JEWEL OF ARABIA
She was born in a country where women’s rights are still in an appalling state, and women are not permitted to drive or leave the country without their husband’s consent. But Lubna Olayan has braved all odds to become one of the most influential business women of the Middle East.
She heads one of the Saudi Arabia’s biggest firms, the Olayan Financing Company. The group operates more than 40 companies across the region and is one of the biggest investors in local stock markets that cater to the Saudi Arabia’s economy in sectors like oilfield services, steel and fast food.
A bachelor from Cornell University, Olayan dons many hats. She is the first woman to be elected as a board member in the Saudi Hollandi Bank, and made history by being the first Saudi woman to speak at a major Saudi conference. She is also a member of the International Business Council of the World Economic Forum and is on the board of trustees of King Abdullah University of Science and Technology.
Although Olayan has gained much popularity for her business acumen, social causes remain close to her heart. She believes that grassroots organisations have the energy to bring about change in the society and they can address key social issues and taboos in a manner that no other group can. Olayan also supports the advancement of Saudi women in business, for which she has set up the Olayan National Women’s Action for Recruitment and Development.
She is one of the few personalities in Saudi Arabia, who have encouraged the women to come out of the oblivion. Her contribution to her society makes her the real gem of the Arab world.