Despite the challenges women in the middle east have faced trying to do the things they love best, there are some who have defied the odds and forged ahead as entrepreneurs in their regions. Randa I. Abdou is the CEO/Chief Strategy & Creative Officer of Creative Lab Group Egypt and here is her story:
If you live in Egypt, you’re probably familiar with the Rotato potato chips brand and its growth in popularity over the years. Despite its fierce competitor Chipsy’s dominance of the market, Rotato chips managed to snap 15% share of the market in under 8 months from its launch. Equally significant is the story of Randa Abdou, the resourceful marketing executive who engineered the brand’s rise.
It is immediately obvious that Abdou is energetic and brimming with confidence as CEO and chief strategist for Creative Lab Group, Egypt’s first marketing consultancy. Less obvious from afar but with a contagious and independent spirit, never backing out from taking risks.
Abdou’s career began at Americana Advertising, before signing on with Procter & Gamble Egypt as Market Research Planning Manager and later taking on the position of Brand Manager with PepsiCo Foods just as the company was expanding into the Egyptian market. Though her career with PepsiCo was assured, being rated as a ‘Very High Potential’- a feat, she says, only 5% of employees could achieve; she struck out on her own when very few others were doing so.
She founded Marketing Mix Consultancy in 1996. It was Egypt’s first marketing firm that focused on fast-moving consumer goods (FMCG).
“I wanted to be on the small guy’s side,” Abdou recalled. “These local companies have the technical know-how. They have a distributional sales force. What they are really missing is marketing, which is building their brands.”
Marketing was an afterthought for Egyptian companies in the mid-nineties, and business was “more or less sales-driven,” Abdou noted.
Still, her passion for marketing pushed Abdou to offer feedback and friendly advice on promotions and campaigns she would see around her. And when a particular acquaintance heard that she had left her job at PepsiCo, he quickly jumped on the opportunity to work with her.
Abdou’s knack for spotting and attracting talent extended to the relationships she built with her clients.
“When I met one of my first clients, he didn’t know what I was offering, so I offered multinational level services to him and we ended up working together for 18 years even though our initial contract was for 3 months,” she said.
Not bad for a startup bootstrapping its way to success. Later on, she brought on two partners and in 2001 launched Creative Lab Advertising, which boasts of an enviable roster of clients like Exxon Mobil,
Barclays, Allianz, Frito Lay (Chipsy), TE Data, Telecom Egypt, and more. She also created ICE Branding in 2009 and the social and non-profit marketing initiative Change4Good in 2011.
Whether entrepreneurs are born or made may never be known, but Abdou’s entrepreneurial spirit was forged at an early age. She is an only child, and her father, a university professor, writer, publisher and historian, was a strong role model. And though she wasn’t deprived of anything, she was inculcated at an early age with the idea of working for something.
She recalls the time she asked for a motorbike to get around on. She was 10 years old at the time, and when she woke up the next morning, there was a donkey waiting for her outside the family’s vacation home.
“Whatever I asked for, I didn’t really get except for when I worked for it,” she said. “My parents said, ‘you wanted something to move around with, here, you have it.’ I started going around and renting the donkey. This shaped how I grew up – nothing came easy to me.”
Randa I. Abdou is the CEO / Chief Strategy & Creative Officer of Creative Lab Group with practical hands-on experience of more than 75 brands in different marketing and communication capacities since 1988. In 1996, Randa founded Marketing Mix, Egypt’s first marketing consultancy firm by practitioners with FMCG background. Since its inception, Marketing Mix has been instrumental in creating brands and turning around businesses.
In 2001, along with her two partners, Randa founded a sister company, Creative Lab, which grew to become one of Egypt’s leading privately owned fully-fledged advertising agencies. The two companies are now part of the Creative Lab Group, which also includes ICE Branding and Change4Good, Egypt’s first specialized Social Marketing firm.
Randa was granted in April 2015 the Distinguished Alumni Award by the American University in Cairo. In 2013, she was selected by Wharton University to be featured in a book titled Arab Women Rising 35 Arab Women Entrepreneurs Making a Difference. In 2006 Randa was also featured in the book “Entrepreneurs at the Crossroads” published by the Beyster Institute, University of California San Diego, among 12 profiled successful entrepreneurs from the Middle East and North Africa.
In Egypt, Randa was also featured in a book published by the Ministry of Investment and the Social Fund profiling leading entrepreneurs in Egypt.
Earlier in 2000, Randa was selected by Egypt Today Magazine as one of “Ten Dynamos Who Will Shape Egypt in the Next Decade”. The story was the main feature of the magazine and was followed by several features in publications in South Africa, UAE and Egypt.
In 2007, Randa received an achievement award by the Ministry of Investment, among 10 Egyptian businesswomen, for her positive contribution to the Egyptian economy. She is a Mentor with Endeavor Egypt, member of the AmCham core Marketing Committee, board member of 138 Pyramids, member of Dubai Business Women Council and is also a member of the Advisory Council of the President of AUC.
Randa Abdou is an active mentor in Venture Corps Endeavor Egypt and was recognized in 2007 by the Ministry of Investment for her positive contribution to the Egyptian Economy.