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 An exclusive interview with Afnan Al Zayani
 By Marah Bukai

 Mrs. Afnan Al Zayani was recently named one of the 100 most influential Arabs in 2008 by ArabianBusiness.com, recognizing her as “one of the most accomplished women in the region.”

The list, claiming to be the most  comprehensive compilation to date, includes influential Arabs who have had the greatest impact over the past year in the areas of sports, medicine, science, academics, poetry, art - and many other focuses.

Mrs. Afnan Al Zayani, was educated at the American University of Beirut and Texas Technical University, in the Science of Food Technology. She has authored several cookery books, such as Al Soofrah Al Khaleejiah, A Taste of the Arabian Gulf, and Lathiyath Afnan. In addition to these publications she has presented on several television programs, namely Al Soofrah Al Khaleejiah, Eat Smart, Taibat, Gult Delights, and Lathiyath I, II, III, IV, and V.

In 1977, after graduating from the Texas Technical University, Al Zayani began her career as a Quality Control and Research Supervisor at the Bahrain Flour Mill Company (BFMC). Al Zayani claims, coming from a business family and seeing opportunities for the advancement of the BFMC product line, she made suggestions to Management and continued receiving promotions until she “did not find much scope for career development.” When she had progressed as far as she could in this company, she felt it was time to move into a company which offered her more opportunities.

Mrs. Afnan Al Zayani remembers, “I changed my job after nearly 5 years at the mill. In 1982 I started working with my brother as an employee, however the responsibilities and dedication was like an owner.” She moved to the Al Zayani Investment Group where she was the Group Executive and Controller, acting as an intermediary between the Directors and General Managers of eight companies. During this time Al Zayani had dealings with companies from a wide range of specialties such as hotel, furniture business, trading and tendering, car lease, travel agency, laundry and dry cleaning, leasing real estate & properties. She recalls that her diverse responsibilities within the company and the wide range of companies with which she worked helped her to develop her business sense as she says, “This gave me a wealth of experiences, as I had to learn the nature and details of each business.”

In 1989 Al Zayani became a member of the Board and the Director of Personnel Administration, handling 350 employees and their dependents. Six years later, she became the Director of Al Zayani Commercial Services, a division of the Al Zayani Investment Group, and in 1999, seizing an opportunity; Al Zayani bought the Commercial Services division.

Today, Al Zayani is the president of Al Zayani Commercial Services W.L.L., established in 1980 and specializing in the sale and trade of technologies. Her activity in the world of business, has led to her earning several achievement awards including the Ministry of education Honors award in 1977, the National Achievement Award in 1992, and the Best Business Professional in the Middle East Award in 2004.

In 2005 at the First MENA Businesswomen’s Forum in Tunisia, Al Zayani became a part of a Steering Committee which became an integral part of the MENA Businesswomen’s network. Al Zayani believes networking for business women “is essential for empowering women, involving more women in business, helping women at the grassroots level, and acting as a role model. The network is also important in business to business support and development.” Al Zayani says, “The future of the network depends on the commitment of the members to keep the momentum and take the network to higher level.”

Al Zayani believes that women will “help other women at the grassroots level, adopt women advocacy issues to lobby for legislation and implementation of those legislations, to further empowering women. The businesswoman network will contribute to developing the national economy in their country.” This belief in the power of women to encourage women to succeed and to connect women together, not only in the business world, emphasizes the importance of organizations like the MENA Businesswomen’s network.

Al Zayani herself was inspired by Liz Claiborne, founder of Liz Caliborne Incorporated in the United States, Lubna Al Olayian, CEO of Al Olayian Group in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, and Elham Hassan, Country Senior Partner at Price Water House Cooper in the Kingdom of Bahrain. These women have been role models for Al Zayani, just as Al Zayani has become a mentor for many other aspiring businesswomen.

Al Zayani recognizes that “juggling the responsibilities in both family and life and business is not an easy job.” Her demanding business life “had a great toll on her family life.” She reflects, “I also had to raise my children to be more independent as I did not have the luxury of spending open time with them. However, we had quality time together and I was always watching very carefully what they were doing and stepped in whenever they needed help.” Making time for business, family, and civil societies is difficult and demanding, yet Al Zayani is proof that it is possible to have a life with all three.

She gives the following advice to young businesswomen who have started their own businesses, “Have faith in God and in yourself, do your homework and work hard to achieve your goal, never give up and be patient, organize your time and pre-plan, learn from your mistakes, don’t be shy to ask, take an active role in society, be involved in Civil Societies and national issues, as a person is not whole when concentrating on business only.”
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Mrs. Afnan Al Zayani is a testament to the success which can be achieved through hard work, dedication, and determination. Her education and experience have allowed her to become a role model for businesswomen pursuing careers in the region. Al Zayani’s dedication to the MENA Businesswomen’s network is proof of her generosity in paving the way for more women, who may follow in her footsteps to fulfill their goals.

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