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As someone who led The Abraaj Group’s investments in companies like Kudu (Saudi Arabia), Acibadem (Turkey), Careem (UAE) and Kuwait Energy (Kuwait), it’s safe to say that Huda Al Lawati knows a thing or two about what makes a young enterprise poised for the big leagues. With more than 12 years of experience in the private equity and finance domains, Al Lawati, who was most recently a Partner and Chief Investment Officer for the MENA region at The Abraaj Group, has worked on several transactions during her time at the company, gaining experience in deal execution, structuring and execution, portfolio management and exits across industries like F&B, retail, insurance, hospitality, healthcare, education, temporary power, and oil and gas.
Given all that she has accomplished with her work so far, it’s easy enough to understand why Huda Al Lawati is seen as an inspiring female figure for many in the MENA region- and it’s a role she takes seriously, given her participation in noteworthy mentorship schemes across the region, which include being a member of the Young Arab Leaders (YAL) network as well as being a mentor under the Cherie Blair Foundation for Women. When asked to list factors that she counted as essential for her successful career so far, Al Lawati replied: “Determination, focus and commitment, and a structured approach to everything, from thinking and brainstorming, to meetings, to communication, and to execution.” But did she have any hurdles along the way? “Delegation was a challenge for me. I addressed it by investing a lot of time in training and mentoring resources that I could be comfortable delegating to and relying on. The key takeaway was that while it may be faster to do something yourself than training someone else in the short-run; in the long-run, that time invested pays off because they can do it in the future.”
Considering her experience in the business domain, it's suffice to say that this woman has seen startup pitches galore, and Al Lawati knows how to differentiate between an entrepreneur who knows their stuff and someone who, well, doesn’t. Here are Al Lawati’s tips on how you, as an entrepreneur, can make a positive impression on your stakeholders:
1. Focus on your business “Stay away from getting-rich-quick speeches. Demonstrate your focus on your business, the service or product, your employees, even your community, but not on valuation multiples- valuation is a byproduct of a well-run business and it shouldn’t be what drives you.”
2. Be a hands-on entrepreneur “Demonstrate your commitment and involvement- be on top of details and numbers. Nobody wants to hear a founder or CEO say, ‘I don’t know,’ ‘I have to look into it,’ or ‘My x or y employee can answer that.’”
3. You shouldn’t be the one doing it all “Have a strong team. Show collaboration and avoid the oneman/ one-woman show label.”
4. Know who you are talking to “Understand your audience. Don’t go blind with what you want to say; think about what they care about and need to know.”
5. Be clear about the market you are entering “Don’t be dismissive about competition- discuss your strengths, unique selling points, why it’s difficult to replicate or mimic. Where competition and copycats are inevitable, talk about market size, potential for multiplayers- the worst thing you can do is be dismissive.”
Huda Al Lawati is the keynote speaker for Entrepreneur Middle East's Achieving Women Forum 2016, to be held in Dubai on May 11th. For more details about the event, click here.
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