An interview with Mrs. Amira Ismail, a ‘goal-getter’ woman executive and Head of Business Development Acquisitions at Arab Financial Services (AFS) in Bahrain.

Where did you graduate from?

Ain Shams University in Egypt with a degree in English Literature. I also took a High-Level Diploma in Management from the Bahrain Institute of Banking & Finance (BIBF) and Diplomas in Management and Leadership from Oxford and 

You amassed quite an extensive experience in the financial sector. Was having a career in such a field your dream?

Actually, no. Even though I find studying arts and linguistics quite interesting, I also thought of what job will I get by the time I graduate, either a teacher or a translator. I supposed this sort of occupations would not fit my personality. I was already working as a part-time sales staff back then so after completing my literature degree, I decided to diversify my education and enrolled in a banking and finance course at BIBF, and the rest is history.

What is your role and responsibility at AFS?

I joined AFS as Head of Business Development Acquiring just two months ago. When you say acquiring, it refers to getting merchants and clients in Bahrain onboard – a responsibility which I have a vast experience under my belt. As Head of this department, I make sure to provide merchants with a point of sales to ease and facilitate credit card payments for their enterprises as well as in the digital landscape.

Since you joined AFS, what was the most significant challenge that comes to mind?

λ As we all know, the market in Bahrain is really small, and the competition is immense, so it’s quite challenging not just for me, but for all of us in the financial sector. Some competitors are well established and have been present in the field for decades already. However, we are approaching merchants from a different angle which will entirely revolutionize how they handle payments especially now in the digital era.

Due to the ongoing economic slowdown happening in the region, what would you say were the apparent changes in the past few years in your segment (financial services)?

It’s no secret that the financial sector is already heading towards digitalization these past few years. As technology evolves, so is the way how people spend and transfer their money. All of us are now walking in a very fast-paced environment and in no time, we will all be living in a cashless society with no one visiting banks anymore, and all transactions will be acted through mobile devices and computers using cryptocurrencies.

In terms of your management style, do you have any specific philosophies regarding leadership that you like to implement?

I think my management style encapsulates to ‘leading and learning by experience.’ Personally, I detest micro-management as I find it deterrent to the employee’s growth and development. What I do is that I empower my team by doing the work with them at first, then afterward, allow them to complete the rest of the task on their own. I prefer being a team player and not a ‘do this, do that’ leader. I believe that working closely and growing with your employees will make a huge difference in the future.

What’s your opinion on women now taking on leading roles in big companies and organizations?

We all know that the corporate landscape is the world of men; top women executives throughout the world doesn’t even total to 5 percent, which I sometimes find quite unfair for us. However, here in Bahrain, we can clearly see the initiative to help uplift and empower women through HRH Princess Sabika bint Ibarahim Al Khalifa’s efforts and the Supreme Council for Women. We can now perceive the changes happening in society as a number of women slowly rise to the ranks of executives. But despite that progress, we cannot rule out the existing Arab culture, leaving these women stuck in the middle management and very few oversee their way to the top.

What quality or trait about yourself do you feel has enabled you to achieve your success?

I’m a very persistent person, and I never give up easily. To me, persistence and consistency lead to triumph. However, I would say that I am not done yet and I still yearn for further success in my life and my career.

What is it that motivates you?

λ I consider myself a strange fellow because whenever I achieve a milestone, I don’t even allow myself to sit, breath and celebrate. Instead, I think about the next step that I’ll take. Generally, it is the notion of being successful that motivates and drives me; be it in my career or in being a mother, I pretty much want to be successful in everything I do. The sky is my limit!

Outside of work, what are some of your hobbies or interests?

λ I’m very active in doing social and charity works for the local communities here in Bahrain. For years, I’ve been a member of the Rotary Club of Salmaniya; I served as the Club’s President two years ago, and I’m the current Assistant Governor. We do a lot of community services and projects aimed to help improve and ease the lives of the less fortunate in society. It gives me the utmost joy and fulfillment whenever I can help other people.   

Where would be your ideal vacation destination?

I don’t have a specific favorite destination; as long as there are beaches and body of waters nearby, I am happy with it. To give you an example, I love traveling to places with breath-taking beaches such as Thailand, Indonesia, and Hawaii.

What is your favorite book?

The Monk who sold his Ferrari, written by Robin Sharma. This book is a business fable derived from Sharma’s personal experiences and provides a step-by-step approach to living with greater courage, balance, abundance, and joy. 

Who is your role model?

I look up to HRH Princess Sabika bint Ibrahim Al Khalifa. She’s a role model to every woman, not limited to the Kingdom of Bahrain, but also in other GCC states. Her efforts and initiatives in promoting women empowerment through the Supreme Council of Women have undeniably made a significant impact in our modern Arab society.

What advice do you have for any aspiring young finance professionals out there?

Keep progressing and continue developing yourselves; always opt for self-improvement. Refrain from settling for something when you know to yourself that you can achieve far better than what you already have at the moment. Also, don’t stop educating yourselves because the learning experience never ends.

You’re a Bentley car owner. What can you say about your car?

I own a Limited Edition V8 Bentley car, and there’s a unique story behind me owning this specific Bentley model. Since I started working, I already had my eyes set for this car. I made an effort to put up a chart of all the cars I want to own throughout my life, and this Bentley car is placed at the very top. For me, this car is the epitome of my years of hard work and persistence, and I am very grateful I was able to attain my dream car.

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