Interview With Tamara Abdel Jaber, Jordanian Woman CEO Who Founded And Runs High-Growth Business Palma
My mentor taught me that Jordan is a small market. He encouraged me to go beyond our borders and focus on the region at large by looking at Egypt, Syria, West Bank, and all over.
By Rania Anderson (Co-Founder, Women’s Capital Connection)
Flashback to 10 years ago: A 26 year old entrepreneur begins her own business and technology consulting company. In the Middle East, IT is largely known as a male-dominated field, so what was she thinking? Who was this young woman asking to meet with high-profile companies? Their curiosity got the best of them; they just had to meet this anomaly for themselves.
Fast-forward to today: Tamara Abdel-Jaber is the CEO of her company, Palma, with 22 full-time employees and 150 contractors across the Middle East. In 2011, Arabian Business Magazine named her one of the 100 Most Powerful Arab Women, and her company, Palma, was recognized as one of the 30 fastest-growing companies in Jordan.
I was had the pleasure of talking with Tamara to learn about her journey and keys to success.
Rania Anderson: How did you decide to become an entrepreneur and go into IT?
Tamara Abdel-Jaber: “There are three different reasons:
- I have always had a passion for entrepreneurship. I always knew I didn’t want to be a small tool in a big machine.
- I have had several lucky breaks. [In the beginning] I landed a job where I got lots of training and exposure, all of which helped me formulate what I wanted to do.
- Lastly, and most importantly, I had a very good mentor, Mr. Khaled Kilani. I met him as soon as I graduated from school. He saw my passion for entrepreneurship and my desire to start my own business. He promised me that after working with him for five years, I would be able to start my own business. Five years to the date, Palma was established.
During the time I worked for my mentor, I got to work on lots of companies and lead many investments. I was exposed to legal issues, taxation, and human resources, adding these skills to my educational base in business, finance, accounting and IT. The knowledge and experience I gained gave me the courage to start my own business.
My mentor is still my partner and the chairman of Palma.
Rania Anderson: Where does your confidence and willingness to put yourself out there come from?
Tamara Abdel-Jaber: I think I have always had that, even as a kid. The way I see it, many people in our part of the world [The Middle East] don’t have many resources and knowledge. In order to stand out, expend a little extra effort – study more, apply yourself a little more, and you will be successful.
I don’t believe I have done much. I have just been more persistent than the people around me. I am passionate about knowledge and pursued that from an early age by working hard in school and have continued to do so throughout my life. My knowledge helps me to be confident, and I like taking risks.
Rania Anderson: What do you think has taken you to the level of growth you have seen at Palma?
Tamara Abdel-Jaber: I’ve never really thought about this. From day one, I started learning from the experiences that other entrepreneurs had in Jordan. My mentor taught me that Jordan is a small market. He encouraged me to go beyond our borders and focus on the region at large by looking at Egypt, Syria, West Bank, and all over.
It actually really helped me that I was female. Everyone was interested in meeting the “young female CEO and co-founder.” So I leveraged people’s curiosity to open doors. But after that initial introduction, it took a lot of dedication, know-how, and passion on my part as well as on the part of all Palma employees to deliver and surpass expectations.
I was fortunate to have the opportunity to participate in some significant events like the 2010 U.S. Presidential Summit on Entrepreneurship and the 2009 Fortune-U.S. State Department Global Women Leaders Mentoring Partnership, an annual program that gathers young women leaders from developing countries to work with and shadow American women leaders.
I don’t know how all that happened, but I made sure I built on these opportunities. These things are not just an honor; they also represent my responsibility to continue to work very hard to deliver on the recognition and confidence people have placed in me.
Rania Anderson: What advice do you give to school kids or young women about their potential and futures?
Tamara Abdel-Jaber: I tell them to focus on school and their education, to decide early on if they are passionate about something and then push toward that goal. Parents over here want kids to be doctors or engineers and maybe IT. As for me, I went into accounting and business. I was considered crazy, but I was in a hurry to get into the business world, and I knew I wouldn’t have made my mark if I went where everyone else was going. I tell school kids and young women that they don’t need to follow what everyone else is doing or what their parents tell them.
I [also] tell them to start their own business! It can be scary, but if they are willing to work very hard and put in the time it takes to be successful it can be very fulfilling. I tell them to go for it! You can plan your life the way you want it to be, and really decide your future. It’s in your hands!
Rania Anderson: What are some of your future aspirations?
Tamara Abdel-Jaber: When there are women entrepreneurship events in the region, we seem to always end up talking about microfinance and small businesses. This is all really good, but no one is focusing on women in high-growth industries like IT, or consulting. I am passionate about and working toward changing this picture. We need to increase our focus on women with the high potential to build and grow large-scale businesses.
I live in a region where my country needs support from its citizens. I want to give back to my country. I feel I have the experience and knowledge to do so, and I have seen what has been accomplished in other areas. I’m lucky to have accomplished what I have at a young age and have the stamina and time to contribute more broadly now. I have a unique experience of doing business in developing countries and being a female. I need to share my learning, experience, and ideas not just in Jordan, but all over. I need to find more people like me and give them the push they need.
Editor’s note: Got a question for our guest blogger? Leave a message in the comments below.
About the guest blogger: Rania Anderson is a Co-Founder of Women’s Capital Connection, a women’s angel network in Kansas City. She is an entrepreneur, writer, executive business coach and angel investor. Throughout her professional life, Rania has been observing, researching, connecting with and guiding the way women work. Rania guides women globally to achieve professional and business success. Follow her on Twitter at @TheWayWomenWork.