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Emirati women leaders: how they did it – Fahima Al Bastaki

[Aurora50 template] Fahima Al Bastaki, ADX’s chief business and market development officer
Suzanne Locke 23 August 2021
Ms Al Bastaki was appointed Chief Business and Market Development Officer at Abu Dhabi Securities Exchange (ADX) in 2021 and previously worked as Executive Vice President of Business Development for Dubai Financial Market (DFM) and for six years at HSBC, leading the high net worth individuals (HNWI) department and then working in financial services management. She has been a board member of the Dubai Women’s Establishment since 2018.

Can you tell us a bit about how you were raised, and your family values?

I come from a family business, active in Dubai for almost 100 years. This is partly why I love working with corporates. I feel that I understand the vision and concerns of business owners/founders and leaders: I can stand in their shoes, so to speak. I was raised to understand the importance of giving back to my country and people; my family helped me see that building knowledge and working hard would enable me to play a part in the UAE’s growth and contribute to societal wellbeing.

Who most influenced you growing up? 

My mother is my greatest inspiration. Even though she took a very different path to me (she didn’t complete school or forge her own career), she is an incredible example of a strong women who made a significant impact. From the seventies onwards, she joined family business trips alongside my father, networked with international guests when they visited our home and shared Emirati culture and customs with them. She learned multiple languages, cuisines and tech applications, and was always up to date with news. She is a prime example of positive energy and engagement in society – someone who has the grit to keep learning new things.

Where and what did you study? 

I started in Al Rashid Al Saleh, one of the oldest private schools in Dubai, run by the Chaldean sisters, then to public school, the Zabeel Secondary School for Girls. It had amazing leadership from Dr Raja Al Gurg , whom I consider a great women leader. My dream was to study media – I used to perform and record using the family video camera from the age of four. In school I was part of the library team, wrote scripts, and directed two theatre shows and the end-of-year school ceremony. 
However, when it came to choosing a university major, I totally changed direction and entered business administration at the Higher Colleges of Technology. It was a new kind of education being offered in the UAE and I didn’t want to miss out on it. I can see now how visionary it was, in line with the UAE vision of the time to further diversify the economy away from oil to build greater resilience for the future.  

How did you negotiate the work-life-family juggle? 

I got married immediately after college so I had a gap of two years, and a two-year-old daughter, before I got my first job.  I wanted to give her quality time. My husband saw my passion for work and become more supportive as time went on. My career has brought my life so much growth and happiness. One year, I was juggling work, study and family commitments, and I remember pushing my daughter’s stroller with one hand, carrying books in the other, even though she had a nanny.  I used to take her with me to coffee shops and libraries, particularly in my first years of work. She grew up seeing me reading all the time. She loved playing spelling games, doing puzzles and watching BBC cartoons like Noddy. This built her passion for language and reading and thirst for knowledge, which was also passed on to her siblings. In our family, we believe general knowledge is the power in everything we do. 

What was your first job and where did it lead? 

In 1998, I started with HSBC Abu Dhabi as a trainee officer, which was to put me in a leadership role within two years. Whilst in charge of a team of ten in the HNWI department, I saw an opportunity within the bank to become an accredited financial advisor, the first role of its kind in UAE at the time. I was one of 10 selected from the 100 shortlisted. Many people warned me that it was a step down, as the new role didn’t have team responsibilities and I had to report to someone in the UK. But I took the decision to step down and move ahead in a new field that I was sure would open great opportunities in the future, especially as the UAE stock markets were just opening.
I always knew I wanted to work in financial services as I had an interest in business and the creation of value. Working as a financial advisor introduced me to the world of capital markets.

What other training has been most useful to your career? 

All my training has focused on skills to support business leaders and facilitate the growth of efficient and well-governed capital market ecosystems. I am an accredited director with the Hawkamah Institute of Corporate Governance and a graduate of the Women on Board programme, appointed in 2018 as a board member. I have also become a CeFA certified financial advisor with the Chartered Institute of Bankers UK.

Did you advocate for yourself from an early age? 

I think my leadership skills were honed by watching my father and listening to the stories he told me about how he inherited the business when his own father passed away. He had to leave education early to manage the business. He always talked to me about different cultures and values, particularly the Japanese business and work etiquette. People say I am like him. He is assertive but humble, and supportive of his teams. 

Who has championed you along the way?

Throughout my career I have had numerous mentors. But more important still is a sponsor; someone from within your organisation, who can use their influence and networks to promote you for the right opportunities and perhaps also help you gain access to board nomination networks. I believe that this kind of support is critical for anyone – man or woman – to excel in their career.

Do you mentor people yourself? 

I am always looking for opportunities to mentor others. I have been delivering talks on career development to young people for more than 10 years, and have been on the UAE’s Federal Youth Foundation jury to select candidates for the young economist programme. I am currently mentoring three financial services professionals, who are focused on fintech and investment banking.

What has been your career highlight? 

It has been exciting to play a role in developing the UAE’s capital markets and seeing the positive impact that a healthy ecosystem has on the wider economy. I am proud to be in a role that is critical to diversifying the UAE’s sources of investment, fuelling the economic growth of many companies and aligning regulatory developments with those of international markets. I have worked alongside some of the brightest minds in the UAE.

Do you set yourself career goals? 

In 1999, in the second year of my career, I was interviewed by a magazine reporter and asked where I saw myself in five years. I said I wanted to work in capital markets. I achieved the goal in a little less than five years. To achieve short- or long-term plans, we need to focus on self-development but also keep an eye on the bigger picture.

How has the Covid-19 pandemic affected you? 

I was hospitalised in May 2020 with Covid-19 but was, fortunately, able to fight off the symptoms and return to work fairly swiftly. Despite all the loss experienced around the world, the pandemic has forced us all to slow down, reassess our priorities and focus on the things that truly matter, at work or in our personal lives. I was pleased to start reading more books again, something was that I had missed for a long time and started my own one-on-one series of intellectual conversations every Saturday with select industry experts .

Are your children following in your footsteps? 

I am blessed with four children who all make me extremely proud. My eldest daughter is an award-winning graduate of New York University Abu Dhabi. She has just been accepted to Harvard University to study for her master’s degree. My son is building a career in design thinking and innovation and has interned with several consultancy firms. My other two daughters are forging their own paths. Each has followed their passion.

What do you tell the girl who wants to be a CEO today? 

Talk to intellectual people, dive deep into a specialised field, be patient and career-focused, empower and develop others, and eventually this will lead you to achieve remarkable milestones.

Where can we find out what you’re up to online?

For more information on my professional career please find me on LinkedIn or connect with me on Instagram.
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