Saana Azzam: Female Economist of the year

Saana Azzam –“If your will of winning is greater than your fear of losing, you will go far.”

Gulf Elite took the time to meet up with Sweden’s Female Economist of the Year 2010, Saana Azzam. A serial entrepreneur with a master’s degree in Economics from Stockholm School of Economics and a public speaker that has spoken in front of the glitterati of Swedish business life. Based out in Dubai at the moment, we decided to meet up with Azzam for lunch at Jones the Grocer, to find out how this piece of coal turned into a diamond.

Now this is not your usual suspect – she opens the door and you see this tall dark brunette, all suited up with a pair of black stillettos, approaching the table…damn! Saana is born in Germany “in transit”, as she expressed it, between Lebanon and Sweden. Her parents are Palestinians, “I wish I had time to pick up the German at that stage but I guess I had other priorities as an infant,” she says and laughs. By the age of 26 she has lived in six different countries, worked within private banking at SEB and done an investment banking internship at Barclays Capital in London during the financial crises in 2008. She also had an internship at Nike, American Express and held 32 innovaative speeches around Europe.

But traveling around the world, working and exploring the many opportunities out there, you need to keep your feet on the ground and stay connected within the social bubble by taking advantage of the technology available today. “Some of my business opportunities come through social media. It is so incredibly easy to meet any CEO for a casual coffee and it is literally one button away.”

You see, Saana is young and driven, just like a lot of people within her generation. But keeping in mind that there are hundreds of millions of people within that generation, some of them are bound to fuck up eventually. So what made her “shine bright like a diamond” (i.e not mess up), was a mindset characterized by a fearless determination.  She had the determination to pursue tough studies and graduated from one of the world’s most esteemed business schools, holding ultimately a master in Economics from Stockholm School of Economics, and is today a 26-year-old entrepreneur, businesswoman and an inspiring figure that makes us believe that we can make it to the top, with just a little magic of hard work, determination and inspiration.

Looking at her background, one can see her as a very fearless individual. A woman that has the guts to use all of her competence and skills to climb up the social ladder, a woman that embraces the present and sees her young age as a great advantage.

“As a successful yet young individual, your aren’t naturally empowered to use the space you need, which is why you have to speak your mind and have the confidence to take your stands. One warning though, you better know what you’re talking about when you start talking!” As a young businesswoman or an entrepreneur, working within a world dominated by corporations and authoritative individuals, you have to have the brains to present your potential, and without fearlessness or confidence, your potential will always remain unknown. Let your actions speak for themselves because actions are much louder than empty promises and talks.

In your lectures you talk about Generation Y and organizational development, how do you see the diversity within modern organizations and do you think its important for success?

I want to evolve and operate in dynamic, healthy work environments. In this day and age, operations are global and the consumers are world citizens, thus a homogeneous work environment will not be able to cater for that and will ultimately put them at a disadvantage. Mix ethnicity, age, gender and more to create a creative work place. Equality among multi-ethnic personnel is not a sole question of ethics, it is a question of profitability, to even question it seems unjustified, says Saana Azzam.

Many business leaders describe Generation Y as spoiled and demanding, do you agree?

I like to describe my generation as the generation that wants to be Mother Teresa and Gordon Gekko, all at the same time. We may demand more from corporations but we also demand more out of ourselves because the technological capability and know-how is available. Circumstances change, people don’t, and so we should remember that we are as much impacted by the latest world developments as our grand parents were by the industrial revolution. We are adapting and actively participating in a changed world, in our own way, and this is what the aging class that has long been at the helm of the corporate world perceives differently.

What advice would you give young entrepreneurs like yourself to be able to live up to their own dreams and potential?

Because something that’s wrong and is constituted is seen as a social norm doesn’t make it right. Every new idea always starts within an individual. But if that individual can’t take responsibility, he or she will neglect the possibility of getting a better life, not only for themselves but also for the people around them.

I was raised by immigrated parents, like many Palestinian families that were driven out of their countries due to horrible circumstances, and unfortunately, my parents’ qualifications were neither transferable nor valid in Sweden. All this being said, they still very successfully managed to integrate and raise 8 ambitious children including myself. My mother always said “The doorway to success is wide open, but its up to you if you want to walk through it or not.” The picture she painted up for me made me realize that we all control how to walk through our destined path and If your will of winning is greater than your fear of losing, you will go far.

Morale of the story, you don’t have any excuse for not going out there and achieving wonders. Instead of finding excuses to explain why you suck, find excuses to let people know how awesome you are and how successful you can be. Saana Azzam may have been raised by a family of emigrants, grown in a foreign country all but similar to hers, challenged by the hardships of studying along the intellectual elite of Sweden, but sure as hell she never quit and was always determined to carve a name for herself. “Pain is temporary, it may last a minute, an hour, a day or a year, but it will eventually fade away. The pain from quitting though, lasts a lifetime”. So choose a path and decide where you want to be, because where you are now doesn’t matter at all, like it didn’t matter for Saana when she opened her eyes the first day to see that her starting point wasn’t very promising!

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