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ABANA Honors Hutham Olayan

Hutham S. Olayan received the 2013 Annual Achievement Award from the Arab Bankers Association of North America (ABANA) on October 8 at a sold-out celebration in the Grand Ballroom of the Plaza Hotel in New York City.

Ms. Olayan, a principal, director, and senior executive of The Olayan Group, is a founding member of ABANA. She received this year’s honor on the occasion of that organization’s 30th anniversary.

Ms. Olayan was introduced by James Gorman, chairman and CEO of Morgan Stanley, on whose board of directors Ms. Olayan has served since late 2006.

“I have been fortunate to know Hutham in many capacities,” Gorman said, “observing her as an investor and business woman, reporting to her as one of my directors, seeing her play on the global stage as a true internationalist across a range of activities … She is regarded as savvy, very long term, very thoughtful, and very wise.”

Gorman called Ms. Olayan a “true trailblazer,” noting that she may very well have been the first Arab woman to become a director of a NYSE-listed company when she joined the board of Thermo Electron Corporation in 1987.

In her remarks on the occasion, Ms. Olayan noted that ABANA and The Olayan Group are part of a community of shared interests.

“The central idea behind ABANA is to build a professional bridge in the financial sector between the Arab world and North America -- and to strengthen it with each passing season,” Ms. Olayan said. “That mission is aligned with the The Olayan Group.  We have been building commercial, financial and investment bridges between East and West for 66 years.”

Ms. Olayan noted that ABANA’s membership has grown significantly, especially in recent years, despite marked consolidation in the banking industry.

She also drew attention to the organization’s strides toward gender parity.  “I am very gratified that the current membership has elected a board of directors that is 35% women,” she said. “This puts ABANA way beyond the norm -- not only in the Middle East, but also in the US and internationally.”

Ms. Olayan stressed The Olayan Group’s long history of investing in the financial sector, particularly banks but also insurance companies, payment processors, and new financial technology firms. “We have deep domain expertise in this sector,” she said.

Ms. Olayan described her experience as a director of a major Wall Street firm during the financial crisis of 2007-2008, the worst such crisis since the Great Depression. 

“The good news is that things are now on the mend,” Ms. Olayan said. "The aftermath of the crisis has seen a massive recalibration of risk and controls within the financial sector.  Every surviving financial institution is going through this … We are returning to a more sustainable path … Bit by bit, the world seems to be adapting to the so-called new normal.  So must we all. And so must our respective corporate cultures.”

Ms. Olayan said The Olayan Group, for example, has “a distinct corporate culture that has sustained it for nearly seven decades. It is by no means perfect. It is not for everyone, and it is still evolving. But it has served us well.”

She described five key features of this culture that have remained constant: moderation, discipline and simplicity, patience, entrepreneurship, and partnership.

For more information on the event, including the full text of Ms. Olayan's speech, please visit ABANA.