The way to the top: Rania Rostom, Chief Innovation and Communications Officer, GE MENAT

Rania Rostom: No shortcuts on the way to the boardroom

I met Rania Rostom, Chief Innovation and Communications Officer of GE - MENAT, a few months ago in Dubai. Her charisma and love for GE are simply contagious. Rania’s communication and innovation expertise is hugely respected even outside of the MENAT region borders. I attended her presentation at MEPRA’s Leadership Majlis and decided to talk to her about her career path and how we can bring more women into the C-Suite.

How did you get into communications?

I remember when I was applying for university, as soon as I read the programme on journalism and mass communications I knew in my heart this was what I wanted to do. I just knew I would be passionate about it. And I was. I loved studying all aspects of communications at the American University in Cairo. I also did a year abroad at Penn State University in the U.S.

What is the best path to the boardroom?

I would say that there are a number of important things. In our industry, it’s important to always keep yourself abreast of the latest news and trends. If you love the industry and you’re passionate about it, you must keep learning. Even today, 25 years down the line, I’m always learning about what’s new, what’s hot and how the industry is changing. It’s a very different world now from what it was when I started. Ask how you can make yourself current and how you can make yourself relevant. I think it’s also about building that strategic capability and insight; that’s ultimately what will win you a seat at the table. Judgment comes with experience. People want you by their side, being the trusted advisor, because of your judgment and expertise.

What has been your biggest challenge in your career to date?

It’s always interesting when you’re trying to change course or your career path. I started my career in an advertising and PR agency and did a mixture of both things as the industry was a lot more holistic then, things weren’t in silos quite so much. After eight or nine years I wanted to settle with a brand, with a company and that move was a lot harder than I thought it would be. This was surprising as I think the best communicators are really groomed in the agency environment – rolling up sleeves, learning the hard way, experiencing clients who are ecstatic some days and screaming at you the next. But despite this, it was surprisingly difficult to break into a brand role, which baffled me at first. But I wanted to make recruiters and HR departments see that to get the best of the industry into in-house roles, the agency sector is where you should be looking. I was patient and I am glad that I stuck to my goal of making this move. It took a few months but I got a job at BMW leading their corporate communications. I think if I hadn’t been patient or stubborn I may have turned away from what I really wanted to do. I’m glad I didn’t.

Who is your role model?

I’d have to say it’s our Vice Chair, Beth Comstock. She has an incredible ability to re-invent our position and brand. She’s creative, bold, and experimental. I admire what she’s done for the company and where she has taken the brand in the marketplace.

Why should people join GE?

We’re an exciting company. We’re a 130-year-old business but today more than ever before, we’re entrepreneurial and experimental. We’re always on the cusp of what’s next, what’s new and embracing technology trends. We work hard to set the bar high by doing things differently and standing out. Generally speaking, we’re going through this digital transformation so it’s an especially exciting time for young people, who might want to change the world and make it better and be part of this new digital workplace. In addition, because our products really have an impact on people, our employees feel like they’re contributing to their countries progress and growth. I’ve been with the company for 11 years and I’d say this is a great time to be part of GE.

What’s next for the business?

As we take it to more places round the world, it’s all about how we localise it, how we build partnerships, how we build ecosystems and drive customer outcomes in a more meaningful way. It is about taking something we embarked on five years ago now, and making it deeper, more localised and bringing more value to our customers and stakeholders.

How would you advise people in this region to build meaningful careers?

Generally speaking, young talent underestimates the ‘fun aspect’ of building a career. I remember when I was young, it was all about having fun. It was all about doing things for the first time and if you try and short circuit that you’re only really short circuiting your own learning and experiences. You only get to do certain things at the beginning of your career. You don’t get to do it later on. I’d say to take your time and embrace it. It’s a moment in time and it’s a stepping stone to where you need to go next. Don’t try to rush it. Enjoy it! Have fun at every stage because every stage is very different. When you’re years down the line and you’re leading, you’ll be coaching and mentoring, and that’s a very different experience to doing it yourself and thinking creatively.

Should something be done to help women get onto boards in the MENA region?

There have been some amazing efforts in that direction and we should take a moment to acknowledge that. There has been a lot of positive effort around women on boards, women in the workforce and getting women in key leadership positions. But, 100% yes, more needs to be done. I think the important thing is that more people today are of the mindset that this is not something that's optional anymore. This is a must and therefore we need to develop a game-plan and a framework to get there. I’m positive that the Gulf region is going in the right direction. Our President and CEO for the MENAT region, Nabil Habayeb, has a number of women in leadership positions. He’s done a phenomenal job in changing the culture in the region from within. We have field engineers who are women, managers who are women and plenty of women in leadership positions. We’ve looked at whether this is policies, culture and structures that are more conducive to hiring and retaining women and that’s very important. --

How can we help?

If you are looking for the best C-Suite talent for senior corporate roles, please don’t hesitate to contact me via LinkedIn below or on tamarab@hansonsearch.com for a confidential discussion.

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