Reema joined the THNK Creative Leadership Program with some reluctance: “I’d just been through one massive vertical learning curve, and while I was highly effective, I was operating at a level of profound insecurity. I had a degree in museum design, I was more interested in creative expression than business and wanted to work in the arts. But my family asked me to manage ALFA International (license holder of Harvey Nichols UK), and so I was overseeing a retail operation at a time when the government mandated more women join the workforce.
I was seeing women who had never held a job outside the home – walking into places that had never employed a woman, with no training, and little experience in even the social skills of the workplace; much less sales or customer relations. In some cases taking over positions men had held for decades, being resented and being blamed for declining sales.
So I had a glimmer of a thought to create a retail academy — something that would teach these women the basics, but also prepare them in other ways – something that would soften the blow of the additional life pressures we were piling on top of all the ones they faced at home. I could plainly see a need, but I didn’t have the vocabulary or the skills to really shape what I was after. I knew I needed help but wasn’t sure what help I needed.
One day I am talking all this over with Sofana Dahlan, and she tells me about a school she’s been attending in Amsterdam. I presumed it would be something like the Harvard Business School. The last thing I wanted was yet another vertical learning curve. But she told me I was missing the point. What she was suggesting wasn’t a curriculum or a set of classes: it was a way to get 35 very bright people to help me figure out what I wanted to do. Try it, she tells me… when you get there you will understand.”