Marketplace Middle East - Blog
One part minister, one part executive, one part princess
October 3, 2007

The accent sounds familiar from afar. An undergraduate degree in computer sciences from California State University at Chico (my home state) explains why. It is one of the many intriguing facets to the first female minister in the United Arab Emirates and highest-ranking female minister in the region.

Other facets include CEO of a B2B technology platform, the name behind a new perfume line (with the proceeds earmarked to fight cancer) and a niece to the Ruler of Sharjah, one of seven emirates that make up the U.A.E.

The office sitting atop of the Economy Ministry tower is a near shrine to her VVIP (Very Very Important People) encounters. A photo-op with George Bush Sr., a high-level South Korean trade delegation and most recently receiving the 'Stella Re' award in Turin, Italy given to a woman making strides in contemporary society.

The photos, memorabilia and awards are recognition for the role she has carved out. In fairness, Sheikha Lubna is blessed with lineage but also tested at the highest level. She captured the attention of Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the Ruler of Dubai and Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE, when she designed a customized system for clearing goods through ports. It is something computer heads get excited about and those who do business, since her work cut cargo turnaround time from one hour to ten minutes. The technology helped the Port of Jebel Ali build its reputation as a shipping hub for companies in 120 countries.

From port technology to a B2B marketplace called, which was the first platform of its kind in the Middle East. This was an award-winning success and a barrier breaker. No one really expected a company in Dubai to sustain a trading platform for hard goods. With the click of a mouse, bureaucracy in the region tumbles. That same approach was taken by Sheikha Lubna with Dubai e-government, where amongst other things, it was one of the first places one could pay traffic violations online. Not such a great thing if you rack up lots of fines.

As we say in the business world, these are hard deliverables from a businesswoman, offered with a velvet touch and without hype. In the latest role, life is not so black and white. Yes, she has to put forth a budget; keep rapidly growing inflation in check (as best she can) and work within a government team.

She also has to serve as a 'key face' for her government. When DP World strained U.S.-U.A.E. relations over an acquisition of P&O, Sheikha Lubna was thrust onto the frontline to make the case. Much to the ire of Congress the deal included six U.S. ports, meaning these facilities would come under foreign control.

Eventually to soothe tensions the ports were sold off. Companies and governments from the Middle East to China (remember CNOOC and Unocal) now prepare their public affairs strategy alongside their investments. But asked what was learned in the spat of heated diplomacy, the message was kind, but powerful, like the Minister, "If you're going to lock up your interest in terms of selling because either of protectionism or a particular idea in your mind ... there are other places." Translation, "we should all be careful when it comes to those who want to invest in your country."

Sheikha Lubna knows that all too well. The primary reason she moves fast is to help her government sustain first mover status. And beyond the big picture of government, she has another role to play.

"In my personal belief, you need a bridge, you need a door opener for women," as minister, as executive and yes as a princess.
John Defterios’ blog accompanies the weekly business program, Marketplace Middle East (MME) that is dedicated to the latest financial news from the Middle East. As MME anchor, John Defterios talks to the people in the know, finding out their opinions on the big business moves in the region, he provides his views via this weekly blog. We hope you will join the discussion around the issues raised.
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