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With a passion for media, Zahra El Zayat has already made huge waves in the industry. In 2018, she was named “Woman Media Executive” of the year by BroadcastPro for her incredible work in launching and growing OTT businesses (a type of online streaming service) from scratch in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region. Two years later, she was recognised as one of the top five most influential leaders in the ICT industry by Telecom Review for her work leading the OSN streaming service. Now, she is studying the Executive MBA Dubai alongside working full-time to learn the skills she needs to potentially launch her own venture one day.
I have a BA in Accounting and Finance from Hariri Canadian University in Lebanon, as well as multiple international qualifications (Certified Internal Auditor, Certification in Risk Management Assurance, Certified Sharia Advisor and Auditor and Securities & Investment SII). I started my career working in banking and management consulting. My first job was at BLOM Bank in Lebanon, where I was responsible for insurance and investment banking at branches in countries including Lebanon, Cyprus, Romania and Egypt.
My next role was at Deloitte UAE. Due to the political unrest in Lebanon, I was looking for new opportunities to grow and expand my experience, both regionally and internationally, so I moved to Deloitte in Dubai. I was consulting with clients focusing on financial services and media, and one of these was the TV company, OSN.
OSN then offered me the opportunity to progress from management consulting to audit, and then corporate finance. I held positions as Director of Audit and then Director of Corporate Finance, helping teams to negotiate bigger deals and expand the business. Then I started stepping into business development, and left OSN to launch YuppTV from scratch in the MENA region. I helped establish the company and launch its OTT platform, a streaming service similar to Netflix, across 14 countries, expanding across the region. I secured funding, content and worked on the distribution and partnerships, as well as building the teams.
In 2018, I was named Woman Media Executive of the year by BroadcastPro. After a journey of consistent hard work and meaningful learning, and as an Arab woman, it felt incredibly rewarding to win the award. In 2019, I moved back to OSN, where I currently work as Senior Vice President, responsible for leading the OSN streaming service. In 2020, Telecom Review named me among the top five most influential leaders in the ICT industry for the role I played in launching and growing the digital OSN service across 15 countries. I’ve worked in many areas in my career but working in the digital media and OTT space is where I found myself; I could see the market opportunity where it could potentially overlap with fintech, e-commerce and augmented reality.
The honest reason why I wanted to study an Executive MBA was because I wanted to do something for myself. I grew up with little and I wanted to have the opportunity to experience education at a different level. I also wanted to give more credibility to my profile as an educated Arab woman and gain international exposure, as well as get in touch with the right network. In addition to this, I was curious to see what other companies around the world were doing.
I wanted to study my EMBA in a school that is globally recognised and among the top schools in the world. I’d read a lot about London Business School and have friends that have studied here before, including a friend already doing the CFO programme and I thought her work was really impressive. Sometimes you research a school, and you read up on it, and you just have a really strong feeling that this is the right school for you. That’s how it happened for me with London Business School. Obviously, the fees are high, but the speed of the application process and my acceptance made me feel it’s was a sign it was the right time.
When I got the email telling me I was going to receive the Muna Al Gurg Scholarship I was so happy that I jumped out of my chair. I wouldn’t have been able to do the EMBA without it, so I was really appreciative. I felt that now was the right time to make a change for myself, and also for those around me. If women don’t have the right level of education we will never be able to bring equality into the workspace and into the world. Hopefully in the future I’ll be in a stronger position to better support women to give them an equal opportunity for education.
Before starting at London Business School I’d read a lot about the School’s network and how diverse it is, in terms of culture, nationalities and industries. Now I can see that there’s so much value in the diversity of the network, with both students and alumni. We’ve already been opening up investment and employment opportunities for each other, which has been quite amazing. I’ve introduced alumni to colleagues that can help them create and develop businesses and start-ups, and they’ve made similar introductions for me, too. So we’re supporting each other in creating business plans, which is completely outside of the programme. I’ve also done a business partnership with one of my fellow students and I’m looking to do more. The density of the School’s network is phenomenal.
I knew studying the Executive MBA Dubai would be amazing and beneficial, but I didn’t anticipate that it would be such a genuinely life changing experience. It has opened my eyes to so many things I didn’t know about myself; I’ll call them blind spots. It really challenges me and makes me think about how I can do better in the workplace. It’s not just about reading books; it’s about mixing theory with the real work experience I have and then exploring it all in a different way. It expands my mind to so many things I haven’t considered before, and after a long time away from studying, it feels good to get back to the fundamentals.
Balancing the workload of the programme with my full-time role and my family was quite challenging at first, but the School has been flexible, and so far I’m managing well. It’s just a case of finding your way and adjusting. Plus, I can take everything I’ve learned and apply it in the workplace immediately. For example, after my analytics course, I used real market research data and created my own model, where I could generate data insights that weren’t provided by my analytics team. Everything we do is very close to our jobs and you can apply what you learn straight away and add value. This means you’re able to shine more in everything you do at work.
The highlight of the programme so far for me has been the leadership classes and coaching; they were so eye opening. I’ve found it really important to discover myself and my true abilities and powers, as well as my blind spots. Creating plans to bridge the gap and improve on my self-development has been the biggest gain, because I can see things that I couldn’t before and work on my weaknesses to improve them. The programme has really sparked that self-development in a unique way for me.
Working through the programme has made me realise that I’m really eager to learn more, because I’ve already seen the benefit of that return. So I’m looking forward to gaining even more from what’s coming up. I have a special interest in AI, digital, design thinking, and digital marketing, which are very interesting concepts.
I’m also looking forward to growing my London Business School network even further. We’ve already done a lot together as colleagues and as a team, and I think we’re going to be able to benefit each other in many different ways in business in the future. It’s really rewarding.
Doing the Executive MBA Dubai has so far been the most genuinely life changing experience for me. My advice for those who are considering it would be to ask themselves some questions first. If you’re interested in starting your own business, or in growing yourself, your capabilities, and your relevance to business, and if you’re interested in moving up the ladder, where the business needs you to be innovative, agile, emotionally sophisticated and politically articulate, then studying the Executive MBA Dubai is the place where you need to be. The programme is a must. Even when you’re taking time out of work, consider it your time and an investment in yourself. It is so rewarding.
I’m working at C-level now and for my next step I’ll be launching my own venture soon. That’s hopefully my next big thing.
Zahra El Zayat is a recipient of the Muna Al Gurg Scholarship.