Emirati entrepreneur and Founder of MAD (Making A Difference) Hospitality and Society café, Sheikha Al Mheiri is making an impact in the UAE one pioneering venture at a time.
Can you talk us through your career?
My career began at 17, I had just finished high school with a diploma and the drive to get some real-life work experience. I chose to delve into the family business which aided me in choosing a path for my higher studies. Whilst at university, I felt it was imperative to gain practical experience, and so I worked hard within the family businesses. Eventually, I was managing departments of my father’s business and continued to pursue my education at the London Business School. At that point in my life, I was immersed in various businesses and found myself wanting to expand and explore until I had created an empire. My main role within each business was to seamlessly conceptualise, structure and construct new ventures. This is when I decided to take the ultimate risk and bet on my abilities, shortly after, Society was born.
You’re a leader in business in this region – what’s it like paving the way for so many women in the GCC & Arab world?
As an Emirati woman in a largely male-dominated industry, I consider it to be of top priority to guide and mentor women. During my personal journey of becoming a titan in the industry, there were a few essential lessons that got me to my position which I relay to every female employee I have, as I feel it to be a personal responsibility dear to my heart. The lessons go as follows; as a woman in the Middle East, if you get the gift of education, grab it, with both hands. Your network, in most cases, really does contribute to your net worth. Lastly, be driven. As a leader, educating, mentoring and betting on driven women has to be one of the highest honours I’ve had the privilege of receiving.
You’ve got so many different ventures under your belt as an entrepreneur – which stand out to you?
Besides my involvement in the family businesses, I have a variety of businesses, each unique and which have seen growth to date. My first project and the one closest to my heart has to be the cafe, Society. The fusion dining concept was conceptualised with the people of Dubai as my ultimate muse, our society. I remember jumping over walls in my abaya, searching for the perfect location in 2017, until eventually, I had found Society’s home in the heart of Dubai. After successfully launching the popular breakfast and lunch venue, I had decided to expand around the city and develop an eatery called Toplum. With Toplum I wanted to bring the experiences from my travels around the Mediterranean to the plates and peripherals of my Dubai residents, after all, Toplum translates to society in Turkish. Toplum boasts stylish feminine interiors, hand-blown chandeliers and a variety of delicious menu options suitable for every meal. As we grew and the public took more of an interest in Society and Toplum, I decided to build a creative agency.
Make a difference; these three words are some of the words I live by and encourage my employees to implement in their daily lives. MAD studios were built to find the balance between my wild eye for art and my disciplined structural approach and apply that to our businesses. My aim for MAD Studios was to be able to offer our new aged digital marketing services to external clients and help their visions turn into realities. After launching and running two successful dining concepts, I wanted to design a space that houses quality offerings, minimalistic elements and interiors that tell a story. In January 2021, The Grey was launched. This minimalist cafe was inspired by the universe, my travels to Asia and the desire to create a social house for the people of Dubai. The Grey offers all-day dining options that boast quality food at pocket-friendly prices. The sleek and sultry sanctuary is in a 40-year-old Safa villa, the location pays homage to our city with the traditions embedded within The Grey’s walls and locally sourced offerings.
What difficulties have you faced as a female entrepreneur in the world of business?
As an Emirati entrepreneur and a female, I’ve had to endure my fair share of obstacles. In my earlier days, as I was building the businesses, a particular hurdle that came my way was the doubt and patronization by successful men within the industry. Since then, I have adapted and learned to assert myself without apology and display my generalist approach.
What is a philosophy that you live by in your professional life?
There is a difference between climbing and imagining the summit, this quote resonates with me on a deep level. For many years I imagined and manifested the success, but to mentally, physically and emotionally invest in the hard work and dedication to creating an empire is a whole different story and every bit worth it.
What are some of the key lessons you have learned that you’d like to share with other entrepreneurs?
Never take no for an answer, if there is a will there’s a way, and if there isn’t there is always a plan B. It is imperative to your growth to be surrounded by the company you wish to be like. And lastly, never ever be apologetic for being a leader.
What are your hopes for women in the future of this country?
My hope for the women of my country and all the women who come here to make a better life is for them to realise that they are instrumental in the advancement of the nation. This UAE is opening doors and widening it’s horizons with opportunities. My hope is that women dare to explore untapped fields and focus on their success through education and self-development, as knowledge is power.
What have been the biggest hurdles during your career and how did you overcome them?
Entrepreneurship was not practised in my family, especially by a woman. As the first woman in my family to start a business I found it challenging to make the shift from an employee within the family business to a leader and an entrepreneur. This leads me to my second hurdle which was gaining respect within the business of trade and service. In order to gain respect in an industry prominently controlled by men, it was paramount that I assert myself without fear and with confidence. Being a successful businesswoman and entrepreneur requires balance. Finding the balance between work and life is crucial in order to execute tasks and run a business. For a while, in the early days, I struggled with allocating time to myself and loved ones and focused primarily on the business. After a thorough trial and error period, I had eventually found a balance that allowed me to harmoniously transition between work and personal life.
On the opposite end of the spectrum, what have been the key milestones?
As a strong believer in inclusivity and diversity, I am privileged and honoured today to say that I have employed 30 different nationalities within my establishment which I consider to be a personal feat for me and the team. Besides the success of the restaurants, I am proud to say that I have accomplished many personal goals before turning thirty. I regard my ability for conceptualising the businesses from scratch and then expanding them globally to be an accolade I will forever be proud of, stay tuned.
Do you have any mentors who have helped guide your career?
The first mentor in my life would have to be my father, not only has he been a patriarch in our family but has personally been my first inspiration to follow my dreams and to work on them conscientiously and earnestly. My other mentor would have to be my business partner and my confidant. I met my business partner while studying at the London Business School where I was faced with someone I knew would bring the element of logic and theory to my risk-taking ethos. As my senior and equipped with an extensive knowledge of finance paired with his risk-averse attitude I have been able to make impertinent business decisions and gain a lifelong friend. One thing both men have in common is that they have been supporters of my vision and believed in my aspirations and have aided me in obtaining them.
This is ‘The Icon Issue’ – who are the icons in your life?
The icon that I hold in the highest regard would have to be His Highness Sheikh Mohammed the Vice President and the Prime Minister of the UAE. Growing up I would often hear stories from my father, who works closely with our ruler about how he would take risks and launch successful businesses. HHSM is this nation’s biggest entrepreneur and has not only built empires but expanded them across the globe and positively impacted millions of people for their betterment. I would also like to add a message for the youth and ambitious entrepreneurs, for those who have big dreams, just as I do. Don’t be afraid to fail, as failure is the first step to success.
September’s – ‘The Icon Issue’ – Download Now
– For more on luxury lifestyle, news, fashion and beauty follow Emirates Woman on Facebook and Instagram