I was born and raised in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.
My parents were both hard working and raised me to be the same. I excelled at school and sport, but unfortunately, the opportunities for girls in the mid eighties was very limited. After high school a girl had two options, either try and enrol into the one university in Riyadh where you could graduate in home economics or dentistry or get married.
Women couldn’t hold a job, drive a car or even travel unchaperoned at the time. Our teachers, doctors, nurses were all non-nationals.
Don’t get me wrong, I had a wonderful childhood. I had school, hobbies, friends but I always challenged the status quo. I wasn’t alone, we all did. I was lucky however in that my parents listened when I said – I need my freedom. I need to be able to understand the world and what it has to offer.
After I graduated high school, my parents sent me to university in Boston, very few of my friends lived that far away from home and I remember landing in Boston Logan International Airport and thinking to myself “what have I done?”
It was 1987 – mobile phones and google maps didn’t exist. I had to rely on my little notebook, where I had been frantically taking notes for months on where to go and who to speak to. It is all a blur.
My high school studies were all in Arabic, so it was a major learning curve trying to understand textbooks in a language I barely spoke. It was a tough year but exciting at the same time. The city was stunning, and I experienced events that I would have never done if I hadn’t left Saudi Arabia. I attended my first ever concert, I watched a basketball game, I studied in libraries, and I got a waitress job. I was living the life of a normal university student and I was grateful because not many girls in my country could.
I met loads of amazing people from all walks of life – some, like me, were out of their comfort zone. I befriended scientists, musicians, engineers, and artists.
University life was always buzzing and although for the first time ever I had a roommate and needed use a communal bathroom – I was in my element. I worked hard and was determined to succeed.
No matter how hard I worked, I failed every course that first year. I knew that the language was a barrier, so I was up nights with my head buried in my text books, trying to make sense of the words.
But I failed and failed again.
So I gave up and went home that summer defeated.
A year later and after a good talking to from my parents and a crash course in English, I tried again! I went on to get my MSc in Architecture and landed my first real job in downtown Boston.
My first day at my new job, my boss (who later became my mentor and the reason why I went on to get an MBA) asked me to clean the kitchen and tidy up the architects’ samples library. Shock! Horror! – I have an MSc!
I stepped into his office angry with a fire burning inside me, ready to challenge him! Calmly he said “Chirine, there are hundreds of you out there, you are not special! Your attitude towards work, whatever it may be, will determine the rest of your career. Only your attitude, not your degrees, not where you are from, or your status.
With my tail between my legs, I went back to the samples library and threw my all into tidying it up.
I wasn’t always passionate about architecture, I was good, but not great at it. My passion as it transpired and after shadowing my mentor for 18 months was how he ran the business. He was the epitome of hands on, stuck in and rolled up sleeves.
There is nothing he didn’t know about the firm, and he didn’t even own it. He ran it like it was his own. This design firm employed 50 people and he was the go-to person for each one of them. When people came to him with an issue or problem – his first response was always “how can I help?”
I couldn’t stay in the US for very long after that – I had a student visa that came to an end and I wasn’t granted another one. Armed with an education and experience I moved back home and looked for a job – It was difficult to find one. There weren’t that many architect or design jobs for women, so I worked with my father who is a civil engineer, working from home. Organising his drawings and contracts. I also worked with my mother translating Arabic into English.
When the work dried up, I decided to move to Dubai. It was a booming city and Arab expatriates were in demand and worked as designer for 5 years before moving to the UK where my husband was from.
I arrived in London at the age of 32 and thought that it was a great opportunity to change careers. London was the heart of the financial world, and I was fascinated by it. I was lucky enough to get a part time role in a financial services firm where my responsibility was opening post and delivering it to different departments. Here I was starting over but instead of tidying up a library or cleaning a kitchen, I was delivering post!
My mentors’ teachings constantly echoing in my head – How can I help?
He was right – working hard and displaying the right attitude gets you recognised. Offering help when people don’t expect it creates trust. As the years went by, I was promoted several times and moved organisations to not only better myself, but to help others do the same.
At Capital, we pride ourselves in helping our clients experience true wealth by understanding what the magical phrase ‘true wealth’ means to them.
As the Head of Operations for Capital my role is to create the infrastructure that allows us to do exactly that. I work with an incredibly talented team of individuals whose sole purpose is to help our clients. I create an environment for the team to grow, flourish, learn and achieve by always asking “How can I help?”
It only really dawned on me recently how powerful a question that is. It’s saying,” I’m not going to tell you what to do, I am not going to fix your problem or hand you a solution. I am empowering you to figure out what it is you need to get you back on the right track. Use me, my expertise and knowledge to guide you and if there is anything more you need – I will help.“
Overcoming difficulties in Saudi as a little rebel and being defeated when I thought could never be.
Having the resilience to start over repeatedly, has led me to this moment – where I can be the leader that I always wanted to be.
I look forward to speaking with you and will always start by asking ‘How can I help?
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