Features, Leadership

elan’s Top Entrepreneurs of the Year

By Sara Elghobashy

December 15, 2009

Let’s face it – practically every parent I know tells their kids to become a doctor or a lawyer. And although many of us concoct crazy ideas for business ventures, few of us actually pursue them. But there are those who have found success putting their ideas to work and becoming their own boss. elan has compiled a list of the top entrepreneurs who are making huge impacts on the business world. Our picks for this list are all established, and many of them are young – most are 40 and under. They’ve already made it big, but even more importantly, they’re noteworthy leaders making a huge impact on their fields and, shattering stereotypes and coming up with innovative ways to change the market.

In a business world that’s changing so rapidly it’s making heads the world over spin, these pioneers are well on their ways to becoming the future Bill Gates or Coco Chanel. Don’t believe me – just take a look at the accomplishments of the group below.

The Mogul: Prince Al Waleed Bin Talal Bin Abdul Aziz Al Saud – Founder of the Rotana Group (Saudi Arabia)

Think: Michael Eisner, CEO of Disney

Prince Al Waleed Al Saud is not only an entrepreneur, but a savvy investor. His entertainment company, Rotana Group, is the largest in the Middle East and includes a film production company, a magazine, a television channel, seven radio stations and a record label. Al Saud also serves as Chairman of the Kingdom Holding Company, under which he has created a charitable organization that funds projects that promote dialogue between the Middle East and the West. Prince Al Waleed Al Saud began his career as an investor and currently holds large stakes in companies like Citigroup, Apple, Disneyland Paris, McDonalds, eBay and many others.

The Businesswoman: Sheikha Hanadi Bint Nasser Bin Khalid Al Thani – Founder and Chairperson of Amwal, Founder and CEO of Al Wa’ab City (Qatar)

Think: Warren Buffet, CEO of Berkshire Hathaway

In 1998, Sheika Hanadi Al Tahni founded the Qatar Ladies Investment Company, the first company to conduct investment banking, asset management and financial planning in Qatar under a license from the Qatar Central Bank. Her company was later rebranded Amwal and continued to grow in success, making her one of the most influential people in the banking and finance industry. Sheikha Al Tahni is also founder and CEO of Al Wa’ab City, a 1.2 million square meter real estate development project, and serves as deputy CEO of Nasser Bin Khaled Al Thani & Sons Group, a trading and contracting company. She has received several honors, including recognition as a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum 2005, and repeated appearances on “The Power 100,” a list of the world’s most influential Arabs compiled by Arabian Business.

The Financier: Maha Al Ghunaim – Founder, Chairman and Managing Director of Global Investment House (Kuwait)

Think: John Freame, Founder of Barclays

When Maha Al Ghunaim founded Global Investment House in 1998, I bet she didn’t realize that she would be starting one the most successful financial institutions in the region. Today her company manages 38 funds that exceed $9.8 billion in assets, making it the largest non-government-owned investment bank in the Middle East. She has been named one of the “100 Most Powerful Women in the World” by Forbes and one of the top 100 most influential Arabs on “The Power 100.”

The Tech Gurus: Samih Toukan and Hussam Khoury – Co-founders of Maktoob.com (Jordan)

Think: Larry Page and Sergey Brin, Co-Founders of Google

Samih Toukan launched Maktoob.com, the first free Arabic web-based e-mail service, with Hussam Khoury in 1999. Ten years later, their company has been purchased by Yahoo , where Toukan will stay on as a consultant, and they are investing the money from the sale into Jabbar Internet Group, an umbrella company for several projects including their hedge fund, Tiger Capital.

The Media Magnate: Rafat Ali – Founder, Editor and Publisher of ContentNext Media (United States)

Think: Arianna Huffington, Founder of Huffington Post

As a firm believer that all media will be digital media in the future, Rafat Ali founded paidContent.org in 2002, an innovative news site that chronicles the economic evolution of digital content and seeks to define sustainable business models within this sector. He has since seen the rollout of three new projects: mocoNews, contentSutra and paidContent UK – all under the umbrella of the parent company, ContentNext Media. In 2008, he sold his company to Guardian News and Media. Dubbed the “poster boy for career independence from news companies” by Editor & Publisher, Ali continues to run the company as a stand-alone business along with his executives.

The Ad Man: Omar Hamoui – Founder and CEO of AdMob (United States)

Think: Jerry Yang, Co-Founder of Yahoo

In 2006, Omar Hamoui founded AdMob, one of the world’s largest mobile advertising companies. Earlier this year, he had Google knocking on his door to buy this entrepreneur’s company for an estimated $750 million. Not bad for a three-year venture.

The Franchiser: Tariq Farid – Founder and CEO of Edible Arrangements (United States)

Think: Ray Kroc, Founder of McDonald’s

At the age of 17, Tariq Farid used a $5,000 cash advance from his parents to purchase a flower shop in East Haven. Within two years, he was operating 4 successful stores, but in 1999 he had a new idea: why not use fresh fruit cut and shaped in a similar manner to flowers? And so Edible Arrangements was born and has now grown to include 936 locations worldwide. With this wide success and expansion of his company around the world, Farid has been honored as a 2009 Entrepreneur of the Year by Ernest and Young.

The Feminist: Lubna Khalid – Founder and CEO of Real Cosmetics (United States)

Think: Estee Lauder, founder of Estee Lauder cosmetics

With the lifetime goal of revolutionizing the way society views beauty, former model, filmmaker and social activist, Lubna Khalid, established Real Cosmetics, a makeup line for women of all skin tone. More importantly, Real Cosmetics is platform for Khalid to promote self esteem and empowerment to women everywhere. Real Cosmetics operates with the philosophy that cosmetics are an accessory – not a necessity – and hopes to create a non-profit organization that promotes women’s rights around the world.

The Marketer: Shama Kabani (Hyder) – Founder and President of The Marketing Zen Group (United States)

Think: Shelly Lazarus, CEO of Ogilvy & Mather

Shama Kabani founded her own full service marketing firm in March 2008 after completing her Master’s degree in Organizational Communication at the University of Texas at Austin. Her business has now grown to include six other employees and handle a portfolio of global clients. She was named one of the Top 25 Entrepreneurs Under 25 by Business Week and one of the 10 Most Influential and Powerful Women in Social Media in 2008. She is currently working on her first book, The Zen of Social Media Marketing, due out in March and at 24, this is just the beginning.

Photo of Saudi Prince Al Walid bin Talal by Franco Pagetti/VII



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