Elaine Jones, UAE Property Guru
Property development and management is very commonplace in the UAE, but if you mention Asteco to anyone, they’re bound to know the name. Asteco has been around for over three decades; it began as a leasing and property management company and has developed into a full service real estate services company. The company was involved in the development of retail premises such as Deira City Centre and Wafi City, as well as residential developments such as the Gardens and the famous Palm Jumeirah.
I recently had the honor and pleasure of sitting down and chatting with Elaine Jones, co-founder of Asteco.
Tell me a little bit about yourself.
Elaine: I first visited Dubai with Russell (now my husband) in 1975 to meet his father who had been living here for a long time. In 1979, his father asked us if we were eventually going to get married. I simply explained to him that I wasn’t sure Russell would be able to give me the life I was accustomed to. His father therefore suggested we move to Dubai where he believed I could get a good job and have the life I wanted. Russell and I got married and moved to Dubai in 1980 during Ramadan, and the heat! I took a job in a rental agency and worked there for four years showing people villas. My husband finally suggested I launch my own business as he could see my rigorous work ethic. In March 1985, I officially launched a business with the Bin Sulayem family, Ahmed Sulayem Trading Enterprises Company, out of which the name Asteco was born. Since Sultan bin Sulayem was made chairman of Jebel Ali freezone and didn’t have time to manage the family estate, this was my opportunity to be very hands on. The business grew over the years along with Dubai and I discovered the property market directly on the job.
What do you think was the key to your professional success?
Elaine: The right place, the right time, good work ethic, and always being open to learn on the job. Sometimes you just have to seize an opportunity and run with it.
Who has been your biggest supporter throughout the years?
Elaine: My husband! I wouldn’t have been able to do any of it without him and his support throughout the years. You simply need some sort of peace of mind at home in order to be able to focus on your career. Moreover, knowing that he was a breadwinner as well allowed me to take this risk in my career.
What was one of your main obstacles or downfalls?
Elaine: Quite frankly I was disappointed I didn’t use the Arabic I learnt over the years. Nobody would ever talk to me in Arabic! Hence I didn’t get to practice. Had I continued to speak Arabic and use it daily, it would have had a huge impact on my career.
How did you manage your work life balance?
Elaine: I have a daughter and a son. I’m extremely lucky that my husband is very hands on. As they were growing up, I would drop the kids to school and my husband would pick them up, and of course we had help. Let’s be honest, when you come home after a long day at work and want to spend time with your children, you want this quality time to be fun, not spent on house chores! Moreover, it’s good for the children to have a sense of consistency and routine in place, with a large surrounding of family and help. Whenever I traveled for business, they always had someone at home to take care of them.
What impact has seeing you be a mom and business woman had on your children?
Elaine: They understand and expect that one has to work in life. We always tell them that if you find something you enjoy, you’ll never work a day in your life. My son is an Indycar driver, and don’t be fooled, it’s hard work. My daughter is extremely passionate and puts in long hours at work. In this day and age, if as a family you want a good quality of life, it’s necessary to have dual income. We always tell ourselves that if we were to lose everything today, it’s okay as we would pick ourselves up and start over. We’re resilient, we work hard.
I also believe it’s beneficial to work while doing your studies in order to develop professional skills. It’s difficult to get out of University and find a job nowadays without any work experience. Hence why it’s wonderful that the concept of internship is coming back to the forefront. We have an intern program at Asteco were youngsters visit the different departments during their stay at the company. For any young individual to decide of their career path, they need to discover it firsthand.
Has being a woman impacted your career?
Elaine: Yes, in a very positive way. I sincerely believe people enjoy chatting with a woman as we generally view things differently and bring a varied perspective to the table. Many of our associates even refer to me as a sister.
Do you feel that women in the Middle East have to face more obstacles than women elsewhere?
Elaine: In Dubai, women are greatly celebrated and respected. Of course we may have to work harder, however the number of women moving up the ladder is increasing. What drives us is respect, not power nor money. I believe women will rule the world one day!
Do you have any advice for women who are at the very beginning of their careers or maybe launching their own business?
Elaine: Before deciding to become an entrepreneur, you should do the ground work and work in an established company in order to understand what it means to run a business. People who just think it’s nice to have their own business will fail. You actually have to work very hard to succeed!
Moreover, it’s essential to have a good relationship with your partner, and to set out compromises from the very beginning. As long as you’re organized, you can indeed have it all, both a successful business, a loving family, and occasionally, some alone time!
What advice would you give your 20 year old’ self?
Elaine: That’s a difficult one. I suppose I would tell myself to have a little more fun, and not worry so much about saving every single penny. I definitely wish I would have had more time to have fun and travel the world. I’ve always been drawn to my work and the reality is that I enjoy life most when it includes growing the business and the people in it.
I managed to snap some pictures with Elaine after our interview, although she nervously admitted she hates having her picture taken. I left Asteco offices sincerely hoping that after many years of hard work building a property empire, Elaine is finally taking the time to have some well deserved fun, and hopefully travel the world.