Inspirational Woman: Carmen Haddad | Chief Country Officer, Citigroup Saudi Arabia & the Citi Saudi Arabia Business Governance Head

Carmen HaddadCarmen Haddad is the Chief Country Officer of Citi Saudi Arabia and has been the Citi Saudi Arabia Business and Governance Head since December 2016.

She began her career in 1993 at JP Morgan Chase in London in the Asset Management Division after which she worked as a financial consultant at Lehman Brothers until 1997 covering Middle East & North Africa Institutional and Private Clients. In June 2013, Carmen was appointed Co-Chair of the Citi Women Network for the UAE and is a Regional Board member of “Injaz Al Arab”. Carmen is also an eight-time winner & Hall of Fame member of CPB Chairman’s Council.

Tell us a bit about yourself, background and your current role

My name is Carmen Haddad and I am the Chief Country Officer in Saudi Arabia for Citi which means I lead the bank’s strategy and business development in the kingdom. Prior to Citigroup, I established a career in private banking working for the likes of Merrill Lynch and JP Morgan Chase within their brokerage and asset management divisions. This experience led me to join Citi Private Bank Middle East and North Africa in 2000. Since then I have held numerous senior client coverage and management roles, most recently serving as the Chief Executive Officer of Citibank Qatar and the Citi Saudi Arabia Business and Governance Head. I have also been a Citi Private Bank Executive since 2004 overseeing the Saudi Arabia team, whilst also heading the Family Office that serves Citi’s largest Middle East shareholder since 2009. Previously? I was the Co- Chair of Citi Women Network for the UAE which was created to provide support for the development and promotion of women and generate ideas to empower them for success at Citi. It is a great platform to promote the diversity agenda and ensure women are visible and valued in the workplace. I am also a big supporter and champion of our unique partnership with the international organisation Education For Employment (EFE) to deliver Citi’s Pathways to Progress initiative. This partnership has been helping young women and men across the Middle East and North Africa forge sustainable routes to employment since 2013.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

I’ve never had a career path that I was categorically set on, but I have always believed in seizing opportunities and focusing on roles that play to my natural strengths. Whilst it can be great to have a clear career trajectory, it is important not to get too caught up in where you want to be in five- or ten-years’ time at the expense of overlooking the opportunities right in front of you. Instead, I believe that it is good to have an overarching goal or aim that you are working towards.

Have you faced any challenges along the way?

Of course, I don’t think anyone goes through their career without encountering a few hurdles along the way, however, in many respects I believe these make successes all the more triumphant.

The most prominent challenge for me has been operating as a woman within the Middle East and Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states at a senior level. Despite significant advances in recent years, gender disparities are still rife across the region and these disseminate across all levels and professions. Furthermore, trying to navigate sensitive and high-profile relationships across the Middle East is a constant challenge I encounter. In response, I have had to learn to be flexible when building long-lasting partnerships in a region that is often in the midst of brewing geopolitical uncertainties.

What has been your biggest achievement to date?

I would have to say that delivering the Saudi franchise and setting up Citigroup Saudi Arabia (CSA) has been one of the greatest achievements of my career. I began the whole process in order to return to Saudi after years of absence so that I could work to expand Citi’s footprint and reinforce our staying power and commitment to the country. During this process, in a nascent, yet growing franchise, I had to be much more detail oriented while keeping an equal focus on strategic relationships with target clientele and regulators. At the same time, I was also having to ensure that our top clients were given premium services and the best strategic advice that Citi can offer as a global financial powerhouse and showcase our cutting-edge thought-leadership across digital, fintech and cyber fields.

What one thing do you believe has been a major factor in you achieving success? 

I would have to say a deep commitment, drive and sheer will! Take my role in Saudi Arabia for example, we’ve had to be committed to stick to the course we initially set out despite numerous obstacles and setbacks. At the same time, we have also had to stay dedicated to delivering the best client service, whilst also juggling and managing expectations and working closely with regulators. I also think that the ‘Citi culture’ and the opportunities they provide have been a crucial factor in my success. As a result of their far-reaching networks and global reputation, I have been able to successfully operate across different geographies, sectors, products and functions – all with the backing of a brilliant support network.

How do you feel about mentoring? Have you mentored anyone or are you someone’s mentee?  

I think mentoring is extremely important and one of the best ways for individuals to exchange knowledge and spur forward professional development. Throughout my career I have been both a mentee and a mentor, and I see it as an important responsibility to pass on the experiences and share lessons learnt to the next generation rising through the ranks.
A job has always meant more than a salary. I believe that we need to do all we can to support young people who can work into good jobs that will enable them to live independently and enjoy a better quality of life. Mentoring plays a big part in this.

If you could change one thing to accelerate the pace of change for Gender Parity, what would it be?

I would encourage more public-private sector partnerships in order to develop smart programs that can really have a significant impact on the ground. At Citi, for example, one of the main focuses of our partnership with EFE is responding to the economic and gender disparity challenges across MENA. Through investing time, money, training and jobs into the region, together we are helping women gain the skills, experience and advice they need to become employer ready and succeed in the workplace. I would also equalize pay levels across the board. Unfortunately, you can’t leave it to public opinions and cultures to change in order to achieve parity; instead sometimes you need regulations and the influence of large organisations.

If you could give one piece of advice to your younger self what would it be?

Find a way to maintain a good work-life balance! Whilst you need to put your all into your job, it is equally important that you are able to completely switch off once you leave the office and have some time to yourself to pursue other interests. Losing grip on your work-life balance will only end up hindering both your personal and professional development in the long run.

What is your next challenge and what are you hoping to achieve in the future?

The next challenge for me is to expand my role across the Middle East in a client facing capacity. To be a successful Chief Country Officer, a strong personal network is a must, especially in the Middle East where personal rapport has a premium value. It is crucial to be able to continue operating a successful franchise.

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