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As one of the top generator suppliers in the Middle East, Africa and Asia, employing more than 1,400 people, Jubaili Bros realises the importance of contributing to society and the environment. And with a range of ESG and sustainability initiatives that attract new talent firmly embedded in the company’s culture, they’re addressing these concerns while ensuring growth and profitability.
In this episode of Women in Family Business, Sana Jubaili, Group HR Director of Jubaili Bros, discusses how companies can embark on ESG and sustainability initiatives to drive growth. She draws from her experiences to offer advice on promoting and establishing change in a way that attracts talent and grows profits while simultaneously benefitting the wider community and environment.
- Governance is survival: support from the top is vital for the successful implementation of ESG and sustainability initiatives. Ensure leadership and stakeholders continually push for more transparent and better policies and find champions to support this change.
- Understand your goals: don’t try to do everything at once. Set realistic end goals and identify potential gaps or challenges. Then, work step by step to achieve those end goals. Aim big but start small, and make sure you communicate and celebrate the small wins as part of the process.
- Attracting talent: employees increasingly want a sense of purpose, with ESG and sustainability as points of focus for many of the next generation. Therefore, these kinds of initiatives play a big part in attracting and retaining new talent, which supports business growth and future successes.
R: Sana, welcome to the conversation on Women In Family Business. We’re delighted to have you on the podcast today.
S: Thank you. I’m excited to be here.
R: Can you tell me a little bit about your story because I think everyone joins their family business in a different way? So I’ve had people on the show who were like, “It’s been my calling since the age of three,” others accidentally joined mid-career, and others were forced into it. Those are the dramatic ones. Where on this scale are you in terms of your story?
S: I would actually say accidentally. We were unique. In the Lebanese or in Arab Middle Eastern family business, our father did not pressure us to join. So I followed my passion which was actually social work and development work with NGOs. I was actually in between contracts with the UN and my dad was like, “Just come to Dubai and you can do a little training while you wait it out.” The first day I joined, I knew that I wasn’t going to leave because it had always been something that I had wanted to do and I took that first step and it ended up working out.
R: So what were the things that stood out to you when you finally took on an official role? Were there things that were a big surprise to you that you were like, “Oh, I had no idea this was actually how things were being done here”?
S: Well, what surprised me is how right it felt. It just felt like it was the right time and the right place for me in my life. I was excited because I was given the opportunity to leverage my experience was which was in the social and development area. So my father made me focus on really rolling out the corporate social responsibility program. Then I also joined HR which really worked well with my passion for people. But what I did not expect was how hard it is to work with family members. So at the time, I was working a lot with my father and my brother and it’s a skill that you need to develop to wear a different hat like the daughter hat versus the employee hat.
R: So it’s very interesting for me to hear you say that you really came in with the intention, with CSR as your agenda. You really came in with a mission. So did that help you in finding your feet in the conversations with your family? Did that help you or did it actually make you feel cornered at times as well where you were really pointing that you were a little bit siloed maybe in what you were doing? What was that like for you?
S: It was good because it was something I felt like I was bringing something to the business of value. But then what my father did and what I see probably other family businesses do is he involved me in everything from day one. I was really lucky to be still part of the time when we did that because now we’ve evolved in our corporate governance and I would say that would no longer be allowed. But when I joined, I had immediately been privy to all leadership and management decisions and meetings. So I definitely wasn’t. My core area of expertise, we knew we wanted me to focus on CSR and HR, but I was also exposed to the entire business.
R: So you started with CSR and then you integrated into HR, but what did that actually look like? So what were the expectations when you started in Jubaili Bros and then how did you go about implementing CSR?
S: So I did have a mentor, a family friend that had… She was doing corporate CSR with a law firm. I was connected with her and she was taking me to get to know the different organizations in the UAE and we worked together for a framework of how to start. So we created a presentation. She gave us the idea to create a committee and to start setting goals. So I had that to go off and then every year as things progressed, we got more into what you would do as a systematic business approach, which is we set our goals and our KPIs and we have a budget and we get that approved and we work on that year on year.
R: Today when I look at your family business, it looks like all you do is talk about sustainability towards the environment, towards your people. CSR seems to be at the core actually of the whole business model now as opposed to maybe just looking at it as a separate thing, as a separate department that just does good basically. So how did that happen from that “We have a strategy for CSR” to “We are actually all about doing good and all about making a responsible bottom line for the business”?
S: I’ll tell you what it is. First of all, CSR and giving is embedded into the culture. As many family businesses, the founders have always given anonymous charitable donations. So that’s always been in our business and in our blood and in our culture, so we leveraged that. The other thing that we did is we were diligent in reporting and so when you might see it on social media, you might hear about it , you might see pictures, it’s because we became diligent in recording. Lastly and this pertains to the environmental aspect, which is in a sense it’s the core of our business. Jubaili Bros is an energy solutions provider and typically we’ve provided diesel generators as a solution and now we’re working towards solar. Really what cemented that, it wasn’t the founder saying, “Well, we may need to help the environment.” It was a business case. So that’s the other thing. It’s very important for any generation trying to push ESG, how do you make a business case out of it? Because that’s when it will really get the support from the entire organization and from the board.
R: How do you start having that conversation with your family, because on the board there might be people with very varying degrees of knowledge around the environmental impact of the company or the social impact? So how do you get everyone up to scratch, up to the same level of knowledge, and then how do you create alignment around the topic that is divisive at best sometimes within the family as well?
S: I have to be truthful. We still do not have alignment, I would say. We’re not at the place where we have concrete ESG objectives and goals. We’re not there yet, but if you take things in pieces, then you can get them. So, for example, my father’s region. I work very closely with him and I got it approved and so right now, and for example, the Dubai hub country, we have a strong system. Now, I still haven’t been able to get that across to the whole group and I’m working on it but it’s definitely stronger in some countries than others. So with the alignment, don’t try to have the whole apple all at once. Go for little pieces. So the social part, I’m taking in pieces. The environmental part, again, it was a business-driven decision. Then the governance part, to be honest, it’s about having influence in the board of people who are pushing for governance and educating shareholders how important governance is because literally for us now we’re in gen 3. Governance is survival. That’s the way we see it and that was the real driver behind being completely committed to corporate governance.
R: Can you tell us a little bit more about the actual projects that have emerged from what it is that you have undertaken from the beginning of your career, and also what are you very proud of today when you look at Jubaili Bros’ impact and how you guys are going about doing your business?
S: One thing that’s so important and it’s very relevant to family businesses is the governance piece. Now, again, we had influencers at the board level and the shareholder level highlighting to the founders, “For the sustainability of the business, you guys are nearing retirement. We need to put corporate governance in place.” So that journey started about 2015 where we did connect with, for example, Deloitte Family Office. So the other thing is connecting with experts in the field to support you through that journey and then alignment of the shareholders about where you want to go, and everyone being ready to make the sacrifices that you need to make. We also worked with IFC and they gave us a report.
Now, were we able to then complete the report of all the suggestions and recommendations on how to have corporate governance? No. It takes years to do it. We’re still in the process. So some of the things is an authority matrix, a proper budgeting process. Now, there’s obviously more difficult ones, which is having majority independent board members and minority family members, or having, for example, what we haven’t done yet is to have a head of internal audit which we still are working on. So understanding where the gaps are, where you want to go, and working step by step. Don’t try to do everything all at once but have the support from the board and the shareholders.
R: When did you start talking about ESG sustainability and did the environment help? What has it been like for you to hear these terms bandied about? Has it been helpful? Have you adapted your terminology as well internally?
S: The environmental piece is the biggest struggle because somehow it’s in our blood and what was really driven and I know everyone’s hearing about it today and interestingly, and we’ll discuss this later if we want to talk about the benefits of ESG, it is nowadays with employees. They want a sense of purpose and so knowing that Jubaili Bros, yes, we do sell diesel generators which are not good for the environment, but now that we are getting into solar, it’s been a journey and it only really made sense once the business around it made sense. We did the low-hanging fruit if you will, and we incorporated recycling and turning off the lights, and for example, managing waste in our factories. So all of that was incorporated, but really the heavy hitter, which is switching your source of energy, has only really just happened recently. So it hasn’t been talked about for a long time.
R: So you’re talking about attracting talent here, just widely talent. I don’t know how many people you currently employ. It’s…
R: 1,300 people. So a huge family that you’re employing there as well. So, people that you had to attract that talent, you have to retain that talent. Do you feel the ESG piece and that focus on sustainability is going to help you recruit the next generation of the family as well though? Has that been something that you feel is coming to the fore that you feel actually is also motivating us as the owners to be more involved? What has that been like for you?
S: Specifically because I am in HR, it plays a big part in the attraction and retention of talent. Knowing that for one we do care about our environment, that we do have social activities, we do donations, we do take care of our employees by doing engagement activities and volunteering. Right now we’re not really looking at our next gen 4 because they’re still much smaller, but I know that this work and we need to continue to do it, it’s important in giving purpose to our employees and that is what is an important attraction and retention tool.
R: So what are the next steps that you have in mind where you’re like, “You know what? These are really the boxes we would like to tick in future as well where we say like, ‘Okay. So these are goals or standards that we’d like to achieve”? Do you have anything specific already in mind where you’re like, “You know what? This is actually our next hurdle or our next horizon”?
S: Definitely getting a group budget, a percentage of our net profit allocated to a CSR fund, specifically for activities and donations, for that social part, and it can also include some of the in-house environmental activities where I mentioned the recycling and the waste, things like that. So getting a group budget approved and then having a yearly plan with KPIs and a budget, that’s what we’re working on for 2023 because right now I have that for the UAE but I have 10 other countries. So I need to get that for all the countries and I need to figure out the right formula. Some countries are bigger than others. How do you allocate the budget? What NGOs do you support because you also have to always question… Any time you give, you need to understand what’s the organization, what’s your objective behind the giving. So that’s a really important part of our agenda.
I would say the other thing is governance, because again, for me, I wouldn’t be employing 1,300 employees if we don’t have the right governance in the company. So we’re really pushing for more clear and better policies. One of you asked me in a few questions ago what’s my biggest achievement and I would say it’s in the governance domain and it is having, I would say, successfully transitioned from a founder-led company to a non-family member CEO-led company. That has had its growing pains and we need to continue to have the proper authority matrix and communication around the environment which is more corporate than it was before as a family and founder-led business.
R: What kind of owners do you have to be as family members? What are the skills and what do you hope that your family can bring to the table to ensure the future of the company and to ensure that you stay on track like that from an owner’s perspective, maybe more rather than an executive?
S: One of the things that helped tremendously with us is that our founders and the shareholders do believe in charity and do believe in helping others. So I feel like if that is not there, then the recommendation really is you have to provide a solid business case and you have to find your quick wins and really communicate them and advertise them or make it known and have everyone see it and just really push for what are the benefits of ESG.
R: We do have to look at it from a female perspective because it’s a women and family business podcast, as you said, as an excuse. But you are in a very still male-dominated industry and you and you did join and I’m not sure if you were the first woman to join or…
S: No. My cousins and we have another senior-level executive that was there for a long time.
R: So you had women there actually when you joined, which I think can be a great advantage as opposed to being the pioneering woman, I think, from the family coming in. Let me talk to you or ask you about the role of diversity from the diversity of the types of family members that join the business, whether it be age, whether it be in-laws, whether it be women versus men. Do you think that is going to actually help this ESG conversation? Do you think that diversity is going to promote it?
S: I don’t necessarily think there is that link between, for example, more diversity and more women and the social part of giving. But I definitely think that having diversity at all levels and of all different types of diversity and inclusion really supports the governance aspect, because if you have everyone that’s the same in a room, no one’s going to pinpoint the risk or no one’s going to have a better idea. So I think that diversity and inclusion do support the fundamentals that governance is trying to bring about. But as a woman, of course, there’s still the challenges.
Especially with all that’s going on, it is helpful that there’s all these reports and all these studies out there how important it is and I think it’s making the case for… I’m so lucky because the CEO that came on and other senior leadership teams are always pushing for diversity and when you have that support from up top… It’s funny because I don’t necessarily see that support from the owners and the shareholders, but I do get the support from the CEO and from the advisors which is great.
R: Talk to me a little bit more about the technology side of things for you guys. What has been made possible for you that would probably not have been possible even about 20, 30 years ago in terms of refocusing and how do you harness the power of these new technologies today?
S: For one, technology has made everyone more efficient and if we want to talk about the environment, it’s funny. We know it but we don’t really think about it and how much COVID helped us because it taught us that we actually don’t all need to be in the room in person to have meetings. So we’ve saved a lot from travel from both, of course, the financial perspective, but the carbon emission perspective from doing everything online. Now, in terms of the technical technology around, for example, the solar panels and the battery storage. Now, as this progresses, we’re able to then go to the market. So we have a big footprint in Africa, and in Africa, you have to go to them.
A lot of these developing markets, it’s all about the price. So as we see the prices of the renewable solutions go down and the technologies improve, there is a big opportunity to go and convince these customers in the different African and Middle Eastern countries that solar is the best way to go because you’re going to pay less in the long term. So that’s really driving the support and the environmental aspect is being able to switch these very large growing economies towards the renewables.
R: So when you go about promoting this level of change in an organization or even the direction of your investment or as a family office, takeaways from you, advice for these people out there that go like, “Oh my God. I want to do what Sana just did with her family and everything”? So tips and tricks that you have for them?
S: One of them is to find champions. As much as possible, you need to find influential champions and the champions that actually can support the change and help you in your efforts. The other advice that I got, it’s all about report and communicate.
You could be doing amazing things but if you do not report and communicate it, then you’re not reaping the benefits. Then by communicating it, even if it’s something small, it feels like a win and it’s spread amongst the others and it gets the input and the buy-in going to keep on moving with these projects. So start small. Aim big, but start small, and make sure that you communicate the small wins.
R: Fantastic advice, Sana. Thank you so much for joining us on the podcast today.
S: Thank you, Ramia. It’s been a pleasure.