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Gulf women board directors: Natasha Hannoun

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Natasha Hannoun is the head of debt at asset management and investment banking firm Shuaa Capital in Dubai, focused on expanding Shuaa’s alternative finance platform in senior and mezzanine direct lending, distressed and non-performing loans, acquisition finance and venture debt. 

Over the last five years, in her previous role as a director with the private debt platform of the group, she has structured over $7billion of loans. Natasha was previously part of the corporate finance and debt advisory team at Deloitte Corporate Finance Advisory in Dubai.

She is a board member of UAE agricultural business Pure Harvest Smart Farms and has previously been on the board of Abu Dhabi-listed Eshraq Investments.

Can you tell us a bit about how you were raised, and your family values?  

We had three core principles growing up – honesty, commitment and the ‘golden rule’ (treat others as you wish to be treated) – and all were instilled at a very young age. 

It was only later in life that I realised how those values were a trifecta to success in anything: honesty breeds trust and sincere relationships; commitment ensures you persevere regardless of the challenges you are faced; and the ‘golden rule’ taught me reciprocity and that you get what you give. 

Where and what did you study?  

I went to the University of Bristol to take a four-year master of sciences degree in mathematics and physics. I had the option of a year abroad and Italy had always been somewhere I loved, so I studied Italian for the first two years then spent my third year at the University of Bologna.

What was your first job? 

I first worked as an analyst at Deloitte Corporate Finance Advisory in Dubai.

How did you get yourself board-ready?  

As part of my job I would interact with senior management and board members, which gave me insight into corporate governance, the profiles and role of board members within an organisation and ultimately helped me understand what was needed to be a good board member. 

The next step for me was understanding the mandate of the board and, more importantly, identifying what skillset and background I was bringing to the board and how that fit with what I was there to do. And finally, further developing my understanding of the company, its business model, objectives and key risks.

How did you get your first board role and what was it? 

When I was working as associate director at Abu Dhabi Financial Group, I was nominated by our chief executive to be a non-executive director for Eshraq Investments.

What have you learned from your board role(s)?

A lot! If I had to choose three things, I would say:

  1. Be prepared. There is usually a significant amount which needs to be covered in a limited amount of time. Preparation gives you time to think and digest. 
  2. Develop relationships outside of the board room and get to know the other members of the board – particularly non-executive and independent board members.
  3. Speak your mind. If you’re not sure – ask a question.

Do you set yourself career and board goals? 

Yes, setting targets are important, not as a determinant of success but to keep you focused and on a path. I believe in fate, but also believe that we can’t use it to avoid making decisions. So setting goals ensures that decisions made in one’s life are active. 

I work in investments, so targets and goals are words I use daily. We also review and reset frequently too. It’s the same in life, careers and boards: your goals will change but we should still set them.

What’s your most valuable skill? 

Commitment. With perseverance and a level head, almost anything can be accomplished. 

What’s your motto in life? 

Quoting Adidas: impossible is nothing! 

How do you negotiate the work-life-family juggle? 

I use the Pareto Principle – 80 percent of consequences are driven by 20 percent of causes. So I focus on the 20 percent, both in work and life.

How will you be spending this very special UAE National Day? 

The UAE is my home, and National Day for me signifies unity and the importance of people coming together. I will be spending it with my family and friends.

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