From being named among the Most Influential Arab Women to the Leading Businesswoman of the Year, du’s EVP of Brand & Communications, Hala Badri, has written a growth story that is inspiring a whole generation of future leaders. The Arabian Marketer catches up with Ms Badri on her journey, her advice to aspiring women leaders in the region and what inspires her. Excerpts:
When you joined Emirates National Oil Company (ENOC) in 1998, the corporate communication domain itself was just about growing. How was the experience at the time?
I had joined ENOC, as a brand executive, starting right at the bottom. It was a two-person department including me and a manager. In many ways, it was a great opportunity. I got a chance to set up the whole function, and by the time I was leaving, it was a 15-member team looking at 31 different brands including corporate and commercial. In 2005, I had decided to take some time off for personal reasons but it was not even a month when I got a call from du. They were talking about a new telecom, that sounded very interesting. I came for an interview in October 2005, and I was part of the du family from the very beginning, even though I had officially joined only in Jan 2006.
What was the shift to telecom like?
The only hurdle moving from the oil and gas sector to telecom was breaking the monopoly. I was working with a team who were all older to me and all men. It was very intimidating sitting in the boardroom in these meetings. I would be very scared to talk because I thought I would make a fool of myself. I was very confident in my previous job – I thought I had it all there. But telecom, all the terminology, and the way it does its financials, is very different. It is dependent on things like ARPUs and such. It took me a good two years to get over it. It was challenge for the company per se, but it was good because we had a winning strategy. Once we launched our commercial services and we saw how the brand took off, we became very confident, and so did I.
I joined as Director for Corporate Communications, later promoted to a VP. All of communication was then merged under my leadership, and I was promoted to EVP of brand and communications. I have never had any issues like glass ceiling, not being appreciated or such. I have been supported by male colleagues here, especially the Chairman of the Board. There has been no gender bias at du and people here are valued for their ability and not for their gender. We have women across all sections, including in the technology section and they are doing very well.
What are the challenges that you see working women face?
Over the years, I have learnt that it is a mindset. It is how you want to wake up and say, this is how you divide the day. I have been very lucky and I know where to draw the line. Men also are not trying to do things a 100 percent, so why should we worry about it and pressurize ourselves to do better. I keep saying to my younger team members that staying long hours at work is not going to achieve anything. It is alright to mess up at work and it is alright to mess up at home. Men do it all the time and they get away with it. It is only human and it is alright.
I exercise three times a week, I go to the weddings and mournings, I go for my walks I go to bed at 10 – if you feel you are negative, you will be that.
I have been very lucky with my team – some of them started with me as graduate trainees, and now they head different sections like digital, corporate and social responsibility as well as the premium section. I have encouraged them to start their own business on the side, and they have. We have someone from our team who is the first Emirati Zumba instructor, a local young Emirati who started his own local cultural agency. I take the time to mentor and coach my team at every available opportunity, and also to support the UAE youth who pass through our doors whenever I can.
What inspires you?
Without a doubt, working with young talent, and being able to help them grow. I do that not only at du but also outside. When we started CSR even before our commercial services, there was a young national who had begun creating cartoons in 3D animation. It was a first 3D series in the market. I had not even seen his work but we supported him. He gained success and inspired many more youngsters. Spending quality time with young people who are willing to listen and make a difference is not only inspiring but also very rewarding.
Where do you see yourself five years hence?
I plan for two years – five years is too far away. I make mental notes. I break it up in three ways – personal, professional and career. Professional, being anything outside my current position at du. At a person level, I do simple things such as learn horseback riding, some of which I can do with my children and spend quality time with them. The next on my agenda is to learn professional cooking in savories and desserts. I have also registered for an Interior Design course in May.
At a professional level, I am on five boards – Dubai Cares Foundation for education, Indemaj for inclusion and better learning, Dubai Media Incorporated, Dubai Properties Group and Dubai Women Establishment, where I am Vice Chair of the Board. I have recently been certified in corporate governance by INSEAD. My objective is to prepare women when they are younger on what it means to be on a board.
If not a marketer, who would you be?
Interior Designer, for sure.