Business is personal | Lake Minnetonka
While hanging out with her sister, Maha Abouelenein’s phone rings. Journalist and author Katie Couric is calling you. It’s just another normal day for this sought-after and successful entrepreneur.
Wayzata’s Abouelenein has a slew of stories about the places she’s been and the people she’s met, such as how she met former first lady Michelle Obama and volunteered at the Democratic National Convention. from 2008 or the times she separately took comedian and TV host Jon Stewart and actor Samuel L. Jackson on professional visits to the pyramids of Egypt. “I always find myself in the strangest places, meeting the craziest people,” Abouelenein says, noting that at last year’s US Open tennis tournament she introduced one of her clients to her friend and CBS this morning
co-host Gayle King.
But to appreciate Abouelenein’s engaging anecdotes, you have to understand his strenuous intention to invest in meaningful relationships and bring value to people. Her influence spans 29 years in the public relations and communications spheres, where she is founder and CEO of Organizational Consultants and founder of Digital & Savvy. Additionally, she has led global communications strategies for companies like Google (as an employee) and as a communications consultant for Netflix for the Middle East and North Africa region.
We sat down with the storyteller and communications powerhouse to learn more about her journey from Mankato to the Middle East and back to Minnesota.
Abouelenein was born and raised in Mankato, where her parents moved after their marriage in Egypt. His father, Gaber Abouelenein, PhD., was a longtime faculty member and the dean of Minnesota State University, Mankato’s (MSU) College of Business. Abouelenein earned her bachelor’s and graduate degrees at MSU and moved to the Twin Cities, where she interned for Weber Shandwick, then briefly worked for General Mills until 1997, when her mother , Sawsan Abouelenein, was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. Her parents returned to Egypt and Abouelenein, who was caring for her mother, went with them.
“I’m Egyptian, and I was on vacation in Egypt for Christmas, New Years and summers, but it’s one thing to live somewhere and it’s another thing to be on vacation,” Abouelenein told About the transition. “I had to learn all new muscles – make new friends and acquaintances.”
It was in Egypt that Abouelenein discovered and embraced the idea that all business is personal – it’s about relationships first, not transactions. She then built her career focusing on the human side of doing business.
She helped launch several mobile networks in Egypt. “Mobile phones were just being introduced in the Middle East and Africa, and I was writing the tenders to get those licenses and start those projects,” says Abouelenein. “I had a front row seat to see all of this new technology being introduced to the Middle East and North Africa region.” It was then that it ended up being part of the largest IPO (Orascom Telecom) in Egyptian history.
Next, she built a network of public relations agencies for Weber Shandwick in the Middle East, overseeing 19 offices. How? ‘Or’ What? She knocked on the CEO’s door and offered something valuable: an understanding of what it takes for an American company to get a foothold in the Middle East.
In an effort to help people communicate effectively, Abouelenein started Organizational Consultants, named after a company his father owned, working with American companies that wanted to operate in the Middle East. “I was American, so I knew American lingo, how American companies think, but I’m also Egyptian and Arab, and I speak Arabic, so I know the culture, the language and the nuances,” she says. “Matching what these markets need is where I ended up being a sweet spot.” She has advised Coca-Cola, General Motors, Mars, McDonald’s and Visa.
Abouelenein went to work for Google in Dubai as head of global communications and public policy, overseeing 18 countries in the Middle East. After that, she took over running her business, serving Netflix, Careem (now owned by Uber), Deezer (a French online streaming service) and several tech communication companies.
Its wide reach does not stop there because it expanded after a friend recommended me Crush it, a book on personal branding by Gary Vaynerchuck, an entrepreneur and non-fungible token (NFT) and digital marketing guru. Abouelenein contacted him and offered to help him set up a network of agencies in the Middle East. “In short, I met [Vaynerchuck]and for five years now I have been leading its communications,” she says.
Abouelenein moved from Dubai to Minnesota during the pandemic. “I always thought I would come back to Minnesota eventually,” she says. “My mom and dad passed away, my sister is still here, all my friends from high school are still here, and I love Minnesota more than anything,” she says.
Although Abouelenein works with influencers, celebrities, CEOs, sports icons and high net worth individuals, she remains committed to putting people before deals. To this end, it maintains a three-point strategy: build meaningful relationships, create value and be a connector.
“Everyone asks me, ‘How did you meet all these people?’ “says Abouelenein. “First of all, I try to create value for them. I learn what they’re trying to accomplish, and then I ask myself, ‘How can I add value to them in that regard? What can I bring to the table that no one else can?’
When she goes to an event, Abouelenein intends to make the most of the experience by bonding. “The reason I have so much fun doing my job is because I love being a connector and bringing people together to create something unique,” she says.
But she won’t just introduce people to each other. “I need to know what you want, what has value. Then I have to talk to the other person to make sure I’m creating something that makes sense,” she says. “I find the secret sauce or magic thing that could turn a business opportunity for the two of you into something really good.”
With so much personal and professional experience behind her, what’s next? Abouelenein talks excitedly about writing a book and leading the charge for VeeCon, the world’s premier NFT conference in May at US Bank Stadium in Minneapolis. “I try to put Minnesota on the map with entrepreneurs and I try to help businesses understand the importance of the state and all the different things we have to offer. I want to give back to this Minnesota community that made me.
Abouelenein offers her perspectives on branding and the importance of lifelong learning.
Build your personal brand
People tell Abouelenein they don’t have a personal brand, or they think it’s bragging. But that’s really the practice of marketing yourself. “If you have a social media account, you have a personal brand,” she says. “It takes the unique combination of your skills, experience and personality that you really want the world to see. Personal branding is not about bragging or self-promotion.
It is a matter of leadership.
Your brand is the expertise or subject you are passionate about. It defines how people see you. “What do you want others to know about you?” What are you constantly doing in your own behavior? said Abouelenein. “Do this. It’s your personal brand.
“That’s why I created my podcast [Savvy Talk]so I can help other people understand how to tell stories well, how to build a good narrative, how to pitch to the press, how to handle a crisis, how to overcome your fear of public speaking,” she says.
Read, listen and consume
Abouelenein pushes himself to constantly “sharpen his saw”. She says, “You always have to think about being a lifelong learner… I know a lot about NFTs. I know a lot about games. I constantly have to learn new things.
Whether it’s learning from people on social media, taking online courses, or meeting people, being a lifelong learner means you’re curious.
“If you have a sense of curiosity, you’re probably going to open yourself up to more opportunities, and you never know what you’re going to find interesting that could really turn into a great opportunity for you,” she says. digitalandsavvy.com
Why not love Wayzata?
It’s fair to say that Abouelenein is a seasoned traveler, but ask her what she likes about life in Wayzata, and it’s clear she enjoys exploring the local scene.
She points to Gianni’s Steakhouse for, naturally, a steak; The Grocer’s Table for coffee and chocolate chip cookies; and CōV Wayzata for Sunday brunch or happy hour.
What’s a trip to downtown Wayzata without a bit of shopping? Abouelenein likes shops like Anthropologie (clothing and decoration), Jewelweed (health and wellness shop) and lululemon (sportswear).
When it’s time to walk or bike outdoors, Abouelenein favors the Dakota Regional Trail, which passes through several communities and offers 22.5 km of paved trails.