Arianna Huffington spoke this week in New York to a crowd of entrepreneurs and admirers at CNBC's Iconic Tour about her business successes and failures, and why neither matter unless you're getting a good eight hour sleep.
Huffington, former Editor-in-Chief of The Huffington Post, left the post last year in a move that shocked the global media. A serial entrepreneur, she wanted to move on and create a website that focused solely on health and wellness, which would in turn take the form of Thrive Global. Speaking about her entrepreneurial pursuits, Huffington bore a serious smile for much of her talk with CNBC's Andrew Sorkin. While Sorkin tried unambiguously to elucidate the failures and mistakes Huffington had made throughout her years as an entrepreneur, from investments to hiring faux-pas, she effortlessly bounced off all negativity to provide solid, positive advice for those aspiring entrepreneurs in the crowd. Hire well, nap well, and don't let a mistake (or multiple mistakes) get in the way of future success. Below are our five takeaways from the talk that you can watch here.
Of the 75 people at Thrive Global, not one got into their position without first facing down the eponymous Huffington herself. While building her team, as with everyone, she's very careful to hire people that ultimately she wants to work with, rather than needing to work with. One of her pet peeves are people that talk behind their co-workers backs, so she tries to eliminate them from the process early on. Her favorite interview question is "Where do you see yourself in five years?" because, you can then identify where their heart is and whether or not they view the job as a stepping stone rather than a permanent, long-term position. She also advises to "only interview when you're recharged," otherwise, there's no telling who might hire in a half-awake state.
Don't view failure as a problem
"I have an interesting relationship to risk and failure," Huffington began, before telling the crowd that it was her mother who instilled this sense of security with failure rather than against it - for, she insists, it's the failures that make a business. "Failure is not the opposite of success, it's a stepping stone to success," she said nodding to the start-ups that fail because of their inability to look beyond a bump or a setback in their road. Although she couldn't (or wouldn't) recall many of her failures for the hungry crowd, she was very humble about the fact that all of her mistakes had made her businesses that much richer today.
Andrew Sorkin and Arianna Huffington. Iconic Tour 2017
Don't hire brilliant jerks
"The no dumb jerks rule is easy, the harder rule is no brilliant jerks," Huffington remonstrated with Sorkin, continuing, "often you come across people who are brilliant who you know are going to be great, but you know they are going to be toxic for the culture." She is completely opposed to the culture of "top performers" whereby a singular person excelling in their position can often be detrimental to the team because of a pompous and/or braggadocios attitude that inevitably creates a muddied team atmosphere. #teamwork is a Huffington essential.
There is no age limit to entrepreneurship
Huffington at 66, posited that when you're older, in fact, "it's a great time to launch something new." Having the opportunity to start over with Thrive Global, she positively jumped, knowing that her name was on the door at The Huffington Post, and all too aware of how often media start-ups fail. Her age was not a factor at all, and incidentally it is this, and her years of experience that she attributes to how well Thrive Global is doing today.
Sleep is essential to success
Huffington was adamant about this one above all. Sleep, she said, was a prominent factor to her success, and she is currently hoping to extend this Huffpo/Thrive Global ethos into her involvement with Uber. Ironically, it was announced at press time today that Travis Kalanick, who Huffington spoke of at the talk as needing meditation and help getting into a meditation cycle, is indeed stepping down from his position as Uber CEO,
The nap rooms that The Huffington Post became famous for years ago, are going to be as common as conference rooms soon, Huffington believes. Nap rooms and meditation rooms, she posits, are essential to boost productivity and help alleviate workplace stress because you can remove yourself from the office environment, from emails and phone calls in order to "recharge" and recuperate before returning to tackle the rest of your workload.
Huffington said that it was "amazing" how differently Kalanick would make decisions after he'd had a decent night of sleep, and a happier CEO would correspond to a happy company. Would it be so bold as to attribute Huffington's sleepy influence to Kalanick's stepping down? Who knows..
Women of the Middle East have made significant strides in the past decade in a number of sectors, but huge gaps remain within the labor market, especially in leadership roles.
A huge number of institutions have researched and quantified trends of and obstacles to the full utilization of females in the marketplace. Gabriela Ramos, is the Chief-of-Staff to The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), an alliance of thirty-six governments seeking to improve economic growth and world trade. The OECD reports that increasing participation in the women's labor force could easily result in a $12 trillion jump in the global GDP by the year 2025.
To realize the possibilities, attention needs to be directed toward the most significantly underutilized resource: the women of MENA—the Middle East and North African countries. Educating the men of MENA on the importance of women working and holding leadership roles will improve the economies of those nations and lead to both national and global rewards, such as dissolving cultural stereotypes.
The OECD reports that increasing participation in the women's labor force could easily result in a $12 trillion jump in the global GDP by the year 2025.
In order to put this issue in perspective, the MENA region has the second highest unemployment rate in the world. According to the World Bank, more women than men go to universities, but for many in this region the journey ends with a degree. After graduating, women tend to stay at home due to social and cultural pressures. In 2017, the OECD estimated that unemployment among women is costing some $575 billion annually.
Forbes and Arabian Business have each published lists of the 100 most powerful Arab businesswomen, yet most female entrepreneurs in the Middle East run family businesses. When it comes to managerial positions, the MENA region ranks last with only 13 percent women among the total number of CEOs according to the Swiss-based International Labor Organization (ILO.org publication "Women Business Management – Gaining Momentum in the Middle East and Africa.")
The lopsided tendency that keeps women in family business—remaining tethered to the home even if they are prepared and capable of moving "into the world"—is noted in a report prepared by OECD. The survey provides factual support for the intuitive concern of cultural and political imbalance impeding the progression of women into the workplace who are otherwise fully capable. The nations of Algeria, Tunisia, Morocco, Libya, Jordan and Egypt all prohibit gender discrimination and legislate equal pay for men and women, but the progressive-sounding checklist of their rights fails to impact on "hiring, wages or women's labor force participation." In fact, the report continues, "Women in the six countries receive inferior wages for equal work… and in the private sector women rarely hold management positions or sit on the boards of companies."
This is more than a feminist mantra; MENA's males must learn that they, too, will benefit from accelerating the entry of women into the workforce on all levels. Some projections of value lost because women are unable to work; or conversely the amount of potential revenue are significant.
Elissa Freiha, founder of Womena, the leading empowerment platform in the Middle East, emphasizes the financial benefit of having women in high positions when communicating with men's groups. From a business perspective it has been proven through the market Index provider MSCI.com that companies with more women on their boards deliver 36% better equity than those lacking board diversity.
She challenges companies with the knowledge that, "From a business level, you can have a potential of 63% by incorporating the female perspective on the executive team and the boards of companies."
Freiha agrees that educating MENA's men will turn the tide. "It is difficult to argue culturally that a woman can disconnect herself from the household and community." Her own father, a United Arab Emirates native of Lebanese descent, preferred she get a job in the government, but after one month she quit and went on to create Womena. The fact that this win-lose situation was supported by an open-minded father, further propelled Freiha to start her own business.
"From a business level, you can have a potential of 63% by incorporating the female perspective on the executive team and the boards of companies." - Elissa Frei
While not all men share the open-mindedness of Freiha's dad, a striking number of MENA's women have convincingly demonstrated that the talent pool is skilled, capable and all-around impressive. One such woman is the prominent Sheikha Lubna bint Khalid bin Sultan Al-Qasimi, who is currently serving as a cabinet minister in the United Arab Emirates and previously headed a successful IT strategy company.
Al-Qasimi exemplifies the potential for MENA women in leadership, but how can one example become a cultural norm? Marcello Bonatto, who runs Re: Coded, a program that teaches young people in Turkey, Iraq and Yemen to become technology leaders, believes that multigenerational education is the key. He believes in the importance of educating the parent along with their offspring, "particularly when it comes to women." Bonatto notes the number of conflict-affected youth who have succeeded through his program—a boot camp training in technology.
The United Nations Women alongside Promundo—a Brazil-based NGO that promotes gender-equality and non-violence—sponsored a study titled, "International Men and Gender Equality Survey of the Middle East and North Africa in 2017."
This study surveyed ten thousand men and women between the ages of 18 and 59 across both rural and urban areas in Egypt, Lebanon, Morocco and the Palestinian Authority. It reports that, "Men expected to control their wives' personal freedoms from what they wear to when the couple has sex." Additionally, a mere one-tenth to one-third of men reported having recently carried out a more conventionally "female task" in their home.
Although the MENA region is steeped in historical tribal culture, the current conflict of gender roles is at a crucial turning point. Masculine power structures still play a huge role in these countries, and despite this obstacle, women are on the rise. But without the support of their nations' men this will continue to be an uphill battle. And if change won't come from the culture, maybe it can come from money. By educating MENA's men about these issues, the estimated $27 trillion that women could bring to their economies might not be a dream. Women have been empowering themselves for years, but it's time for MENA's men to empower its women.