Claire Davidson, director of Brand; Amanda Mohlenhoff, senior manager, UX writing and research; Krete Paeske, executive assistant; Julia Randow, director of APAC and the Middle East, are driving events that provide women with a supportive growth environment at GetYourGuide. With the support of our board member, Sharon Mccollam, our leaders host events and share their stories to support women who want to grow their careers.
Since last year, we have been hosting panel talks aimed at developing more women into leaders at GetYourGuide. As the events are becoming more frequent, and as attendance grows, we've given the initiative a name, Incredible Women. These discussions have become a place for women leaders to share their experiences with other women who want to grow their careers. The discussion topics include building confidence, work-life balance, integrity, and bringing your whole self to work.
In this post, Julia Randow, director of APAC and the Middle East, shares her journey of building a regional market as a woman in Cairo. Throughout the experience, she shares her hard-earned lessons and gives other women the tools to tell their own success story.
Nearly ten years ago, I was working in a travel and education company headquartered in Switzerland. I was offered an opportunity to launch their business in the Middle East. It would be a challenge: a new country, a new home, a new job. Despite these initial fears, I accepted. As they say, you'll regret what you didn't do, rather than things you've done.
If we want to move super fast and if we're going to step up, we need to allow ourselves to be bold and to take risks to win.
When the appointment of a new manager for Cairo was announced, someone from upper management asked, “Who is he? Does he speak Arabic?” When they learned that it was a 26 year old Swedish woman who didn’t speak Arabic, the room was met with a brief silence.
After this response, I made a decision. In this new role, I wouldn’t let down the people who believed in me for my skills, drive, and execution. My manager had confidence that I was the right person, so I didn't see why I shouldn't at least learn as I go. The next two years that followed were filled with cultural clashes, frustrations and laughs, successes, and the following lessons:
I was arriving at a hotel for a meeting in downtown Cairo with the general manager of a hotel. I adhered to the conservative dress code: No visible shoulders, high heels but not too high, and a full suit. My heart was beating, and I was so nervous.
The meeting started 30 minutes late. I arrived at the reception and I showed my business card that stated Regional Manager of the Middle East. The receptionist looked at the card and looked confused, You, you’re the manager? I nodded and sat down to wait.
When the general manager, who happened to be male, arrived and didn't notice me in the waiting room — I can only assume he was searching for a generic description of regional manager Middle East, a fellow senior-level businessman. At the time, I was 26 and perhaps didn’t look the part to him.
I had approached him a few times to ask if he was waiting for someone, and he kindly said, "No, no, miss." The minutes passed by and he kept on walking back and forth in the reception. I started to realize that it is likely he is looking for the manager, but that manager in his world just cannot be me.
I handed him my business card that read, Regional Manager Middle East, Julia Randow. He looked up and stared at me, looked back at the business card the receptionist had given him and then looked at me again. He just did not get it. For minutes. He took the card, and we began.
By now, I had spent a few years in Cairo and had learned the importance of showing strength and power to gain respect. This was new to me coming from a Scandinavian society where consensus and understanding were central.
To move things forward, I praised his hotel and set a meeting agenda. I described a win-win partnership. He warmed up and revealed some of the biggest threats to his business. He had laid out all of his cards, which was a surprising advantage for me.
I had my doubts and thought, Is he sharing all this information with me because he didn't see me as a real manager, does he not think I can use it?" Despite what I thought he thought, I used the information to create a great proposal. We signed a contract ten days later with him based on everything he told me in that meeting. This contract had the most favorable terms we signed as a company in the Middle East.
A year after this meeting, Egypt became the number one travel destination for the part of the company, and the destination was fronting the annual sales brochure and all our print media back then. I was proud.
I faced my next challenge, yet again, at a hotel meeting in Egypt. I walked into the luxury hotel expecting to speak with the manager for a sales negotiation on next year's prices. I entered the room and was surprised to find not only the manager of the hotel but all 12 of his male directors who had flown in from around the Middle East.
They were all in suits, in their late fifties, drinking Turkish coffee, and smoking shisha inside the meeting room. They smiled, but I thought it was condescending. Whether it was part of the culture to bring backup or just a power move, I was boiling inside.
If I had spent my time doing things perfectly every time, I wouldn't have had the time to get the results in place. I wouldn't have fully enjoyed the experience, and to me, that would have been the biggest failure.
Inviting 12 men to a meeting with one saleswoman felt like they were trying to intimidate me before the price negotiation started. At the time, I was not in a very equal nor modern region of Egypt and suspected that this was a very unsophisticated way to take control of a conversation.
By now, I had spent a few years in Cairo and had learned the importance of showing strength and power to gain respect. This was new to me coming from a Scandinavian society where consensus and understanding were central. I had heard that in Cairo, drinking your coffee bitter with no sugar was a sign of strength. So I asked for it — in Arabic, Mumkin, Turkish coffee sedah, los samat. Then I ordered a Shisha, I dreaded it because I don't smoke. The negotiations began.
In the coming months, we created a solid relationship and a successful collaboration. It was not fun entering that room filled with smoke and tension, but it taught me to remember my own value and show it to others. Sometimes we are so much better than we think.
I got this piece of advice from Claire. Even if you're doing a smashing job and delivering outstanding results, it won't automatically lead you to the next step in your career. You need to voice your wishes so that your manager knows what you want and where you want to grow. I like to think of this as being the driver of your own car. Take direction and decide how fast it is going to travel and where you want to make a turn. If you're not the driver, you'll be in the passenger seat of someone else’s.
Ask yourself, are you the driver of your own car?
Looking back, I obviously made many mistakes. I was breaking things back then, and I am breaking things now at GetYourGuide. I also learn from missteps and try not to make the same ones again. If we want to move super fast and if we're going to step up, we need to allow ourselves to be bold and to take risks to win. It's a part of the game. Let's live with that and embrace it.
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