Lubna Olayan, CEO Olayan Financing Company

Listed as Forbes 92nd most powerful woman is Saudi Arabian Lubna Olayan, the chief executive of Olayan Financing Company – the holding entity for the Olayan Group’s operations not just in the K.S.A but in the Middle East as well.

Lubna Olayan, OFC CEO

Lubna Olayan, OFC CEO

Olayan Group, by the way, was founded by Lubna’s father, Sulaiman Olayan in 1947. And the Group engages in distribution, manufacturing, services, and investments. On the other hand, the OFC is active in more than 40 companies especially in partnering with prominent multinationals; aside from that, the company is also one of the biggest investors in the Kingdom and regional stock markets.

Okay, here we go again. Since Lubna is a daughter of a “wealthy” man, it is but expected that she finishes her school which she did up until a postgraduate degree at the Indiana University. It is also expected that she gets the necessary experience in handling the family business. Yes, the father and daughter tandem may have had an agreement that at the office it’s business and their personal relationship is to be set aside – but still, how many could have that opportunity of working with the boss early on? 80% of the time, only a relative. Thus, both education and experience are nullified in this argument.

We then come to what Lubna Olayan has done with her position.


In 2004, Lubna established ONWARD or the Olayan National Women’s Action for Recruitment and Development with the aim of bringing more Saudi women into important positions in the workplace. Okay, okay – this is great! This is not just talk but real action.

Consider the inequalities in this world not to mention the culture of Saudi Arabia. Helping open more opportunities for women is, indeed, a great stride in the development and upliftment of women. The program is said to accept, recruit, and train women, especially fresh graduates, in skills to become more competitive in today’s world.


Prior to ONWARD, since 2002, Olayan has been a member of the Arab Thought Foundation which honors Arab pioneers, supports innovators, and sponsors talented Arabs. And after ONWARD, in 2006, she joined Alfanar, an organization that supports grass-roots organizations in the Arab community.

As Olayan said, “Grass-roots organizations can touch on social issues, taboo issues, in ways that are impossible for businesses to do. That’s their role and they don’t have the same stakes as businesses have. They also have the time and energy to focus on key issues which businesses can only address marginally.”

Empowering communities – not bad for a rich man’s daughter. And hopefully, more than having large companies opening up for women, Olayan would also help more women complete their studies. It all starts with giving them confidence – and Education is one confidence builder, a necessity in a country’s economic development.

What’s your take?