An Interview with Samira Abdollah Aboonajmi, CEO and Managing Partner at Gift Land Stores

Samira Abdollah Aboonajmi is a young, dynamic entrepreneur from the UAE. She was born in a family and environment where every man was involved in business, but no woman. Yet Samira thrives in a business community where the majority of the ventures are led by men. She has done her MBA majoring in Administrational Management and International Strategic Marketing and now leads one of the most significant ventures in the UAE, Gift Land stores. Being a successful woman entrepreneur in the Arab community, her interests range from sports to dancing, reading, poetry and even psychology & philosophy.

Hello Samira, welcome to Startup Fortune. Good to have you with us, could you please tell us a little bit about yourself and your background? What’s your story?

My initial approach towards university and academics was to become a psychiatrist. But due to family’s disagreement to study abroad, affected by cultural reasons, I had to follow my father’s path and study business. I am Persian (Iranian) and I studied in a Persian school until my fifth grade, and later switched to American Curriculum school as per my family’s decision. I completed my studies in American and Australian University. I write and speak 4 Languages Arabic, English, Hindi/Urdu and My mother tongue Persian(farsi).

When did you join your family business? How did it all start?

I officially joined my father’s businesses at the head office in my second year of University in 2006. In school everyday we were being taught about the importance of the real work environment and how stressful and challenging it could get. So I couldn’t wait to face that challenge.  At first I was not treated as the daughter of the chairman but just as a normal staff like all the others and that’s what I loved about it. Because you Learn more under pressure.

I always loved being active and updated with the world around me. So before this I had many internship experiences working at KLM Airlines for 2 weeks, Air Arabia for 8 weeks and at an Office of Canadian immigration for 12 weeks. Later I joined my father’s business and have been there ever since. In 2014 I launched and started my very own business , in the food industry and manufacturing of food products.

What inspired you to become an entrepreneur instead of choosing a conventional corporate job?

For the sake of the experience I made sure I do a corporate job but I immediately realised that I am a person that Needs to pursue her own dreams, vision and missions which are very similar to my father’s.  As a dynamic engineered brain and type of values I have, I chose to stay independent and free to experience every real business aspect and industry, from manufacturing to retailing. 

What gave you confidence to be doing business in a community where the majority of business ventures are owned and operated by men?

By reading Magazines, business books, and autobiographies of notable Business leaders I would say. Thus the confidence just built up and came from myself only. My family never stopped me from doing anything I’m doing today, but neither did they cheer me to do it. So I would say reading other successful women entrepreneurs’ inspirational stories, is what gave me the gut which I needed. 

I read a lot and follow the stories of notable women from around the world.

As a woman in business, what difficulties did you have to face when you were just getting started?

Honestly almost nothing, Dubai is an amazing place for every single human being. If you have a real dream, Dubai or the UAE is the ideal place to pursue your goals, it is still cherishing and keeping the rich tradition alive, but it gives a great space to women to pursue their dreams. When I first started,  I had a little difficulty within my own community and relatives but I never bothered to look back and see them because I knew and had recognized my exact path and goals. Yet this is still an unfortunate matter to consider that women entrepreneurs are not taken as seriously just yet. This does not include my first family members, they are in fact extremely supportive, let it be my brothers or sisters. My mother and brother are the constant supporters of my ideas and dreams at all times. This doesn’t make it any less regarding the rest of my family members.

In your opinion, what makes unique? Could you tell us about the features that make your venture stand out from the competitors?

Our prices! The stores give absolutely low prices, without compromising on quality! We are constantly fighting against high prices. Since 1979, these stores have been the favorite shopping hub and the one stop shopping station for every member of any family of any nationality. The shop compiles extremely valuable products from thousands of different brands all under just one roof. It’s also a favorite hub for every American, European or Middle Eastern tourist entering the UAE.

All products are displayed beautifully and customers are welcomed with a warm customer service. Our core value is customer service and keeping the prices as low as possible compared to other competitors, the discounted rates you see at Gift Land shops, you can’t find anywhere else.

What do you think of the impact of COVID-19 in doing business, especially because you operate physical department stores? 

I think businesses are experiencing the biggest economical crisis of the century. Right now, we are all living in a historical moment of the century. I believe we are not the only one hit by this crisis and here onwards absolute hope and faith comes handy. Those pessimistics will very soon be cleared out of the industry but those who know how to change and adjust their business strategies according to economic emergencies will not only stay in the market but also will grow better than before. One must know how to turn even the worst crisis into bigger opportunities.

Do you have plans to transform Gift Land into an e-commerce platform?

Absolutely. A great amount of budget and efforts is dedicated to our e-commerce platform and is already under process. Due to the nature of our customers, online selling was not really an option to be considered before. But currently this is namely one strategy that is being adjusted as an impact of covid-19 occurrence. Starting soon, we will be selling and trading worldwide, not only in the UAE. 

Apart from heading Gift Land, have you established any other business ventures?

As I slightly indicated earlier, in 2014 I started my own venture, to manufacture Sultana Products, especially the now popular . Sultana means Queen.

Sultana Saffron sounds really interesting. Could you tell us more about it? 

We import and export the finest Persian Saffron and Saffron tea. It didn’t take long for us to enter the major supermarkets in the country (UAE) and placed my own brand of products on their shelves. More products of Sultana Brand are to be added to the line of the production in the future such as Sultana Pistachios, Sultana Caviar and etc. This Brand and line of products aims and targets a special type of customers who are looking for the finest quality, luxurious products.

As a self-made, successful entrepreneur in the Middle East, what advice would you give to aspiring women from the Arab community who wish to become independent?

Ever noticed how smartphones work? Be smart and filter that negativity before entering your ears. Let it be your own family members! Believe in yourself and make calculated risks all the time. No guts, no glory. Keep working hard because trying is lying. Just do it. Do it starting today! Do it NOW!

It’s nice to have people around you with the same vision and ideas as you, but if you couldn’t find some, DO IT ALONE. Be your own supporter & cheer for yourself. Let your success and efforts speak for you. Cut out those friends holding you back from achieving and pursuing your dreams. You are the CEO of your own life. Hire, fire and promote accordingly. DO NOT depend on others; you are responsible for your own actions. Try to learn everything yourself from the scratch. Read and learn all the time, believe me, ever since I lost hope in others; I achieved more. Just work hard and most importantly work smart. 

Have faith in yourself and God, those who leave everything in God’s hand will eventually see God’s hand in everything. As a famous saying says: everything must be okay at the end, if it’s not okay, it is an indication that it’s not the end; try other routes. Of course, and most importantly don’t forget to enjoy your journey and have loads of fun!

More details about Samira can be found on her Instagram account Samira Abdullah.

Gift Land store’s website: www.giftland.ae

This post is tagged with: , Gift Land, Sultana Saffron, Sultana Products, , , , Jasem Abdollah Aboonajmi,

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