'Play big and stand out': Female CEOs share their paths to building successful businesses

Wall Street veteran and Multiply Group founder discuss challenges facing women at Forbes 30/50 summit in Abu Dhabi

Samia Bouazza, group chief executive, Multiply Group during the Forbes 30/50 Summit in Abu Dhabi. Victor Besa / The National
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Female chief executives from around the world have urged women to dream big and keep innovating to build successful businesses.

Female founders discussed the challenges women face in business at the Forbes 30/50 summit in Abu Dhabi this week.

The four-day conference, which started on Tuesday, attracted female entrepreneurs from more than 30 countries across the business, creative and non-government sectors.

Being an entrepreneur is harder than running Merrill Lynch, and I would know
Sallie Krawcheck, founder and chief executive of Ellevest

Speaking at the On Top Of Your Game session at the conference, Wall Street veteran Sallie Krawcheck said entrepreneurs must identify a specific issue that needed to be addressed before setting up a company.

“Being an entrepreneur is harder than running Merrill Lynch, and I would know. It is ridiculously difficult,” said Ms Krawcheck, who led US wealth management company and Citi Private Bank before setting up Ellevest, a digital investment advisory firm for women in 2016.

“Every day is harder than the day before for different reasons. There is a reason why 90 per cent of start-ups fail,” she said.

“I would only do it if you see a problem that needs to be solved and you absolutely have to solve it.”

Stand out and play big

Ms Krawcheck, who is a powerful voice in the US financial investment sector, urged women to stand out and not rein in their ambitions.

“It's a decision I made at a point in my career which is that I wanted to play big, and in order to play big, I was going to have to stand out,” she said.

“I saw the women who came before me on Wall Street who didn't make it to the top and I thought if I try to stay in the pack and play safe, I'm not going to make it.

“Big calls on big stocks, seeing the things that no one else sees and make the big calls – that is what we are doing.”

Samia Bouazza, group chief executive of investment firm Multiply Group, said constantly adapting to change was key.

“I still go to work and every day I think that's just the beginning,” said Ms Bouazza, who founded the firm in 2003 and became the first woman to take a company public on the Abu Dhabi Stock Exchange in 2021.

“You have that bold vision when you start and the trajectory for growth can happen very fast.

“But later you still have to create growth for your shareholders, you still have to innovate, you still have to bring new things to the table.”

She said her team was driven by the mindset “the best is yet to come”.

For women who want to take their company public, she advised outlining well-defined goals.

“I highly advise you to visualise why you want to go public,” Ms Bouazza said.

“What is it you can bring to the shareholder who is putting his or her money in you instead of a bank?

“What is the next step after you IPO, what do you do when you raise money?

“Do you use it to fuel more growth? You need to have a good plan that you lay out in your prospectus and really execute what you told your shareholders you would set out to do.”

Pushing past setbacks

Both women said overcoming disappointment and failure was important.

"From the beginning your mindset should not be to expect that anything is going to be a straight line,” Ms Bouazza said.

“Success is not that you do things right and you wake up one day and, bingo, you are so successful.

“There are so many ups and downs, so many setbacks, you need to be ready.”

Ms Bouazza said women need to know the fights worth fighting and the sacrifices necessary.

Ms Krawcheck said strenuous exercise helped power her through “depressing winter months” in New York and she tried never to let negative criticism bring her down.

“For my mental health, I focus on the things that are important and not on what I cannot control and to grow very thick skin,” she said.

“As much as slings and arrows can hurt, you need to let that go and keep the attention where it should be.”

Updated: March 08, 2024, 6:09 AM