father constantly tested me and expected a high level of delivery as he did from his previous CEO, there are no exceptions. Believe me, when it comes to business I am just another employee and not his daughter,” she adds.

If Mohi-Din BinHendi's proven business acumen is anything to go by, his investments have been spot on– he opened the Emirate's first international fashion outlet, Pierre Cardin in Deira in the 70s, and have since successfully introduced more than 60 prestigious international brands to the UAE. One can be assured that Amna BinHendi is a worthy proponent.

So did she feel compelled to join her family business because she was the eldest? “After I graduated from Zayed University in 2002 with a Bachelor's Degree in Information Systems and Business, I did my training in Dubai e-government in the marketing division, which mostly entailed of IT related work. I was getting several offers during this period, but then I asked myself whether I really wanted to work for somebody else when my father needed someone to help run this huge organization. I decided then to join our company. He was very open to the idea, but the decision was totally mine.

There was never any pressure,” BinHendi shares. It would appear that her decision to join the company was an impromptu one; on the contrary BinHendi has always nurtured the desire to join the family business. She says, “Somehow I knew that one day I would take the top job, but never expected it to come to me this quickly. I think that I've proven myself within the five years that I've been in charge of the company's Group Human Resources department which really help me to understand the dynamic of our business and how to maximize our resources.”

The business leader
For Amna BinHendi, the climb up the corporate ladder hasn't been easy. The novice entrepreneur has used every working moment in the past five years to prepare herself for her current responsibility. When she first joined the company in December 2002, she was not given any designation. She was expected to learn and find her own place. She worked in each division; each department and she joined the CEO in his meetings, a silent listener but always alert and taking in new facts until she understood the company operations thoroughly. She soon realized that Human Resources (HR) is the heart of any organization and her company's department was lacking in leadership.

So, she was initially appointed as the head of the HR department. “Actually the most difficult thing is dealing with different people with different characters. We have over 3000 employees and it's not something that's easy to deal with and it's also not easy for everyone to obey your policies and procedures so I've really learnt a lot from HR,” she muses. Even as she was involved with the department's recuperation process, she began to multi-task. Amna BinHendi involved herself in other business activities; she made time to be in on meetings with her father and went on business trips to all the fashion capitals and exhibitions worldwide. “I was involved in each and every meeting, each and every decision-making and that is how I learnt, and in September 2007, I was appointed as the CEO of the Group,” she says, beaming.

However, knowing her lineage, it's safe to assume that her on-job training was more about gaining experience than developing her inherent genius. BinHendi was the fresh perspective the company was looking for. “You learn a lot from life and you don't actually have to be 50 or 60 to be in this position. When you are younger, you tend to think differently from the older generation and having youngsters on the team can be beneficial as it gives a different perspective on any issue.” For one so young, BinHendi is a revelation. She clearly delineates her business philosophy which is based on her understanding of the human nature. She says, “I have to always be there to support my team but they must also be up for the challenges themselves.

I believe that there should be a stick and carrot effect within a company. If targets are met, then a percentage of the profits will be shared. The only way to motivate people is to reward them. And it's only natural because they've put their hearts and souls to help the company reach a certain stage and they should be appreciated,” she explains.

Although a kind and warm-hearted boss, BinHendi is neither naïve nor submissive. She's had first-hand leadership training with a father who managed to show all the above-mentioned qualities, yet grow his business to the juggernaut it is today. “I think I was born with the quality and that's the most important thing. I'm the youngest within my management team and I think sometimes people are amazed at the level of my decision making skills and know-how, but age should never be used as an indicator of ability. That being said, I'm always willing to learn from those who have the advantage of life experience, but that's expected as a result of good leadership.

A leader can't know it all. Everyday is not only a new day for me but also a new lesson,” she expounds. “I came in with a totally different strategy. I chose to look at the bottom figures (net profits) and to make sure that my team achieves it. The most important thing for me is that the targets must be met. I do not want to look at the figures in between.

Unfortunately in the past, nobody took it seriously if the targets were not met and nobody was questioned.” Fortunately, when she came to the helm, the company was already among the top performing in the market. Now as she joins forces with her father, it's a stellar combination and BinHendi is extremely positive about the future. She says, “I think that my father did a brilliant job of growing this company and together we're going to take it to the next level, to the highest level it can attain.” She adds, “I don't see a need to actually change the company's direction and impose my own vision. We're in a very good place but of course there is always room for growth.

I'm looking at an increase of 40 percent minimum in the net profit. With minor changes and tweaks in plans and policies and a lot of discipline and effective direction on my part, I feel confident that along with my team, we'll be able to meet this agenda together.”

It's quite evident that the young woman shares a great rapport with her father, and when she is speaking about him, nothing quite hides the admiration and respect she has for him. “One piece of advice that my father gave me is to be a good listener. He told me that being new in this field I should always listen before passing any judgments. And that's what I always practice. I'm lucky that he's just a phone-call away. I always call and seek his advice. I am still in the learning process and my dad is there as my backbone. People have told him that he chose me to be the CEO simply because I am his daughter but he always says that's not the case. He believes that I have proven myself after all the tests that he presented me with and that I am indeed capable of good decision-making and have the skills to be able to handle this position.”

However, does this mean that Mohi-Din BinHendi is still running the show? “Of course he is and will remain doing so. We usually sit together and discuss matters before taking a decision. But ultimately it's my call, it's my decision. As a CEO, he has given me the authority to do so. However before I take a decision, I consider every aspect of the issue and only when I'm convinced about its effectiveness and impartiality, do I give it the official nod. Sometimes I still need to go back to my father because he's my guide and my teacher. Besides, running a business is not a one-man-show. I have a strong team and very good people working in the higher management level who assist me as well,” she shares earnestly.

As testimony to this commitment and hard work and the fact that people are taking notice of her growth, she was included in the two power lists: the ‘Forbes Arabia 50 most powerful women' in which she ranked 15th and the youngest and ‘Arabian Business' 100 most influential Arabs' among the likes of Lubna Olayan, Raja Al-Gurg and Ibtehaj Al-Ahmadani. Even though thrilled by the recognition, what really holds more significance to BinHendi is the fact that the list is celebrating the achievement of all women. “I think it shows that women do have a significant place in this society.

Women have the potential to reach the top but are just not getting the right support from their families. I think the list will encourage other women to come out and perhaps start their own businesses or support their family businesses. There are many families who have businesses but usually it would be passed down to the men. It definitely creates a buzz,”

BinHendi opines. She is quick to add, “Also, the age of women in power is getting lower. This is a reflection of how the world is changing. But in order for more women to foray into the market they need more cultural support from their families. People look at culture in a different way. If a woman is holding on to her culture, it should not mean that she cannot hold a high position. It all goes back to the families and how open they are and what they think of women coming out of their ‘shells'.”

Amna BinHendi is the new age businesswoman driving the tremendous growth of an already successful business conglomerate. With more than 20 new outlets planned for 2008 under the BinHendi portfolio, you know her dreams are big. She's furthering the BinHendi reach in the food and beverage industry with Japengo Café by franchising it worldwide. Japengo recently opened its doors to the public in Dubai Festival City, this being the 10th location including Mumbai, India.

Regionally the enterprise has opened it's first Japengo in Muscat, Oman. BinHendi's currently engaged in directing this massive growth drive which will provide job opportunities for at least 700 people for the hospitality division who'll further strengthen the 3000 plus taskforce at BinHendi Enterprises. With her inherent capabilities, her zeal and her passion to pave the way for other women in the region, you know she's going to accomplish all that she's set out to capture.

Source: Arabian Woman
Posted: 29/06/2008

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