I have been an outstanding student all my life, making my parents proud and my siblings and peers jealous. Against expectations that are common in my part of the world, the Middle East, for high-achieving students, I chose not to study medicine or engineering even though I was eligible to do so. Instead, based on sound advice from an uncle, I studied accounting and finance.
I graduated top of my class in less than three years and started preparing for CPA exams in the United States. I wanted to work in an international audit firm, and for a 21 year old, I thought my future was well planned. I landed what I thought was my dream job in auditing.
But then I met someone who saw in me what I was still too young to see—that I had entrepreneurship potential that should be nurtured and not wasted. This man became my mentor and helped change the life I had planned.
Among other things, he helped me realize that I was not cut out to work in a large organization. Unlike my parents who were respected civil servants, I had the passion to create something, especially something impactful. I had to take a chance. I turned down the audit and banking jobs and decided to join my mentor in his group of companies as a junior accountant.
Although this was not the start I had planned, I leaned in to my new career path. I studied and worked hard, learning and moving up the ranks. Soon I became CFO of the group of seven companies. Then I got involved in strategy, organization design and investment management, and became the Chief Planning Officer for the group.
After five years of intense work and experience, I knew I was ready, and my company and my mentor saw the light. Together he and I co-founded Palma, a business and IT consulting company. We have a shared vision for making a strong impact in the Middle East.
My company is 10 years old now. I have loved every minute of it and every challenge I have faced. Being a female entrepreneur in the Middle East brings a whole set of new challenges, of course. But now, and for the second year in a row, Palma has been one of the fastest growing companies in the region.
I am very grateful to my mentor and all the people who helped and encouraged me along the way. I am reminded every day of a lesson I learned a long time ago: Life is a conveyor belt; it brings you opportunities and if you don’t grab them fast, someone else will.