ALKHOBAR — Last month the British Trade Office in Alkhobar hosted an evening networking event targeting Eastern Province businesswomen. The event featured two corporate executives working in Saudi Arabia in fields that have traditionally been reserved for men. Australian Ines Scotland, director of Bariq Mining Ltd., spoke first. She discussed her 17-year career in the mining industry and the experiences she has had in her executive position since coming to Saudi Arabia. She stated that being a woman hadn’t hindered her business activities in Saudi Arabia. Instead, her gender has opened many doors and she has “met many senior people in the Kingdom, including the king.”
Next to address the gathering was Nadia K. Al-Dossary, CEO and partner, Al-Sale Eastern Co. Ltd. Al-Dossary has capitalized on her education and market experience to now share responsibilities at the head of the largest Saudi scrap metal recovery operation. She is also a proud wife, and mother of two young adults, Dina and Khaled.
Alkhobar is Al-Dossary’s hometown. Born there to a Saudi father and Bahraini mother, her childhood was spent in Bahrain, where her grandmother strongly influenced her upbringing. She attended high school in Switzerland and then completed college in Saudi Arabia. Although she could have spent a life of leisure as her husband was a successful businessman, Al-Dossary joined the staff of a blue-chip US/UK company, setting up strategies for the firm in the area of sales and human resources development. The position required extensive global travel and Al-Dossary already had two young children, but she was not deterred. Decisively, she shouldered all her responsibilities, taking the children with her wherever she went.
“My children were toddlers, so I took them on all my trips. I had a lot of energy in those years. I just put sleep aside and spent my time between my work and my family. I completely gave up any social life,” Al-Dossary said. “I loved my children too much to leave them at home alone. It was wonderful for them as at a very young age they were able to see numerous museums of all types, experience gardens and aqua parks and visit so many historical sites. It was an excellent early education for my son and daughter.”
Fortunately for Al-Dossary, her work wasn’t a typical nine-to-five job. As long as she was developing strategies to help the company profit in the region, her “idiosyncrasy” of having her children in tow was accepted. While abroad, for the times she would be at the office or in meetings, Al-Dossary relied on short-term child care services arranged locally in advance, rather than turning her children over to a full-time nanny.
“The truth is that when you have excellent capacities and skills, people will accept your requirements, whatever they are, because they need you,” remarked Al-Dossary. “I remember once in New York they commented, ‘It’s only one week. Do you have to bring your children?’ And I insisted to do so. I was with that company for six years, so you can see that it was not a short-term relationship.”
Eventually, Al-Dossary decided that she wanted to channel her energy and skills into building something that would be more personally profitable, and she chose to invest in a joint venture with her husband, Yousef A. Al-Dossary. Already well established over two decades in the Saudi market, Yousef Al-Dossary headed a company that recycled scrap metal. He also had another company for weighing systems.
“Ten years ago I joined Al-Sale Eastern Company. The company was smaller in those days and when I joined it I started as a middle manager. It took me a year to learn all the intricacies of the operation. Then I asked to be a partner and decision-maker,” said Al-Dossary. “I had quickly learned that the scrap business can be an excellent moneymaker and it can also have significant impact on the environment. I wanted to put my own thinking and goals into the business.”
Al-Sale Eastern grew at a rapid pace in the last decade as it expanded, brought in new equipment and streamlined its operations. The future looked extremely bright until tragedy struck the family. Al-Dossary’s husband was in a horrible accident on the highway to Riyadh. For two months she stationed herself at his bedside in the Intensive Care Unit of King Faisal Specialist Hospital, believing in his will to live.
“Even after he awoke from the coma, my husband’s health and functionality were affected in major ways and at that time I had to take control of the entire company,” Al-Dossary remembered with sadness. “But all our customers and suppliers had met me at Yousef’s bedside in those terrible days and they came to respect me. Once I took over the management of Al-Sale Eastern they just treated me as a person instead of a woman. Now, as my husband’s health has improved, we have gone back to sharing responsibilities within the company and we really are strong partners in everything.”
Al-Sale Eastern is a major supplier for Hadeed (SABIC) and others in the metals industry. The company currently has more than 15 scrap yards in the Kingdom equipped with large shears, weighing systems and manpower. Al-Sale Eastern buys all types of metal from factories and individuals, then shreds, separates, compresses and trucks the metal to recyclers. Al-Dossary put special emphasis on the point that their scrap metal operation is the only one in the Kingdom that is run with safety conscious policies, using European environmental controls, with inspectors ensuring that the scrap metal does not come from public works sources.
The company has recently invested in a giant shredder, which will be arriving soon from the US. The machine, as big as a house, will be able to automatically dismantle, separate and shred everything from computer equipment to cars. Al-Dossary is quite pleased that Al-Sale Eastern’s increasing revenues are coming only from positive contributions to the Kingdom’s people and landscape.
“My husband started this business 30 years ago from nothing, and now we are competing and operating on a global standard. This is proof of what Saudis can accomplish in this field if they are willing to work hard. We are starting a new program in which we hope to bring in Saudis and show them how instead of just being employees, they can run their own scrapyards and be our suppliers, making up to SR30,000 per month,” Al-Dossary said. “We plan to shoulder the cost of the capital investment, infrastructure and training for these young men in return for them supplying us with metal that meets our requirements.”
As for her own personal growth at the head of a Saudi enterprise, Al-Dossary participated in last year’s Eastern Province Chamber of Commerce and Industry (EPCCI) board of directors election.
“I didn’t win a seat and I didn’t think I would, but I wanted to do it for the experience,” she explained. “I won 400 votes, mostly from men. I think that illustrates one of the biggest issues facing women in business in Saudi Arabia — the lack of support from other women. It is very sad here that women in Saudi Arabia do not understand the ethics of business and the importance of networking and teamwork. I find it really sad that even when a woman makes a name for herself or achieves a certain prominence for her company, she believes that she must shine alone. Prominent Saudi businesswomen don’t work well with each other, help each other, or share interests and experiences together. In the so-called ‘man’s world’ this is the norm and it is called networking. This is a major reason why Saudi women in business haven’t been as successful as they should have been by now.”
So how can a woman be a success in Saudi Arabia’s private sector?
“Take my advice. In business, if it doesn’t hit you in the face, just ignore it,” Al-Dossary said. “If you are doing the right thing, keep moving forward. You can always apologize later if you have to. You cannot bring down all the obstacles one by one. You are wasting your time. A Saudi woman needs to have a firm goal in life. Understand too, that it’s not the car or the clothes that are the goal. You have to have a mission in mind. To be a success, stop looking for the future under your feet. Be inspired. Look to the stars.”