Breaking The Glass Ceiling with NASEBA’s Sophie Le Ray

Sophie Le Ray describes entrepreneurship as the path that allowed her to break the glass ceilings of the corporate world. Today she is the CEO and co-founder of NASEBA, the founder of the Global WIL Forums, and co-author of How...

Unlike the corporate world where glass ceilings are still thick, entrepreneurship has been a great way for me to develop my abilities and grow. I never experienced any negatives inherent to my gender, including when we went public and were pitching for investment. We set up in the Gulf region where the doors open more easily than anywhere else in the world, including for businesswomen. I am very confident for the future as women are increasingly supporting each other, mentoring each other, and creating their own “gentlewomen’s club”, growing their confidence, leadership abilities and most importantly their business network.

 

Scott Ragsdale describes Sophie Le Ray as someone who made things happen. Le Ray is the CEO and co-founder of NASEBA, and the founder of the Global WIL Forum. This year, the 18th Global WIL Forum will bring together up to 500 global male and female business leaders, policy makers, as well as young female professionals and entrepreneurs in Dubai.

What did you eat for breakfast?

Black coffee/sometimes a toast of baguette (when I am in France ) with salted butter. I fast twice a week as well so on these days I have a yogurt and coffee- that’s it.

What’s your favorite sport or exercise?

Hiking in the mountains is my all-time favorite – long trail walks, connecting with nature is not only exercise but mainly provides great relaxation to my mind. SO I try to use any opportunity to do so and hike in Oman, in the French Alps, and whenever we are on a family trip. Otherwise I like yoga, and boxing (a lot although I am terrible at it!)

What inspired you to start your business? Where did you start and where are you now?

After years of working for a large corporation, I wanted to be the captain of my own ship. We started in France in 2002 and grew our presence to an office in China, Dubai, India and the US. We grew very fast, and our focus being on providing services in emerging markets for companies looking to enter these markets, we decided to move the HQ to Dubai in 2008.

How large is your business?

Today, we are an organization of roughly 150 team members. We are currently expanding our US operations and are in planning on opening an office in Australia within the next 12 months.

Tell us a story about a success in your business or a mistake you overcame that made you proud of yourself, or more confident.

I find that failures/mistakes are more interesting, the learning outcome greater. One story comes to my mind: when the financial crisis of 2008/2009 broke, we were at the highest of our growth, highly exposed financially as we had invested in several offices at the same time around the world and a joint venture in China, that was taking a lot of our energy and time. We very quickly felt the downturn, clients delayed payments, and bookings, expenses piling up. We had to lay off 100 staff and I personally announced 80 of them face to face during a week I called my “hell week”. That same week, I received a call from our Chinese office tipping me off on the fact that our joint venture partners were planning to open a new company using the assets and experience they had gathered through our 18 month partnership. I took a plane to Shanghai with our lawyer and arrived in front of our beautiful office, to find it not only closed but totally empty: everything was gone, furniture, IT system, staff etc. The feeling of pain, hurt, and anger I experienced is indescribable. As an entrepreneur, it is extremely difficult to differentiate yourself from your business. The weeks following this traumatic episode of my business life taught me how to draw that separation without losing my commitment to the business. We decided to move on and not even bother with a law suit in China (it would have been a distraction we could not afford in such troubled times for a very slight chance to get a fair judgement) and focus on the most important, rebuilding the business and grow it stronger. We did just that, and it is my proudest achievement so far.

What do you see as challenges for you and your business? Is there something you need to grow your business you’d like to bring up?

Our biggest challenge is to source and keep talent in a highly competitive market. We are now expanding to new markets not only to find new customers but also to find great talent we can offer positions in our different office locations. We believe in diversity and organic growth and like to get our team members to develop their career by moving around, sometimes changing position if necessary, to keep the job fun and challenging.

What about your business matters most deeply to you? How does it engage your values?

Everything matters deeply to me in my business. I mentioned I learned how to draw a separation between my company and myself, but still, the corporate culture is fully in sync with my own values. The name of the company comes from a Japanese idiomatic expression; naseba naru, that can be translated by “when there is a will, there is a way”. This motto is deeply ingrained in the company’s DNA. We are very committed to what we do. We operate in emerging, pioneering markets so we understand the value we can bring to our clients if we are focused on their success. It is a big responsibility they entrust us with and we take it very seriously.

What’s the best and the worst thing about being a female founder?

Unlike the corporate world where glass ceilings are still thick, entrepreneurship has been a great way for me to develop my abilities and grow. I never experienced any negatives inherent to my gender, including when we went public and were pitching for investment. We set up in the Gulf region where the doors open more easily than anywhere else in the world, including for businesswomen. I am very confident for the future as women are increasingly supporting each other, mentoring each other, and creating their own “gentlewomen’s club”, growing their confidence, leadership abilities and most importantly their business network.

What is the best advice you ever got, and from whom?

Breathe (my yoga instructor) – it’s amazing how better and clearer your thinking process is once you stand up, open your chest and take a deep breath.

What piece of advice would you give your 20-year-old self?

Whatever people tell you, listen politely and follow your instincts.

Connect with Sophe Le Ray of NASEBA

Twitter: @naseba
Web: www.naseba.com

Want to learn more about women’s entrepreneurship in the Middle East and Gulf Coast States?

This content was curated through our partner Naseba and the 18th Annual Global Women in Leadership Forum.

 

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