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Inspiring Business Women in APAC: Hanane Sabri

Hanane Sabri is an experienced Marketing Director, with strong capabilities and managerial skills in omni-channel strategies, Digital Marketing, Sports and Fashion events, Finance and market analysis.
What one factor has helped you the most throughout your career?

As a former international runner competing for the French national team in 1500m & 800m, I would say that racing for excellence is definitely the most important factor in my professional career - I am always determined to reach my goals and try to push my limits at work. Why? Because making achievements brings me happiness, pride and satisfaction. Just like every athlete, we need to strive to be the best in anything that we do; whether it is through day-to-day training, diet, watching old races to understand our competitors' strategy or exchanging tactics with your coach and teammates. Sports and work are quite similar to me, so I like to think that through hard work, resilience and perseverance, we can reach peak performance in any job function.

When I first started working in Finance, which was actually my education (with 2 masters in Finance/Banking), my determination, curiosity and pursuit of excellence allowed me to better understand consumer insights and needs. This is how my interest in Marketing started.

Today, I am proud and honoured to be the APAC Marketing Director for Kipling VF. It means a lot to me as this is definitely the fruit of my constant search for excellence. It also means that nothing is impossible if we really want it and work hard for it.

As a mentor, what advice would you give to your mentees?

With my Sports background, I always set up rules in things that I do, which is a great habit. The workplace is like a giant game with specific rules within your field or industry function, whether it is Fashion, Medical, Politics or Sports. If you set up rules based on your observations, management profile and consumer or audience insights, it will go a long way in helping you achieve your goals. I’d like to take this opportunity to share some of my personal rules with you.

My first advice is to always take the time to set up clear goals and have a vision in mind of what the end result would be, that way you can convince your audience to adopt your strategy and follow your leadership as well. Secondly, I recommend establishing your work ethic and having a work-hard mindset. This won’t be easy, but no one has ever succeeded without showing these two values. When we look at female politicians like Ellen Johnson Sirleaf (the first female president elected in Africa), Michelle Bachelet (President of Chile) or Sonia Gandhi (President of Indian National Congress), and businesswomen like Sheryl Sandberg (COO Facebook), Indra Nooyi (CEO Pepsi), Oprah Winfrey (TV producer) or Robin Roberts (my favourite broadcaster), one thing they all share is that they are all exceptional hard-workers. They all have an outstanding sense of ethics, which undoubtedly led to their success, so following these women has inspired me to do the same.

My second advice would be to try and be consistent in what you say and do. Discipline your way of working from the beginning of your career to set an example to your (future) teams through your actions and words. I would also suggest to my mentees to be on the continuous pursuit of new skills and knowledge. I personally read a lot, especially around things happening in the world (Economics, Sports, Politics, fashion trends, sustainability, etc.) Being curious and informed on what is happening in the world will give you a better ability in listening to those around you, in turn giving you an advantage during discussions, whether it’s at work or outside of the workplace. And finally, it’s also important to have a “never give up” attitude, to push your limits and have a clear purpose in your life. At the end of the day, work remains work and we all die eventually no matter who we are, so we might as well try to leave something positive and useful behind for the future generations.

Do you have any advice for working Moms on how to progress and succeed?

This is quite tricky and I am not sure I am the best person to give advice on this, but I am happy to share my own experience. I divorced my ex-husband 10 years ago, as I was not able to be both a leader and a mom. Why? Because I put work as my priority at the early stage, and I was wrong. Eventually, I learnt that balance is key to being a good mom and business leader. To find the balance should be our first goal in everything in life. My husband today is this balance, and everything is about the moment and knowing when to say stop and put the phone down and have a real moment with your beloved to recharge your batteries and be an even better leader. I think I am still growing and learning every day through my family and this amazing new professional experience in VF corporation. Be willing to acknowledge and learn, this would be my advice. As a believer, I am blessed to have been given a second chance to try again to get that balance. It is a tough job, but it is also powerful and insightful. This is why I believe in women, particularly strong mothers, who don’t feel guilty each time we don’t drive our kids to school and activities because we need to deal with an important and strategic meeting; it is up to us to find the balance that makes us and those around us happy because we love them.

Having worked in many different markets (France, Germany, Hong Kong, China, Japan, Korea, Taiwan, Greece, Morocco, Spain), have you noticed any differences in terms of culture and how did it affect your management style?

Looking at my own background, which is a North African from Morocco with my dad being a Bedouin Berber and my mum a modern Muslim lady from Casablanca, I can assure you that cultural differences have affected me since the very beginning of my life.

I learnt to adapt to my parents' cultural differences and habits from a young age. My dad’s family, or the Berber community, have their own dialect, are very resourceful, great hosts, down to earth, humble, and discrete. Whereas my mum’s family is more modern, extravagant, loud and opinion-minded. If we add that on top of the fact that I was born in a small town in the north of France, that would give you an idea of how navigating through cultural differences has been a part of my life. I always believe that as humans we are born to adapt to our environment and that nothing should stop us adjusting ourselves and being self-aware of our history and that of others. I do have to say, I am lucky because my parents educated me with profound values such as respect and empathy. They instructed me that adapting and having people agility will be key elements to acceptance and trust.

Looking back at my professional career, one of the most insightful and inspirational experience I had working at adidas was to work in the Sport Marketing department. I was in charge of 300 athletes, a diverse group with different origins, religions, skin colours, genders and 26 French Olympic federations. I had to travel the world to support adidas athletes during their European/world championships and the Olympic Games. What I learnt through this amazing job is that culture, beliefs and traditions matter and we need to take the time to understand them, respect them and adapt.

When I first came to VF Corporation to work as the APAC Marketing Director at Kipling, I was directly handling 16 different markets including China, Korea and Japan, and the culture and behaviour of my team members and consumers from each location were totally different. To build up a local team and know a foreign market, you need to show full respect and trust. As a leader, it is important to acknowledge the cultural differences and habits, and have a consistent agile attitude and behaviour in order to effectively handle cultural diversity.

Do you have any advice for young women who are looking to go down the same career path as you?

Before I start any new opportunity, I always prepare myself by reading the available financial information, product offering, strategy and brand positioning of the company I will be joining. In the first 3 months, I won’t take on any strategic or structural decision making but instead put myself on observation mode, listening to the key players and focusing on understanding the challenges of the business. Besides, I will also search for information around the values and culture of the company before I say “Yes” to a new opportunity, so I can make sure it is in line with what I stand for and that it would be a good cultural fit.

To better illustrate my point, I love sports and I like working for sports/ lifestyle/fashion brands. Why? Because it goes well with my values and I know I would be committed to my role with great job satisfaction. Life is short, so it makes sense to work for a company that we feel we can belong to, one that shares the same values and stands for the rights that you believe in. Therefore it is important to make sure that you find somewhere you would be happy to work at. Every day, when I wake up, I am happy to be part of the Kipling Team and VF corporation, I cohere with my company guidance principles and I relay our values to my team and try to build team spirit and create a safe workplace.

Another advice would be to always believe in yourself and listen to your female instincts. As I said earlier, if you set up clear goals, if you are ready to take risks, if you are agile, if you work hard and if you listen to your heart, you will have all the tools you need to become a great leader in any field or industry. One important thing to remind ourselves is that emotions is always going to be a constant in the fast-moving world. So, always aim to build an emotional connection with your consumers, this is how we win their interest, consideration and ultimately, loyalty.

Lastly, make sure to match your marketing strategy with the actual situation of your company, so you can build credibility in your new role. To do so, a good marketing leader needs to plan marketing actions in order to engage, whether it is with your boss, teammates or customers. When you start in a new role, it is also important to have “early win projects” that will give you confidence and build trust with your team and your top management. As a woman, it is crucial to get these early wins as you are stepping up in a management role, as people around us will be always tougher, more judgmental, exigent and results-driven when this is a woman who leads. That is why I believe that engagement is the main goal we all need to aim for, which will in turn reflect your capabilities to answer to a real demand.

No matter what you want to achieve in life, you need to write your own story. Have a clear vision and goals in your career and achieve it step by step through hard work, principles and agility, and always be kind to yourself because it takes time and it is normal.

For more Inspiring Business Women in APAC interviews, please click here.

Posted over 3 years ago
About the author:
Christy Wong

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