Rania Hoteit is a multi award-winning serial entrepreneur, expert judge on global startup competitions, international speaker, advisor, author and social impact leader in gender equality, education, and industry innovation with recognitions from the White House, United Nations, UK Parliament, and other prestigious awards. She is the CEO of ID4A Technologies, a global technology company that was recognized by the White House for fostering the development of advanced manufacturing in the US as in the world; named as one of the “Best Entrepreneurial Companies in America” on the 2016 Entrepreneur 360 List, honored on The Elite 2018 Inc. 5000 List of “America’s Fastest Growing Private Companies;” and recognized as one of the 2019 Real Leaders “100 Top Impact Companies.”
Throughout her executive career, Rania turned technologies into viable startups, transforming markets and creating radical changes within her industry. As an innovator and entrepreneur, Rania worked in cross-disciplinary collaborations with leading global companies in design, technology, and business innovation, and pioneered proprietary R&D and innovative processes in advanced manufacturing, Ai, and robotics. With her depth of expertise and success record, Rania is a sought-after adviser who guides innovation transformation and business growth for startup companies around the world, contributing to the development of new products and facilitating investment opportunities for the next generation of innovators and entrepreneurs.
Rania received the "Ambassador of The Year" 2016 Award by Blossom Wealth Management for propelling entrepreneurship and innovation. In 2017, she was recognized amongst 55 global leaders at the United Nations’ Global People Summit where she addressed human rights abuses in the global production pipeline and how automation, Ai, and Robotics can reduce the global exploitation of labor. In Silicon Valley survey, she was recognized alongside Melinda Gates, Sheryl Sandberg, Malala Yousafzai and other prominent leaders who have successfully built outstanding brands. Rania is also one of the only 50 global women leaders from around the world featured in “50 Inspiring Voices of Migrant Women: From Struggle to Success,” an inspirational book that showcases successful migrant entrepreneurs as role models. The book was launched at the UK Parliament where Rania was awarded “Outstanding Achievement in Her Career and Her Contribution as a Migrant Woman in the USA”. At the end of 2018, she was nominated for the first-ever Lebanon Impact Award under the patronage of His Excellency the Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri.
Rania has been featured in the Huffington Post; Forbes, Inc; Entrepreneur; The Economist; and other notable publications. She was named by Thrive Global as one of the "50 Most ProminentInfluencers," and was recognized by Inc Magazine amongst "America's Top Entrepreneurs" who are leading the "Most Inspiring Companies of 2018." Most recently, she was recognized by Real Leaders magazine among the world’s top 100 leaders who are applying capitalism for greater profit and a greater good.
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When I joined the Supergirls Club team to head up editorial, I knew I would eventually feature Rania Hoteit. A warm, exuberant character I met at a tech startup party in San Francisco, she was the embodiment of the successful female leader I think we've all dreamed of becoming at one point or another: unabashedly feminine and impeccably dressed, yet confident, approachable, and whip smart. In this interview, I want to invite you to imagine a different way of moving through the world, of viewing your place in it, and of what you can or can't do.
Sophie: What does wellness mean to you? Do you have any self-care rituals? How has it supported your achievements?
RH: There isn’t one definitive meaning but, to me, wellness is a holistic approach for creating balanced states across interrelated dimensions that are equally vital to reaching an optimal level of wellbeing. Since wellness is a conscious and evolving process of optimization, it takes a constant repetition of implementing practices, habits, and activities that support one’s evolutionary process and provide the self-care, awareness, and respect that our bodies, minds, and souls need in order to achieve our ultimate state of balance and highest potential. Being an entrepreneur adds a whole set of challenges to making yourself a priority. For the longest time, I forgot to take care of myself in the thick of juggling multiple jobs, academic degrees, building companies, and dedicating my energy towards fulfilling the demands of my enormous responsibilities. Over time, I became more aware of how crucial it is to make changes towards a more fulfilling quality of life to ensure that I can subdue stress and sustain a state of complete physical, mental, emotional and social well-being.
There are different self-care rituals that I incorporate in my daily routines. My intellectual wellbeing tops my priorities. I extensively read, write, and participate in educational and cultural activities to keep expanding my knowledge. Spiritually, I make sure to check in with myself regularly and assess my reality to stay aligned with my vision and connected to my purpose. I meditate in the morning then again before I sleep to recalibrate myself. Meditation allows me to keep a clear mind, be still in the chaos, manage my emotions, and control my stress levels at all times. I also maintain a minimalist lifestyle when it comes to my surrounding environment and belongings, which helps me to feel peaceful, organized and grounded. Given that I am constantly traveling and working long hours, it’s important to me to move my body and eat wholesome foods. I practice dance, yoga, pilates, and HIIT exercises four to five times a week, and follow a healthy diet. Socially, I make sure that I am only investing in the right people, nurturing encouraging relationships, and developing networks that are constructive at all levels whether in life or in business. It’s a continuous process of growth that’s been extremely supportive to achieving my goals and thriving in everything that I do.
Sophie: You’ve had such a fascinating career path. Did you have an inclination towards leadership from a young age that influenced where you are today?
RH: Since I was a little girl, I had a strong, independent, and determined character. Although my family recall that signs appeared earlier, my inclination towards leadership began surfacing around the age of seven as far as I remember. During that period, violence was at its peak in Beirut due to the Lebanese civil war, and our lives were under constant threat. We fled from city to city, and from country to country, until the war officially ended. Being out of school and displaced for months on end allowed me an unusual kind of freedom to tap into my innate gifts, and to grow at many levels amid the tragic experiences I was going through as a child. I discovered my tendencies to take risks, initiate actions, organize plans, uplift those around me and inspire other children to follow my lead through different activities. It was then that I became aware of my ability to influence others and impact my surroundings wherever we had to be.
Between the ages of nine and 12, my intellectual drive became more prominent, and my passion for connecting ideas and people together grew fonder. Throughout my teenage years, I would spend my free time nurturing my artistic talents, building networks, writing my own essays and poems, and reading all kinds of books from astrophysics to philosophy, politics, psychology, literature, technology and other topics aside from my school’s curriculum. Additionally, I took the lead in social groups and civil activities and participated in debates where I’d share my values, principles, and views on different controversial issues that reflected my genuine desire to break traditions, revolutionize society, think creatively, and make a positive impact in the world. Having the courage to stand in my autonomous identity and the confidence to share my own voice and unique perspectives on various aspects of life differentiated me from others around, while my sociability allowed me to easily connect with people, build trust, inspire and mobilize them around complex ideas and activities.
Around the age of 16, my eagerness to work and make my own money emerged strongly. Over the following two years prior to immigrating to the United States, I started taking side jobs after school until I figured out how to independently buy and sell products door-to-door to consumers. Knocking on doors taught me invaluable lessons that undoubtedly helped me to build successful startups later on. It was the best sales and psychology education I could have acquired. As I look back and connect the dots, these phases were the building blocks that influenced my trajectory in life and set me on the path of becoming who I am today.
Sophie: You founded your first company, Anoxic Labs, while getting your Bachelor’s at Art Center College of Design in Pasadena, CA. What motivated you to do that? What challenges did you have to overcome? Would you recommend students start a business while in college?
RH: Although it was a clear calling all along that I was born to lead and destined to be an entrepreneur, I didn’t come into the full realization until I started going to college. Since I had no financial support, I was struggling between multiple jobs and working prolonged hours to sustain myself, all while attending full-time an overly demanding degree in one of the most competitive design colleges in the world. I also had to bear the pressures of taking student loans, chasing scholarships, and saving money to cover my tuition. It was a defining moment when I decided to follow the calling of my entrepreneurial spirit and launched my first startup. However the circumstances were extremely inconvenient all around, they were also my biggest motivation. My urge to carve my own path was stronger than ever despite the obvious limitations and high risks. We started the business investing all my savings from work and a small financial contribution from my business partner back then. It was a very humble beginning and a major learning curve.
Aside from dealing with financial insecurity, breaking through external barriers, and juggling responsibilities, there were other major challenges brought by the lack of guidance. Given that I didn’t go to school to study business nor did I have mentors, I had to dedicate the time to teach myself everything about running a business from scratch, and to acquire the necessary expertise at an expedited pace all on my own. Despite the uncertainties, I stayed firm in my self-affirmation. The real promise of a remarkable adventure lay in an unshakable belief in myself and my openness to new possibilities for success. There was a tremendous sense of independence, leadership and initiative force within me that was propelling me forward with the ultimate vision of reaching my goals, adding value, and creating a positive impact in this world. Eventually, I built and sold two companies successfully prior to founding ID4A Technologies — all while completing my degrees. But at the core of overcoming all obstacles was my resilience and determination to succeed. There were no shortcuts. I had to work hard to claim my success.
The majority of students don’t realize how critical it is to start building their careers before graduating, and how empowering it is to acquire real-world education outside the classroom. From my experience, of course, there are pros and cons for starting a business while in college. However, I definitely recommend it to other aspiring entrepreneurs. It’s surely the hardest and most challenging journey at every level; yet it’s the most valuable and rewarding experience you can ever have that will put you on the fast track to leadership opportunities. Nothing can accelerate your growth the way building a company does.
Sophie: You mentioned resilience being at the core of overcoming obstacles to achieve success. How can we build and strengthen this quality? What does it mean for great leadership?
RH: Resilience is the ability to bounce back from adversity, adapt to new conditions, and transform quickly in response to change whenever it occurs. We are complex beings who live in a complex ecosystem that is constantly evolving. All of us at certain points of our lives experience difficulties, challenges, and even tragedies. Whether we bounce back or fall apart, it’s the strength of our character that makes the difference. Furthermore, understanding the interactions and dynamics that exist between us, this system, and the several connections that are simultaneously occurring on different levels can help us direct our actions effectively in the face of disturbances and change. That said, it’s crucial to master resiliency within ourselves and in relation to the world around us, including accepting unpredictability and uncertainty, and acknowledging a multitude of perspectives.
In brief, there are four critical dimensions to building and strengthening this quality:
1. Insight, or self-awareness: Understanding who you are, how you feel, and why you do what you do will set you on the right path towards mastering yourself. Make sure you invest time and effort in learning and applying self-development techniques that can help you raise your awareness, including self-care practices, physical exercise, meditation to regain focus, listening to calming music, reading personal development books, hiring specialized coaches or therapists, or writing in journals, etc.
2. Mastery: Once your self-awareness is heightened, you recognize where you are emotionally and mentally at all times, you identify where you need to be quickly, and you know what particular actions you need to take in short skillful executions that can move you to where you need to be, whether that is solving a particular problem, having a difficult conversation with someone, facing a challenging situation, managing an important business meeting, and so on.
3. Empathy, or social awareness: When you are self-aware and have mastered yourself, then you become able to direct your attention towards how others are feeling and what state they are in. Empathy is the ability to attune yourself to others, their facial expressions, voice tonality, body language, and the words they use so you can understand where exactly they are and direct yourself and lead this dynamic accordingly. You need to ask yourself if you can see what others feel when you step into a conversation, or if you can identify when your team members are confused, struggling, or inspired and on top of their game. It is one of the hardest skills and it requires a lot of energy to develop.
4. Influence: Once you understand others for exactly who they are and how they feel, you can connect with them. That’s when powerful conversations can be instigated and where transformative actions lead to positive impact. No one can be effective in leading others without establishing a significant yet healthy level of influence. When we talk about what resilience means to leadership, great leaders must be able to provide three things: direction, support, and autonomy. This means that, first, leaders should have a clear vision, see where they’re headed, and inspire others to believe that it can be achieved. People will only follow your lead if they trust in your vision and your ability to direct them. Secondly, leaders must be able to organize support systems that enable their people to do their jobs efficiently. And lastly, they must have confidence that their people can perform autonomously and achieve goals using their skills as inspired individuals. Now, if you’re not performing at your peak of self mastery, where you are a fully self-aware, energized, emotionally, engaged, and mentally strong leader, it will be hard to set a vision for the future, and so much harder to make others believe it. Also, if you don’t have energy for others, you won’t be able to provide direction, support, or autonomy. In other words, when your resilience fails, your leadership fails. Hence resilience is a foundation for great leadership.
Sophie: How about women’s leadership? Do you think that they lead differently than men? Why do women need to create their own lanes and step into leadership roles more?
RH: There are no gender or biological differences that predispose women to lead differently than men, but surely there are distinct behaviors that set them apart. Statistics from studies on men and women’s investment behaviors, for example, show that men are generally more confident about investing, while women are more goal-directed. This also explains why women leaders are more likely to drive results. Also, other behaviors that women exhibit such as collaboration, conviction, inclusiveness, creativity, and mentorship take on a new significance and power in today’s world that will move us forward in the coming years.
Women need to create their lanes and step into leadership roles more because it is simply their responsibility to claim their own powers, to advocate for themselves, to actively participate in creating their own opportunities, and to claim their share within the global economy to restore the balance that has been long lost with sexism, gender gaps, and disparities across the board. Nothing can stop a woman who knows her self-worth and who has the ambition to reach higher levels of achievements, the willpower to carve her own path, and the determination to succeed. Throughout history, there have been many powerful women who have been renowned, not only as fearsome fighters, but also as cunning strategists and inspirational leaders who led nations and guided armies into wars. There were others who made a name for themselves in fields traditionally held by men, and whose stories continue to be told. Unfortunately, our societies have been infested with many biases and toxic beliefs that altered women’s self-perceptions and disconnected them from their authentic powers over the centuries that they forgot how powerful they can be. Women’s leadership is so important for ensuring that more women are in positions where they have the authority to decide and negotiate on issues that affect them. Today, women are an emerging force for leadership, but we need to encourage their participation and invest in the development of a critical mass of rising women leaders because this means prosperity that can have a potentially exponential reach to all of us globally.
About the author:
Anne-Sophie Bousset ("Sophie" to English-speaking friends), is a freelance marketer and community builder. She helps companies build their brand, attract clients, and build a community around their product. Her favorite things include sunshine, yoga, reading, and lazy Sundays in with her cat, Phelps. She can be found on Twitter @Sophie_Bousset.