'Being a great CEO is most about empathetic leadership' say business heads at Sharjah Entrepreneurship Festival 2021
Posted on 2021 Nov,25

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UAE-based CEOs and investment heads offered an all-round perspective on what makes effective leaders, and shared the secret to acquiring the best possible funding for business ventures, at the Sharjah Entrepreneurship Festival 2021, on Tuesday 23 November.

In a panel discussion ‘The untold truths about being a great CEO’, Nisreen Shocair, CEO of online fashion retail company Yoox Net-a-Porter Middle East; Amir Farha, founder of seed-stage venture firm COTU and Mohamad ‘Mo’ Ballout, founder of Kitopi, took to the stage to tell moderator Farida Al Agamy, cofounder of Kyma, about the importance of empathetic leadership and putting employees first, especially as they navigated a pandemic-hit business landscape.

According to Shocair, “When the pandemic hit, my first thought was that this was almost a post-9/11 scenario, having faced the impact of that crisis because I was in New York at the time. My initial reaction was not ‘this is an amazing opportunity for online business’, but ‘how do I take care of our people’.

“We did that by creating a buddy system and opened helplines since everyone was working remotely and needed an infrastructure of support, particularly for their mental wellbeing. Our team members felt they were protected by the company and, as a result, surpassed their targets," she added.

Ballout echoed similar sentiments by stressing the importance of empathetic leadership. “Running a business can be like participating in a championship; you want the best team players and continually focus on building momentum. But, with Covid-19, what we saw around us was a lack of empathy, and without empathetic leadership, you cannot get anywhere.”

“The best leaders are always curious to learn about themselves and their own values as a leader,” said Farha. “Before, leadership was more transactional and focused on pushing the boundaries of what you and your employees could do. Now it is viewed more as something that succeeds as a collective.”

In the layered and complex reality of the 21st century business landscape, Shocair, Farha and Ballout noted that hiring people smarter than themselves, the ability to create future leaders, enabling a non-hierarchical work culture and non-judgmental space for employees, as well as the ability to practice grit and self-love made for the best leaders.


Smart approach to funding your business


In the second panel of the day, ‘Financing your startup: The key funding options available for your business’, Ahmad Al Naqbi, CEO, Emirates Development Bank, Maha Al Fahim, founder, High Water Venture Partners and Samer Choucair, Director, Crescent Enterprises-Creates, spoke to moderator Noor Shawwa, MD of the entrepreneurship movement – Endeavour UAE, about the basic issues in business fundraising and the various routes prospective business owners can take to fund their ideas.

Banks often analyse the entire lifecycle of a company before offering funding, noted Al Naqbi, adding that they also gauge the ability of the lender to repay the debt by reviewing how their income is generated and how secure it is. “But debt is a burden, and as an early-stage business or startup, it is better if you find someone to invest equity in your company so that they are aware of the risks and are willing to take them.”

“Venture capital (VC) firms have a mandate to invest in businesses that have a track record, so it is better for idea- or seed-stage startups to approach angel investors who are interested in building the startup ecosystem as a whole, not just one venture. Angel investors put their faith in the founder or the founding team and not necessarily their idea,” said Choucair.

Al Fahim added: “Venture capitalists are strategic investors; they look at the investee’s preparation levels and the reasons why they should invest in them. Fundraising for your business is also an art – if you have liquid capital, you can borrow the rest from friends or family, but if you have more time and are going into a sector with a lot of growth potential, consider going to VCs.”