Johtokeskustelu: Sheikha Lubna Bint Khalid Al Qasimi

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From East to West, this lady highlights events as prolific speaker and promoter of e-business and la femme leadership.

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From East to West, this lady highlights events as prolific speaker and promoter of e-business and la femme leadership. From exclusive Arab businesswomen’s council congresses to the World Economic Forum, delegates get impressed by the presentation and the strong presence by this royalty, Sheikha Lubna Al Qasimi,

Sheikha Lubna is the United Arab Emirates’ Minister for Foreign Trade. In November 2004, she became the first woman in the country’s history to assume a cabinet position, appointed to manage the UAE’s newly-merged economy and planning portfolio.

Phenomenal is her success; cyberspace, her domain. Without the question of a doubt, the brilliant, forward-thinking, young and dynamic daughter of the late Sharjah ruler has revolutionized the United Arab Emirates info-technology highway.

Her Royal Highness became the CEO of the premier electronic B2B marketplace for emerging markets, for whom she now serves as board member.

On the 15th of April 2000, Sheikha Lubna became the managing director for Tejari.com, the Middle East’s premier electronic business-to-business exchange following the appointment of His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, then Crown Prince of Dubai and Defense Minister of the United Arab Emirates, now the ruler of Dubai and vice president of the UAE.

Spearheading the e-Government Team, she was one of the innovative leaders behind the initiatives. Backed by over 20 years of experience in automating the Dubai Ports Authority (DPA), she draws upon her extensive knowledge of the information technology and logistics industries to develop and manage this growing online trading company. Lubna said: “My background goes back to working as senior manager of the information systems department at the Dubai Ports Authority (DPA), from 1993 until April 2000. It was a feat to have worked for the DPA; it excels as the number one in the region and number 10 or 11 worldwide as port authority. Sending solutions that rely heavily upon technology as its backbone, the DPA has furnished me with a solid ground. It was my university in terms of learning and acquiring business opportunities.” Formal higher education meant for Her Highness an MBA from the American University of Sharjah, a course she completed with flying colors.

“Tejari.com allowed me to collaborate technology with business ventures, mastering it to a level of new services and ventures,” she added. What rare feat for an Arab woman to muster proficiency in such field, let alone progress in an aspect such as electronically integrating the systems at a period (in the early 90s) when the Emirates or the GCC was just opening up to cyberspace and information superhighway. This was neither the beginning nor the end of a superwoman tale such as hers. For before joining the DPA, Sheikha Lubna held the position of Dubai branch manager for the General Information Authority, the organization responsible for automating the federal government of the Emirates. Spending over 10 years of information technology management in the Middle East region, she has imparted so much to her organization. She started her precious contributions to this government branch at a ripe, young age when all she had initially was a Bachelor of Science degree from the California State University at Chico.

Lubna’s career at the ports put her at the helm of e-commercing Dubai, putting it at number one position in the race. From Sheikh Mohammed, she received the award for most distinguished employee of the government of Dubai –the very mandate to set-up Tejari.com. “Within only 60 days, my task was to establish the company, to recruit people, to develop the exchange itself and have it up and running. We were to be ready on the 20th of June, the launch date. Indeed in 60 days, we were demonstrating live transactions on the market that gained for us widespread confidence in the region. It has been a phenomenal achievement to be able to demonstrate tremendous visibility in the market as a dot-com, as new, up and coming company at the marketplace in such a short time. We aim to build a strategy to capture the world’s attention through the valuable e-commerce services and e-business opportunities we offer the region especially in Dubai while taking a ride on the net economy,” she said.

The initiative has been aligned with the creation of the Dubai Internet City, creating the right climate for people to have the right services and, the dot com companies’ venture capital. The second, in order to provide the right services, the government had to make sure they understand what they provide.” Lubna has succeeded in the e-government frontier, transforming the Dubai government into using the internet for a paperless environment. Named after the Arabic for trade or commerce, based on the Oracle technology platform, Tejari provides an online meeting point for buyers and sellers of goods and services. Procuring hundreds of products and services, allowing thousands of clients (including local government departments) to access a global network of suppliers. “Companies selling their products and services through this dot.com entity instantly reach new markets and customers online, uniquely enabling themselves to reap the benefits of e-business such as improved efficiency, faster time to market and deal, better customer awareness and increased profitability,” said Lubna. Recently, she announced a record-high $500 million worth of transactions over Tejari, reporting a five-fold increase in the number of online tenders to 5000 in previous years.

“Small, sharp businesses leveraged by the net can compete on equal footing with big businesses in many areas. That is, of course, if they can be competitive with their prices and quality,” she underscored this to boost fledgling enterprises that pin their hopes on an equalizer or non-discriminating agent such as designed by B2B. She suggested that small businesses better take advantage of e-commerce as it has good-value, cost-effective propositions whose application services create jobs and easily provide consultancy, marketing and PR at rates lower than real, working staff.

Sheikha Lubna gave her small team the thumbs-up. She said: “We were striving to create critical mass and go global as the investment leader on the net. One of our remarkable achievements, so far, was in our supplier adoption. I looked to covering overseas markets with the first move as our pilot project in Jordan.” Because of the company name translating readily into the Urdu and Turkish languages, trading communities as far as they can tap automatically grasp who they are. “Oracle technology is being utilized in marketplaces worldwide and within the Oracle set-up itself, we are considered as one of the top 5 at the moment. Incredibly, we are getting a lot of attention as companies see us as a role model – being horizontal or flat as marketplace, reflecting the trading profile of the region. Here is a merchant society replicating new channels and new traders going through cyberspace.” Another pat-on-the-back is Lubna’s viable joint strategy with Mitsubishi Corporation (UK) Plc for expansion and enhancement of the marketplace and for logistics services. Under the agreement, Mitsubishi trades goods and services on Tejari and acts as Tejari’s extended arm in recruiting new members in Japan and other countries through its global business network. The partners will develop a targeted business plan for significantly expanding Tejari’s marketplace with Mitsubishi assisting Tejari with building up ‘bricks-and-mortar’ competencies to provide logistics, online financial services and others. “This is the realization of our vision as the gateway to global markets. It is a privilege to lock hands with such a respected global brand,” Sheikha Lubna gladly remarked.

The Sheikha recalled how her fruitful days in Japan may have helped her smoothen the path for the Mitsubishi partnership. She said: “Never burn bridges. People come back from the past. They can impact your life tremendously. One way I learned about life and understanding cultures is through being with families abroad. I had been with a British family when I lived in the U.K. I stayed for 4 years with a Mormon family when I studied in the US. One thing that bothered me when I returned to the UAE is my frustration with not being able to associate with one culture – the Japanese. I found it a bit too forward.”

As if an answer from above, from the Japanese Embassy in Abu Dhabi she received a scholarship in 1992. The grant entitled her to stay in Okinawa prefecture for 2 months while handling project management studies for an entity of Fujitsu. She lived with a Japanese family and learned the customs – a process that got her prepared for the important contracts. “You will be amazed by the wealth of paths that will come back to you,” Sheikha Lubna enthused. How precise can she get? Today Mitsubishi is driving investments worldwide for Tejari.com with programs dovetailed to conquer the entire Asian territory.

How much more one can complement a businesswoman clearly in the upper echelon of society and government, complementing the refinement of procedures? What is to say about the princess who came out of her royal courts to serve her mother country? Sheikha Lubna is a crowned jewel, most definitely. And a very sharp one too. Engineering the e-government of Dubai is a mammoth task. She said: “I have been assigned to create types of services where the service and customers are the main constituents. Performance and delivery of the simplified, easy-to-use services are at the top of requirements. It is a challenge to execute this set-up because there are no models out there to learn from. Every government trying to do so is more or less on the same route as the other. None including Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Hong Kong, Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh, Denmark, the UK, the US, Qatar, Bahrain, Kuwait, Saudi, Oman, Egypt or the Emirates has a set recipe to follow. We are all trying solutions today. With sharing of ideas and transfer of know-how, we can successfully cross the road laid before us for the first time. Dubai may not be as difficult to manage as the other cities and governments. It is a place with a smaller population composed however of many highly-literate individuals with strong technology backgrounds and skills. The absence of unions makes the difference.”

For that matter, she again lauded the outstanding efforts made by the Dubai ruler and said, “Tejari.com actually coupled with Sheikh Mohammed’s previous initiatives such as the creation of the Dubai Internet City which inspired the right climate for the e-services and the dot.com companies and which created venture capital and a host of profitable ideas; and his initiative to enhance Dubai’s understanding of the services it provides which actually led to the creation of a concept so novel such as the Dubai e-government,” firmly said the sheikha whose allegiance to Dubai has never been questioned by her family ruling the emirate (or state) of Sharjah next door.

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Päätoimittaja on Linda Hohnholz.