Alvin Thomas meets one of Oman’s top entrepreneurs, Atousa Dawood Khan, who says she is simply a working woman trying to run things smoothly.
It all started this week at the Land Rover Discovery launch at the Al Mouj Golf Course: the ambience was perfect, and the evening humid but cool. The setting was fantastic and even more so because of the floral arrangements on display at each table.
Don’t believe me? Just turn to our page 11 Gallery. But let us keep that aside for now and fast forward a bit.
Today, I am here to interview Omani entrepreneur Atousa Dawood Khan, one of the finalists for the Bank Muscat al Wathbah “Business Women Award” for 2017 – an award presented to the most enterprising women in the country.
But the 38-year-old Omani is a very busy lady and so we have to conduct our interview over the telephone.
Atousa is softly spoken but she keeps her words short, to the point, and doesn’t shy away from any questions. She is the perfect interviewee.
She has quite a CV, too. Atousa is the managing director of the KHANCO metal fabrication company – a company that opened its doors to clients in 1971 – and has since served “numerous high-profile clients and companies”.
She is the heiress to the business that was first set in motion by her father, Dawood Khan so one would assume that she has had an easy path.
But “no”, she laughs. “I had it just as hard as any other person would. I had to work my way up towards where I am today.
“I was born and raised in Oman but I had to leave my country for the state of Oklahoma, United States where I did my higher education.”
She completed her degree in systems management from the Oklahoma City University in 2001, after which she worked in numerous multi-national firms. She started at the bottom before finally taking up the role of operations manager for Citibank.
“I spent a whole 15 years away from Oman. I think those are the years that gave me the strength to take up the roles I play today.
“I think my time in the US gave me some exposure towards many things, especially in the corporate world.”
However, in 2008, Atousa returned to Oman to be with her family.
“Despite everything, my first home is Oman. Life here is slow-paced but since I have had a taste of both countries, I can positively report that I would choose Oman over the US any day.
“It is because of the lifestyle,” she says. “I am very old-school, and would like my two sons [aged four and six] to grow up here and keep in touch with their culture and understanding this lifestyle.”
And then of course, there’s the question every working woman has to answer: how to juggle work and family life.
“I think I have a very good work-life balance,” says Atousa.
“You see, my advantage is that I work for myself and that means I get to choose when I go home although I only do that in the case of an emergency.
“But being the boss is indeed a blessing. That also allows me to learn a lot from my team as they are transparent with me.”
This is important, she says, as her company deals with high-end customised metal fabrication work. Even one botched job can have them out of the market, she says.
But Atousa has considered all the options and has started another company: the Blooming Gardens – a firm that deals with floral decorations for weddings, product launches and corporate events etc.
“It is my baby, and if I am honest, it takes up most of my time now,” laughs Atousa.
“It all started as a hobby with live plants and decorations. As a matter of fact I love decorating.
“I don’t mean to blow my own trumpet but I think I have always been rather good at home décor.
“I still remember decorating my room in our family’s new house at the age of nine. By the age of 12, I was already designing rooms for my siblings and keeping things lively in mine.”
When I ask her about where she gets her talent from, Atousa says: “My father.”
“You see my father [Dawood Khan] is an artist. I think that is where I get my love for art forms and also my skills as a home decorator from. What I do can also be considered a form of art.”
Her idea for her start-up comes not just because of her passion for decorating. It comes after years of careful planning, after which she thought there was a dearth for such businesses in Oman.
“I decided to go for succulent bouquets and other live plants because there is a tendency for people to opt for plastic plants and decorations as they tend to think that floral arrangements only last for a few days.
That mindset is what needs to be changed, according to Atousa.
“I do a lot of succulent plants. Now, these are plants that store water in their stems and will last for years if they are taken care of.
“They’re small enough to be given as a gift, and beautiful enough to be a part of decoration along with some flowers. “This will not only liven up the atmosphere but also give a very positive aura to any surroundings.”
Despite this, however, Atousa claims she does not have a “green thumb”.
“I leave that to my mother and brother. They’re the ones with the green thumbs. I’m just a woman who is working to run her businesses as smoothly as I can.”
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