'HOW I GOT HERE' With Saudi Business Powerhouse Cherine Magrabi

Career and life inspo from the Creative & Communications Director of Magrabi Optical
'HOW I GOT HERE' With Saudi Business Powerhouse Cherine Magrabi

Cherine Magrabi is a master multi-tasker. She got married young and had three sons by the time she was 26 years old while simultaneously working her way up the ranks at Magrabi Optical to become the Creative and Communications Director of the brand and a member of the advisory board. It’s no wonder then that empowering women is at the heart of her vision for Magrabi Optical’s brand. Cherine has transformed the optical chain into a dynamic and empowering company, whose vision is as inspiring as the lady herself. Cosmo chatted with the definitive #GirlBoss for some major career and life inspo.

Where did you grow up?
I was born in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia to a Lebanese mother and an Egyptian father. My grandfather moved to Saudi in the 1950s. We’re all Saudi nationals.

Did you spend your entire childhood in Saudi?
No, I went to school in Switzerland and then to the Chelsea College of Art in the UK, which is where I met my husband. I got married and went on to have three boys soon after. However, I continued to freelance as an interiors architect and was also quite passionate about cooking and painting. In fact, I even started a company called ‘Art Dubai’ -- we would paint on gingerbread cookies and sell them to Baker & Spice. It was a lovely pastry shop.

After that, in 2002, I moved to Beirut and started working in the family business -- Magrabi Opticals. We were just opening our first store in the Lebanese market and I helped set it up and manage it. It was great being on-ground and getting the opportunity to see how the business worked on the inside. Slowly, I started getting the hang of it and seeing what customers really want and learned to look at the entire shopping experience.

There was a lot that I felt needed to change in terms of the look and feel of our brand, which I communicated to my brother. He responded saying that we were doing really well and didn’t see why we had to spend so much money and wanted proof that we needed to do so.

How did you go about that?
I did my research and after successfully repositioning our brand, I was mentioned in an article about how brands that had changed their look and feel had boosted their retail sales.

What did you change about the brand?
We changed the logo, the colours, reworked the display and merchandising… all the 3G elements that customers look for. I wanted us to be more modern, while always ensuring that our USP – the fact that we are medical experts – shine through. It was important that we keept optical expertise at the heart of our DNA as a company and I looked for designers who would answer to that. That was our first revamp. We just did a second revamp last year.

Did you miss painting and cooking when working full-time at Magrabi?
I still cook (laughs)! I love to experiment in the kitchen and come up with different recipes. With regards to art, I don’t paint as much but I do follow the art world quite closely.

How old were your kids when you went back to work full time?
My youngest was a month old!

Wow! How did you manage that? Wasn’t it difficult?
I’ve always loved multi-tasking and I somehow managed it.

How many years are there between your children?
I waited till my first son was three years old to have the second and then I had waited only a year for the third.

That sounds hard!
When you have kids young, you just deal. I have friends who had kids older and have had to manoeuvre being a mom and leading their lives.

Who is your biggest influence professionally?
My father. Everything he did was for the love and care of his patients. He not only strived to make an impact on an individual basis with his patients, he also wanted to make a difference on a regional level by bringing technological know-how and the latest expertise to the region. He was a pioneer.

What prompted him to set up optical stores?
He started noticing that his patients would keep coming back when they were dissatisfied with their frames, etc. That’s when he decided to open an optical store that would service his patients.

Even though we’re a chain of 200 stores now, we still remind ourselves that we are in this because we care for people’s eyes and try to maintain the same level of honesty and transparency. Eyewear has changed over time. It has now become an integral part of someone’s fashion. We want to, as professional optical retailers, be both, a place where you go to for medical expertise and for the latest fashion and styles.

What is the key to being successful?
In order to be successful, it's key to have the ability to step back and look at the bigger picture. A complete understanding of the business on all levels is vital. And of course, having a good team is really important. In order to maintain a competitive advantage, it’s imperative to do what no one has done before and just go for it!

What is your proudest achievement?
First and foremost, my boys. I’m most proud of them. I’m also extremely proud of this non-profit foundation I set up that promotes Lebanese design, called ‘House of Today’. It has positioned Lebanon as the design hub of the region and has even received international acclaim.

Magrabi’s vision at the moment is all about empowering women. Can you tell us a little more about that?
Magrabi has always stood for equality. We have always had equal pay; four of our eight directors are women and they have equal say. Eyeglasses and eyewear enable us to see… and so our message is for women to see beyond what they were permitted to. Empowering women is not about disempowering men – it’s about equality.

What was it like growing up as a woman in Saudi?
We are two brothers and two sisters and my father gave us equal opportunities. We grew up in a home where there was no difference. That's what I have always known and have fond memories of us growing up in Saudi. I thought equality was the norm.

It’s such an exciting time in Saudi right now…
I couldn’t be happier to witness what's happening at the moment.. and at such great speed!

Do you think women can have it all?
It depends on how you define ‘having it all’. Women and men both have to work hard to be successful. But if women really work at it, of course they can.

What is your advice to women as someone who juggles motherhood with a thriving career?
Find what you are passionate about, never give up, voice your opinions with elegance. 

What are the words that you live by?
My father has brought us up with the philosophy that we should always think of leaving this world having made a difference, no matter how small. Wouldn’t it be so amazing if everyone thought that way? It would make the world such a beautiful place.