Successful Leaders Do Not Do It Alone

An interview with Sharmila Murat – CIO, Chalhoub Group


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What can we learn from Middle East’s most successful women? What did they do? And what can they tell us about making it to the top? We speak to Sharmila Murat, who leads all investing activity for the Chalhoub Group, the leading partner of luxury across the Middle East, on her journey to the top.





Over the years, I have received lots of solicited and unsolicited advice about how I should be. Ultimately, we each need to decide what’s right for ourselves.


What one learning has had the biggest impact on your career?

I have learned that with the right backing, support, and encouragement, anything is possible. When I was young and starting out, I had a tough time seeing a future beyond marriage and children. While both my mother and grandmother were well-educated, strong individuals, neither role modeled how to balance family and career. When I entered the workforce, I found few examples of women in leadership and even fewer who also balanced having children. Thankfully, this is changing.

After marrying my husband and having our first child, we moved to Dubai for my husband’s career. After tying so much of my self-worth and ego to educational and professional accomplishments, I found myself lacking purpose. I was not ready to surrender the satisfaction and fulfillment of building a career. With my family’s support, I returned to the workforce and have managed to stay in it through an additional child and changing roles and responsibilities. I also had the support of good managers and teams.

It was extremely hard at times. I felt like I couldn’t do anything well. I have a vivid memory of being in my office trying to pump milk for my baby while people kept knocking on the door, trying to meet with me. It was stressful, but my husband was my constant support, saying “just stick with it, we’ll find different ways to balance it, but just stick with it.”

I think it is difficult to find success without this kind of support, whether that be from family, friends, managers, colleagues, or other support networks.


What drives you to succeed?

The feeling of accomplishment drives me, especially when it is together with a team. I am a very curious person, so I really enjoy learning about new things and problem-solving.

I think my desire for success comes from my upbringing. My mother instilled unwavering confidence in my sister and me, and my father set high expectations of what good looks like.


What key drivers have enabled you to get to where you are today?

For me, it has been about trying to do my best in each of my positions while thinking about how I can progress and what is my next opportunity. Each of us must take responsibility for our own career development and learning. There are always challenges: few things go as planned. Important thing is to keep learning and be open to change.

I think identifying role models and champions is another key to successful development. Mentors can help you move forward with the wisdom of their own experience. It is about having these conversations and making time for reflection. In addition, formal executive coaching has been invaluable for me.

Teamwork and tenacity have been key success factors, though critical learning comes through failure or stagnation. I have failed at things and found certain failures extremely painful. Research suggests that women are pressured (or rather pressure themselves) to be perfect, at work, at home, and in life. A close friend says, “good is good enough,” which is an important concept that perfection can lead to wasting valuable resources or burn-out.

I have worked for some excellent managers in my career who have helped propel my success, but this can only take you so far. Building a strong peer network and great teams is critical.


Can you describe a specific mistake you have made and what impact that had?

Earlier in my career, I made the mistake of hiring people just like me – people who thought like me, spoke like me, and even looked like me. I finally realized that the lack of diversity of thought, experience, and approach was preventing us from achieving the best outcomes.


What advice would you give to future female leaders or future women on boards today?

For me, it has been a journey of building self-awareness while understanding what motivates and empowers others. I have also been working on how I want to be as a manager and leader, and now also as a Board Member. Over the years, I have received lots of solicited and unsolicited advice about how I should be. Ultimately, we each need to decide what’s right for ourselves.

The more senior we become in our organizations, communities, and families, the greater our impact (positive, negative, or neutral) can be. I try my best to prioritize my input and keep it thoughtful and structured. I try to ask more questions than make statements. On a parting note, we should all remember to be kind to ourselves.




Sharmila Murat currently leads all investing activity for the Chalhoub Group, the leading partner of luxury across the Middle East. She serves on the Board of Directors of Agthia Group PJSC (a leading Abu Dhabi based food and beverage company), Saint-Honore (a retailer and distributor of luxury brands in Latin America), Thread’s Styling (a global luxury digital fashion and jewellery platform), Ralph Lauren Middle East, Ella Afrique (a luxury beauty operator across Sub-Saharan Africa), and La Bouche Rouge (a French luxury beauty brand).




The interview was conducted by Mina Paul, Consultant at Russell Reynolds Associates, Dubai. Mina is passionate about building authentic and long-term partnerships with clients, teaming up with leadership teams to identify and attract diverse talents.






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