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YPO Harnesses the Entrepreneurial Drive of Spouses, Partners

Stories of the transformative effect of YPO on members making an impact through innovation are plentiful. Lesser-known is how YPO, through programs such as the London Business School (LBS) Spouse/Partner Leaders as Entrepreneurs Program, is helping a new generation of professionals — spouses and partners — become better leaders, create new businesses or connect to their customers in new ways.

Now in its fifth year, the program is a partnership between LBS and YPO. It was created for spouses and partners looking to optimize their effectiveness as leaders of their own businesses or organizations. Last year’s class included spouses and partners from more than 22 countries and various industries, including health, technology, leisure and travel, family businesses as well as charitable organizations.

The diversity of backgrounds and industries makes it one of the most anticipated global annual events for YPO spouses and partners, a space to develop leadership skills and build long-lasing global connections.

Ignite spoke to two recent attendees about how the weeklong learning experience has transformed their lives.

Jump-starting a business in Tanzania

“Four years ago, I was given the opportunity to become a major investor in a safari lodge in Tanzania. I had no business background at all, so I felt on the back foot,” says Geraldine Stanton, a mother of two and a keen trekker who has been living in Oman for 30 years.

The lodge’s previous owners had managed the property for 34 years and were looking to sell. Stanton was not sure if it made business sense to get involved and felt the YPO LBS program might offer some solid insights to help her make a decision.

And it did.

“The program made me realize that my life knowledge was an asset. I had been organizing trekking trips from Oman for years and had learned a lot from all the global travels with my husband even if I had zero business background,” says Geraldine.

“LBS also made me realize that business is not just reading spread sheets. While it’s important to learn basic business skills such as accounting and finance, creating a strategic plan inspired the attendees to think more strategically about maximizing their business potential for growth.”

Following the program, she decided to go ahead with the investment and now serves as director and member of the executive committee, taking a hands-on approach and visiting the lodge six times a year. In the last fiscal year, revenue increased (from break even) to 7 to 8 percent.

Geraldine returned to LBS in 2017. “The first time was about ‘should I buy’ and the second time was about ‘teach me how to run the lodge.’ I’m currently seriously considering attending again this year,” she says.

Igniting entrepreneurialism in a Tunisian dental business

Zeineb Kharouf opened her medical dental clinic 10 years ago right out of medical school.

“I had the opportunity to get trained in the U.S. between 2006 and 2008, and I chose to come back to my country,” says Zeineb. “I had a clear objective of creating a state-of-the art dental practice.”

In 2017, Zeineb, then a mother of three with a thriving business, began to plan for her next challenge, opening a larger facility with other dental specialists.

“I’m always looking for brain-stimulating experiences and it was a time in my career when I was thinking where do I go from here? The LBS program caught my attention,” recalls Zeineb. “As a dentist, I serve my patients. It’s also a service business. I was interested in how the program can make me a better business leader.”

Upon mentioning the program to her husband, he offered it to her as a birthday present. “At everyday work, I don’t get the opportunity to see the bigger picture. So it was important to step back, as I did at LBS, and make important strategic decisions about the future of my work,” says Zeineb.

Shortly after completing the program, she bought property — more than double the size she originally had in mind — for a new kind of dental facility with different specialists, something not done before in Tunisia. The facility is set to open before the end of 2019.

Top insights and takeaways

While passing through the gates of a transformative journey one can never predict the outcome. Zeineb and Geraldine are integrating new insights, captured from their time at LBS, that lessen uncertainties and welcome new opportunities. Here are some:

Conquer fear to realize your true potential. “Fear of investing in the lodge and of the unknown were holding me back. The program gave me the confidence to move ahead,” says Geraldine.

Learn to look at things from different perspectives and broaden your horizon. “LBS was the first time I had attended an educational program outside my field. I found this very stimulating. It was all very new to me,” says Zeineb. “This sparked an interest in reading more about the business world outside my field and learning about the disruptions taking place across industries and geographies.”

There is always more than one solution to a problem. “Often there is no one right or wrong answer, and sometimes it’s better to think inside the box,” says Geraldine. “Recently, our general manager suddenly quit at a critical time in the season. We promoted his assistant, who was ready and enthusiastic, instead of recruiting and on-boarding someone new.”

Harness the power of peer networking. The LBS program is structured with forum-style meetings, giving attendees the opportunity to present an action plan to their study groups. “Speaking about my plan among a small group of peers made it seem logical. So when I came back, I was ready to implement,” says Zeineb.

London Business School Spouse/Partner program 2019 will take place 5-8 November 2019. For program and registration questions, contact pbrandolini@ypo.org

Rola Tassabehji began her career as a marketing trainee in Unilever Arabia and from there moved into several management roles within the marketing and communications function in Unilever global and regional teams, including brand development manager, Dove, Unilever Africa, Middle East, and Turkey and communications manager, Unilever North Africa and Middle East. Following ten years with Unilever, she relocated to Abu Dhabi, U.A.E and joined the team that launched INSEAD campus in the Middle East as external relations director. Rola completed her undergraduate degree at McGill University in Canada, has a Masters degree from the American University of Beirut and a post graduate degree in journalism from London School of Journalism.