Sarah Al-Suhaimi is no stranger to bucking the trend. At age 44, she has already managed billions of dollars in investment funds for the largest financial organizations in Saudi Arabia and become the first chairwoman of the Saudi stock exchange — the first woman in the Middle East to hold such a role.
Her success is a story of an all-star career in a country where the position of women in the workplace is constantly evolving.
Al-Suhaimi came from a banking family: her father, Jammaz Al-Suhaimi, was a president of Gulf Bank who also headed up Saudi Arabia’s Capital Markets Authority.
Sarah inherited the finance gene, and set out on a banking career of her own. She started out by studying accounting at King Saud University, before scoring a coveted place at Harvard Business School’s general management programme, where she graduated with top honors.
Back home in Saudi Arabia, she cut her teeth in the investment division of Samba Financial Group, the only woman in her department. In a 2021 interview, she explained how she had to fight her colleagues’ perception that she’d got the job because of her father’s connections, and was whiling away the time until she could find a husband. But her talent was noticed after she insisted on joining the bank’s training program, and she became a senior portfolio manager, handling investments of over US12 billion.
From there, she became the chief executive of NCB Capital, the Saudi National Commercial Bank’s investment arm, which merged with Samba in April 2021 to become the largest commercial bank in Saudi Arabia.
Then, in February 2017, the Saudi stock exchange announced that its board had elected Al-Suhaimi as its first-ever chairwoman. The Saudi Exchange, or Tadawul, was formally created in 2007 — but went from strength to strength under her leadership.
In 2017, Bloomberg included her in a list of 50 people to watch in 2018. In her listing, it noted that she would likely preside over the exchange where the world’s most valuable business was listed once the Saudi Arabian Oil Co joined. The forecast was on the money: when the company listed in December 2019, its value skyrocketed to US$1.9 trillion, making it the world’s most valuable listed company.
Today, she sits on the board of an impressive list of companies, including Saudi Airlines and Saudi Telecom.
Professors of business have noted her skill for developing relationships of trust with those around her, and she has proven remarkably nimble in navigating challenges ranging from slumping oil prices to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Given her own track record, she is passionate about fair play in the finance world, as she told Womenpreneur in late 2023.
“Diversity in leadership is not only a matter of fairness but also a driver of innovation and success,” she said.