Dr. Lama AlSulaiman

Partner and Board Member Rolaco Holdings

Born in Lebanon and raised in Saudi Arabia, I’m the fourth of five children. My mother is Lebanese and father is from Al-Qassim, but was raised in Makkah. My family was not traditionally conservative but it was a firm household; my parents were both ambitious for us, emphasized the need to understand the difference between right and wrong, knew that respect, modesty and appreciation were essential. 

My mother was determined, relentless and pro-education, while my father, Abdul Aziz, was a sharp, charismatic businessman. He was well read, and highly concerned with protocol and proper tolerant behavior. The combination of both made us who we are today, and who we want our children to be.

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Until the age of 13 years, I attended a French school, before transferring to Dar Al-Hanan School for Girls whilst simultaneously studying materials and subjects provided by the French school until attaining my baccalaureate. 

In 1984, I enrolled at King Abdulaziz University where I majored in biochemistry. During my education journey, I was married and had four beautiful children.

Yet, as the only one of my own siblings to be domestically educated, I worried I was behind, which pushed me harder to achieve. After graduating, I searched for a job that would give me purpose to wake up every morning. I interned at a number of hospitals and landed a job at the King Fahad Research Center as a lab technician.

I see so much of my father in me. The approach to duties and life, and his drive. While at the center, I was encouraged to pursue my masters and doctorate while working with Dr. Suhad Bahijri, my mentor, and later enrolled at London’s King College. 

I considered every experience in my life to be a learning curve. My failures were definitely “life growth accelerators”. The first challenge I took was to open a small boutique. I took a loan from my father and tried to keep it afloat for two years but failed. I realized the retail business was not my forte. I then tried to start a commercial laundry company, to help employ Saudi women. Four years later, I had to close.

In the year 2000, after obtaining my masters in health and nutrition, I was approached by a cousin, Randa Alfadl, and opened a health club, a new business venture and the best experience of my life. It was exciting and lasted for 20 successful years. Today is a new era for young women, and I’m excited for the new chapter for the next generation.

When I graduated with my PhD in biochemistry in 2003, I was invited to join the economical and social council in Makkah. It was a good time for me, as I wanted to get involved with volunteering and helping people. 

In 2005, I was diagnosed with breast cancer and slowed down to receive treatment. It was one of my most blessed and enlightening experiences. At the end of that amazing year, King Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz called on businesswomen to join the chambers of commerce, a civil society, where members of the board were elected by the private sector. I received a call from members of a group of businessmen, asking me to join their team at the Jeddah Chamber of Commerce and Industry (JCCI). We won the election, with two women, myself and Nashwa Taher, after which two other women were appointed, the first Saudi women to win elected office in the Kingdom.

In 2009, I became a vice-chairwoman to the JCCI. I was empowered by the help of my colleagues and the knowledge I gained from mentors and leaders, focusing my work on human capital development and labour laws, solid grounds to raise the importance of gender, diversity and inclusion in the workplace and society. 

My 15 years on the board of the JCCI has provided me with a lot of expertise in labor laws and gender issues, helping me acquire a role at the International Labor Organization, as the head of the Saudi employer delegation, where I spent 8 years. 

Today it is impressive to watch women of the future become masters and experts in their countries. Women with real jobs and responsibilities, and respected voices. 

My husband, Tarek AlSulaiman, and my brother, Saud, were the biggest supporters in my career. In a time filled with challenges, obstacles and frustrations they were there every step of the way.

As people are the masters of their own fate, I am constantly searching for something new to gain from. I find myself constantly taking courses, improving myself, but it’s never enough for me. In my understanding, life is all about making a difference and impacting others. 

My three sons and daughter are constantly reminded of the importance of values in our journey through life and that your career is not about you, but about how you are going to help. Our mission is a collective one.

After leaving JCCI and my father’s passing last November, I became more involved with my family. I joined the family business 10 years ago, after my father invited me to. Although I enjoy and appreciate the family business, and willingly accept the responsibility, I have always enjoyed research the most, and have since started a consultancy on family business called Family Business Partners.

Having a business is not about you; it’s about how many jobs you create and save. My father once said “wealth is not a goal but a means” to create opportunities. I personally focus today on supporting young people to be educated, mentored, oriented and to find their way, in order to build a sustainable future.

Today I am so grateful for what I have and the chances I was offered. I thank God for allowing me to seize these opportunities in strange, unconventional circumstances, and to see hope and happiness in all of them. I hope my children, and the youth around me, might be blessed with wisdom and ethics, and then the rest will follow.

Follow Dr. Lama AlSulaiman:
Twitter: @lamaalsulaiman
Instagram: @lamaalsulaiman1
Linkedin: @lama-alsulaiman

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