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The difference between “have to” and happy is passion

A hallmark of YPO is its members who balance their business success with philanthropy. We chatted with Dalya Tabari , who is passionate about childhood development and Managing Director of Al Ittihad Drug Store.

Q: Can you tell us a bit about the organisations you manage?

I currently manage two companies, one for profit and one not for profit. Al Ittihad Drug Store (IDS) is a leading pharmaceutical distribution company. We market and distribute healthcare products manufactured by international pharmaceutical firms (such as GSK, Sanofi Aventis & Bayer) in pharmacies, hospitals & supermarkets across the United Arab Emirates (UAE). In addition, we represent an extensive list of Principals, with products ranging from prescription drugs such as antibiotics, analgesics and oncological products, to wellbeing products such as (dermatological care, hair care and vitamins.

The Developing Child Centre (TDCC) is a family/children’s empowerment centre that is run by specialized multi-disciplinary team programs that seek to ensure that children receive the support and nurturing they need. This includes an early intervention program for children under eight years of age, and private and group sessions that help to unlock the potential of children aged between six – 16. This is achieved by building, developing and nurturing the parenting, social, academic, emotional, mental and physical skills children need to feel confident and succeed.

Q: How did you find your way into the distribution arena?   

My journey has been a convoluted one that spans the continents. I lived in Dubai until the age of 10, and moved to the United States in 1983. At the age of 21 graduated with an MBA from Imperial College, and a BA (Hons) Honors in Media & Communication from Goldsmiths College at the University of London. In 1994, I returned to Dubai and started my career as an Advertising Account Executive at Bates/Saatchi & Saatchi. Identified as a rising star, I was recruited by the Group’s London office.

Five years later, I was promoted and moved to New York as VP Director of Global Marketing for the USD100 million Lucky Strike (BAT) global account.

In 2003, I moved back to Dubai to help grow IDS which had an annual turnover of US$ 9 million. I was excited and intrigued by the challenge and opportunity of moving to a radically different sector, in order to apply the marketing knowledge and expertise I had gained in strategy and brand development.  I started by expanding the product portfolio, launching the firm’s consumer healthcare department whilst also leading the development, management and implementation of the business’s corporate governance structure.

Today, IDS is recognized as one of the region’s leading pharmaceutical firms with a current annual turnover in excess of US$100 million, and a generic manufacturing plant due to launch this year. In April 2013, inspired by my own children, I co-founded TDCC, a social business gifting all of the net profit into financial grants.  TDCC currently employs over 60 professionals (55 of which are women) assisting more than 800 children from 40 nationalities, providing more than 45,000 empowering hours per year.

What inspired you to start your own business/take the lead in a business?

Passion, conviction & dedication. I believe that opening a business can only be successful when you are passionate and dedicated to a higher purpose. If a business is solely dedicated to the potential in revenue that my belief is that is destined to fail. Don’t get me wrong, a person’s passion & purpose could be about opening a pastry shop. But it is always the owner or manager’s passion that make a pastry shop go from a corner shop to an international brand.

What do you love about doing business in MENA?

The combination of opportunity and culture is a heady one. I am a Palestinian American who has always tried to merge my Eastern values with Western beliefs. The UAE provides me with the perfect mix of East meets West to set my roots and help build value-adding businesses in an emerging market.

Being a successful leader is not easy, what are some of the biggest challenges you have had to overcome?

I would say overcoming labels, stereotypes and conventional expectations, and these were not unique to the MENA region and I have experienced such attitudes throughout my career in London, New York and Dubai.  I reject the notion that my identity, gender, education or even socio-economic class define what I can and cannot do. To live this requires time and effort, and I end up spending a lot of my time mitigating the restrictions that tend to come with stereotyping.

Despite the challenges, what are some of your best memories of your business Journey?

The amazing exposure and experience I gained during my three years as the VP Director of the Lucky Strike brand. This time was spent traveling the world and working with local British BAT offices in Brazil, the United States, London, France, the Netherlands, South Africa, Australia and Japan to help develop and build their international portfolio.  I will forever be grateful for the incredible opportunity, knowledge and diversity I was exposed to.

What advice do you have for young women who aspire to start their own business?

It’s not the idea of having a business that’s important, but rather identifying your passion that is imperative to your success. A business with an owner passionate about the service or product offered will always excel. The commitment that comes from passion is what helps a business-woman move from “I have to go to work” to “I love what I do”, and that makes all the difference in the world.

If you were not in your current industry, what other paths would you have considered, or what was Plan B?

I don’t feel restricted by the industries I am currently in. In actual fact, in the past five years I have discovered a new passion and am already working on founding a third business!

How has being a member of YPO benefited you in business or otherwise?

Without a doubt YPO’s international network, and its learning and forum platforms have helped to reassure me and to build my personal knowledge. This continues to empower me in both my existing and future endeavors

What do you believe are the two most pressing challenges facing the world today?

Firstly, although the technology explosion has many advantages, I do believe that our world will face the challenge of dealing with the repercussion of its impact on society, on all levels, including personal, family and business.  I fear a growing sense of isolation and more importantly a massive increase in pressure, anxiety, depression and stress.

The second is the growing need to identify, define and associate ourselves with a label to differentiate us from others in the pursuit of individuality & potential. I believe that our world will only experience peace and connection when we understand that we are first and foremost human beings. We will always be connected as humans.  In that respect, we are all the same and there are no differences between us. Our individuality and potential have nothing to do with our labels, and everything to do with our passion and purpose.