Ladies Who Lead – Zeina Khoury, CEO of High Mark Real Estate

To mark International Women’s Day 2019 Property Finder and Prestige Magazine interviewed some of today’s most spoken about women in real estate to find out what it means to be a woman on top in the UAE.

People got to the moon, so don’t tell me something cannot be done. There might be a cost, but there is always a way.

I was born and raised in Lebanon. I have a degree in banking and finance and I never thought I would end up being in the real estate industry.

In 2006, there was some conflict in my country, so I had to leave after I graduated because there were no work opportunities.

I came to Dubai and real estate was really happening, so I applied to work with a developer. They kept asking me to ‘wait and be patient’ but in the end, they didn’t accept me for the job I had applied for.

At that time, it seemed that everyone was working in real estate. So, I thought, okay I’m not going to accept a setback, I really want to be in this industry.

I was offered a job with a company that was developing Palazzo Versace Dubai, as well as other projects. At the time I had a decision to either take an insurance job with a fixed salary or take this real estate job with no salary, based only on performance and commission. I thought: I’m young enough and I don’t have responsibilities, I’ll go for the real estate job. I am still with the same group, I started in sales and made my way up.

Seven years ago, we created a real estate brokerage company that was initially supposed to service only the projects of that specific developer, but then we opened up to the rest of the market. I have been in the industry ever since.

Actually, I met the man who rejected my initial job application. He came to my office wanting to see the General Manager and he recognised me! I actually thanked him, I said: “thank you for not giving me the opportunity because it opened up a whole new chapter for me.” Honestly, I feel it happened for a reason.

What I like about the UAE is that there is no bias in terms of gender. Women and men are considered equal based on their qualifications, or at least this has been my experience.

When I was appointed General Manager of Highmark Real Estate there were a lot of other men that were older and had more experience in sales, however, the decision was made based on someone who had experience in customer service, sales, a finance background and who had a certain personality to represent the group. This for me is a perfect example of how the UAE provides the opportunity for women to thrive.

Recently, we have seen so many women that have led big tech startups – for example, the lady behind The Entertainer, Donna Benton, is someone extremely inspiring. There are a lot of women in the region that have really shined, and their platform was the UAE, and Dubai specifically.

It’s not a competitive advantage to be a woman, I believe we are seen as equals. People want to support women in business, perhaps because they have not had the same opportunities years before. But, at the end of the day, people are put in certain positions because of their qualifications, not their gender.

Managerial and leadership styles change with time as we grow as a person, as we mature. My leadership style has changed so much in the past ten years. In the beginning, when you take on a managerial position, you think that you need to be strong and firm as you want people to respect you. By forcing them to respect you, you don’t really relate with the employees. Your focus is the bottom line and profitability. But you slowly come to understand that your employees are the reason your company is successful.

My leadership style changed tremendously after I had kids and a family of my own. I started understanding the women that work with me better. Now I’m more understanding, I’m more patient and I don’t take things to heart.

I reboot every day if I have had a clash or an employee has done something that is not suitable for the business; we start again the next day with a fresh mind. I try to create a fun environment, I focus on finding a smile or a laugh in everything we do. However, I am also firm, and I want things done – and done now!

The secret to success is knowing that nothing is impossible. Each time I’m told something can’t be done, I say, people got to the moon, so don’t tell me something cannot be done – there might be a cost, but there is always a way. Also, don’t say no to extra work.

If I could go back in time, I would tell younger Zeina to have more fun, to be less judgmental and to appreciate everything she has at that moment in time, and not to rush things.


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