The Middle East @ Work

Against Saudi odds, a woman CEO

Marketplace Staff Mar 7, 2008

TEXT OF STORY

Scott Jagow: In Saudi Arabia, women aren’t allowed to drive — but they can run banks and investment funds. Granted, these businesswomen are usually handed their positions within a family operation, and they’re cut off from the rest of Saudi society. But that’s not always the story. Kelly McEvers has a profile of one Saudi woman who’s doing things differently.


Kelly McEvers: It was an accident that Nadia Al Dossary became the CEO of Al-Sale Eastern scrap metal company. Back in 2003, her husband, the founder of the company, was on his way to inspect a site for a new facility.

Al Dossary: And the driver dozed. And my husband was already sleeping. And they hit a trailer.

Her husband fell into a coma. All of a sudden, Nadia was in charge of the scrap metal business.

She had to face her husband’s clients:

Al Dossary: Men who would visit him in the ICU. Some of them are Bedouins, some of them from many places in Saudi Arabia. And they wouldn’t even look at me.

That’s because Saudi law prohibits the mixing of unrelated men and women.

Nadia ignored the law. In the office and in the scrapyards, she gave orders to an all-male staff.

Al Dossary: I don’t think they took it seriously at the beginning. I would be there, that’s the only thing that I would do. Look at the papers, listen to them, and move one day by one day.

Her husband eventually woke up from the coma, but it took him years of rehab to recover. Now he’s back at the office and in charge of operations.

And Nadia?

Al Dossary: I’m his boss.

Nadia spends her days searching for new markets and overseeing the assembly of a giant new $12 million shredder.

Al Dossary: This is the shredder project, this is actually the original maps of the project itself . . .

She first joined Al-Sale Eastern as a middle manager. By the time of her husband’s accident, she knew how the company worked. She’s faced few obstacles since.

One day, though, she had to appear in court over a small claim against a company driver. The strict religious judge separated her from the men, and wouldn’t allow her speak.

Al Dossary: They would let me sit in a place that looked like a closet, and the window had bars. And I sat there like a stupid chair. And I would think, what else happens on those courts, to other women?

So now, Nadia Al Dossary tries to be a role model for young Saudi women who want to start their own businesses. Her advice is to charge forward — and worry about the consequences later.

Al Dossary: I have a very simple rule: Just break the law and then say, “Oops, I made it.” And I never look back.

In Al-Khobar, Saudi Arabia, I’m Kelly McEvers for Marketplace.

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