I have always found the question, “What do you do?” hard to answer. It’s never a one line response. Take right now, for instance. I’m writing this during the week of the Dubai International Film Festival and I’ve just returned from a meeting in Abu Dhabi to discuss bringing in an $80 million franchise film project. I’m leaving the opening of a new movie, still in total awe of the performance given by nine-year-old actor Jacob Tremblay. My phone is ringing non-stop. On one line, I’ve got boxer Floyd Mayweather calling from Italy, wanting to come see Dubai for a few days, and on the other line, I’ve got the biggest director and producer of virtual reality at RYOT Films, who is flying in from Los Angeles to speak at the film festival. I take these calls en route to an event showcasing Vianel New York, a brand I also represent. All the while, I’m mentally reworking my cycling schedule at the new Meydan track so that I don’t have to miss Arabic class, which meets four times a week.
This is my everyday reality. But there was a time when all of this would have seemed like a dream. It has been a long, thrilling journey between my first trip to Dubai and now, where the city has not only become my home, but an integral part of both my life and work.
The first time I ever heard of Dubai was in 2005, I was 20 years old and working in Los Angeles as an assistant producer for Avi Lerner, chairman of one of the top movie studios in the world. We received a call about premiering our movie Edison, featuring Kevin Spacey, Morgan Freeman and Justin Timberlake, at the very first Dubai International Film Festival. I still remember Googling images of Dubai (to make sure I was spelling it right). To me, it seemed like a magical place with so much possibility. I convinced my boss that this was a project we needed to go for, and he gave me the green light to take the reins. I was thrilled. The next few weeks were spent in total exhilaration as I busily coordinated every single last detail of our trip. My bags were packed and I was flying Emirates Airline for the first time. Not only that, but I would be travelling alongside Morgan Freeman, the director and my boss to represent the film. As if that weren’t enough, a few hours before the flight, my boss called to tell me he couldn’t make it, and that I was in charge. I can’t tell you how nervous I was, but at the same time, how excited I was to step up to the plate.
The next 10 days felt completely surreal. We stayed at Al Qasr, a breathtaking, palatial property just off the coast of Jumeirah beach. It’s a memory that I still hold dear to this day. I was so fascinated by both the people and the culture and quickly became enamoured with everything Dubai had to offer. I kept thinking about how much growth and opportunity there was. I couldn’t help feeling that someday, I would love to live here. But there were still a few turns in my career before this daydream would become a reality.
A year later, I was offered the opportunity to work for Steve Wynn, chairman of Wynn Resorts in Las Vegas. I took over the position of a woman who had been with him for 31 years, with the responsibility of building hotels such as the Golden Nugget, Bellagio, The Mirage, Treasure Island, Wynn and Encore. I vividly remember walking into my new office for the first time. My heart jumped into my throat. The walls were ensconced in works by Picasso, Rembrandt and Turner. Above my desk hung a Matisse worth well over $30m. Needless to say, the pressure was on. I was nervous to say the least, but very ready to rise to the occasion. And rise, I did, year after year.
I still refer to the years I spent working with Steve Wynn as my ‘free Harvard tuition’. It was the best business education I could have received, and I still consider him to be one of my greatest mentors. Not only did I learn about the business of hospitality, but also about real estate, private equity and negotiation. Every word that came out of his mouth was valuable. I used to keep scraps of paper and notebooks everywhere and I would write down everything he said. This is how I came to understand the strategies and mindset required to get deals done, and how to do them well.
After turning down a direct job offer from Donald Trump (whom I met while working with Mr Wynn), I went on to work for Sam Nazarian, a man I greatly respected for his ambition and vision, and who was creating the new SLS Hotel in Beverly Hills. It was around this time that one of my best friends, Kim, was in the process of starting her new reality show, Keeping Up with the Kardashians. We had been inseparable for years, and outside of our friendship I had always admired her work ethic. We figured that since we were always together, why not also do business together?
I came on board to work on Keeping Up with the Kardashians as well as on another show on E! called Spin Crowd. The work came easily to me – partly because of my experience working with Avi Lerner, and partly because, as I came to realise, I had a natural talent for identifying opportunities and connecting the right people. Whether you are producing television or film, a lot of what you do boils down to having the ability to align the right people and find the synergy to create something spectacular.
No matter what job I have had or where I have been, this is something that I have always done. I see opportunity in its raw form, and I make it happen. It’s a simple strategy that is incredibly effective. It’s something that I continue to do in my current work at my own firm, CDB Advisory. I always trust my intuition, including turning what was once just a daydream of living in Dubai into a reality. My advisory firm and I are thriving in a city that is flourishing. I’ve taken a talent for negotiation, connecting the dots, a strong work ethic, and a level of ambition that is only superseded by passion, and turned it into a career. Every day is different for me. But whether I’m working on a major motion picture, negotiating multi-million deals, or showing an ambassador or celebrity the Dubai that I now know so well, I am doing what I love.
So back to that ever-so cryptic question, “What do you do?” I suppose my short answer would be, “I do what I love, and I do it well.”