Insights in the daily life and experience of a female leader in an Arab country
Anne Gronbjerg talks about beeing outside of the comfort zone, about learning and beeing a role model to other talented women – she describes these as unforgetable experiences. We are happy to share these valuable reflections.
Dear Anne Gronbjerg, you are in the position of Managing Director in Jordan, Kuwait, Iraq and Iran at Maersk Line. What exactly is your task?
I drive the top line performance of our two brands, Maersk Line and Safmarine, in the first 3 countries. As for Iran, my tasks are mainly market analysis related. So, I meet with customers and lead our 60+ colleagues on the ground, making sure that the daily execution is in line with our global strategy and that we serve our customers best possible.
What are the main characteristics of a typical workday in Jordan?
First and foremost, the value of human relations takes centre stage – things always work better when we talk things over face to face, rather than via email. This applies both with colleagues, customers and other stakeholders, and it’s something I have had to change my own style of working to accomodate. Other than that, I invest a good amount of time in talent development and of course in ensuring continuous progress on all our various performance measurements – both related to revenues and costs.
As a female manager of a mostly male team, which were your major challenges?
That’s perhaps easier for them to answer, than for me (laughs)! In any case, after an initial period of almost a year where both the team and I needed to adjust and get to know each other – and that wasn’t always easy due to different styles of working and communicating – I really do feel that we are in a great place now. We trust each other completely in the leadership team and we learn from each other’s differences rather than see them as problems.
What helped you to manage these challenges, who supported you?
Sometimes I felt that no one helped me! But looking back, there is no doubt that my biggest supporters were actually my team. They have been very patient and tolerant with me. It is very difficult for a senior leader like my boss, sitting in a different time zone, to really help someone in my role with a lot of impact – the distance is simply too big. At specific times, our local HR team were a great support, too.
What advice would you give other women who do business with or in Arab countries?
Beware that by accepting what I would call any diverse leadership challenge, like for example engaging in Arab countries as a female leader, you also accept a certain level of risk; you don’t know exactly how you will respond to being „the odd one out“ every day or whether you will be able to adapt your go-to style to successfully lead in your „host“ country; it may or may not work!
Most likely, there will be important feedback and information that doesn’t reach you at all or reaches you very late, in part because of gender issues.
You need to be aware that an outstanding performance from you may look to outsiders like an average performance, because the gender dynamics you have overcome to deliver that result can’t be measured – and if you try to explain it, it very quickly starts to sound like you’re complaining!
The upside, the positives about being a woman doing business in the Arab world is that: people remember you, you will be outside your comfort zone and therefore potentially learn a lot, you will be a visible role model to talented Arab women, you will get to see a part of the world that doesn’t see a lot of tourists – and when the results come in, the satisfaction is pretty much unbeatable.
Anne, thanks a lot for giving us this interesting insight.
Anne joined A.P. Moller – Maersk in Copenhagen in 1997 as a shipping trainee and has since held an array of shipping line management jobs in Copenhagen and Singapore, followed by 3 years in internal & strategic communications – ultimately heading up that function at a global level. Before her current position Anne was Managing Director of Greece/Bulgaria/Cyprus Cluster, leading that team through the first 3 years of the tumultuous Greek recession. From 1st January 2013 till today, Anne is based in Amman, Jordan as Managing Director of the Jordan/Kuwait/Iraq/Iran Cluster for Maersk Line and Safmarine.
Anne is married to Casper Gronbjerg who works independently online and together they have 2 daughters; Katrine (4) was born in Greece and Olivia (2) was born in Jordan.