This CEO once had to Bring her 3-Month old Baby on-Site during Work

Michalis Solomontos
May 27 · 3 min read

“An ambitious nation like ours cannot achieve its goals by relying on its past achievements” — H.H. Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum

Omnia Halawani is the co-founder of the multidisciplinary consultancy Grfn and her journey personifies that statement. It involves patience, perseverance, and hard work and in exchange, it provides her with the kind of deep, soaring gratification of “doing it my way”.

We had the pleasure of listening to Omnia’s story, as she shared with us what it took to get Grfn to the top, and why she wouldn’t go back to change a single thing.

Why you can be anything

Omnia calls Dubai her “chosen home” and her eyes light up when she talks about the vision and potential of the city to become one of the best places to live. When she arrived 36 years ago with her parents, the place looked much different from what it has now evolved to. Perhaps, the emergence of a cosmopolitan, exuberant city out of a desert serves as a reminder to people like Omnia that they can do and be anything, as long as they work for it.

This is how Dubai looked like when Omnia arrived with her parents.

Nobody will do you any favors if you don’t deliver

Omnia Halawani trojan-horsed her way into the consulting world after founding Grfn with only 6 years of professional experience. It all started in 2012 when Omnia and her co-founder Hassan Younes, spotted a gap in the market. Since then Grfn flourished just like Dubai did.

Omnia and Hassan trimly navigated the construction business labyrinth initially focussing on energy efficiency. Their team slowly but surely built a track record of successful projects within the region before expanding further into engineering and sustainability.

Grfn has recently won one of CIBSE’s International Building Performance (BP) Awards — the only Middle East firm to do so — but Omnia’s journey to get there was far from sugar-coated. “Connections can only take you that far,” Omnia says, who despite her strong network and established connections, admits she had to persevere through many difficult moments (and a burnout) to prove herself by delivering her best work.

Energy audits with boots — and a baby — on the ground

Omnia’s first significant project was an energy audit for 300 Nakheel buildings. She grins proudly when she recalls pushing the cart with her 3-month old son while working onsite. Since then Grfn has changed a lot but Omnia’s attitude never changed. As the zen quote goes:

“Before success, chop wood, carry water. After success, chop wood, carry water”

It’s sometimes tempting to get caught up in the end result of our work, chasing goals and milestones, looking for future moments of fulfillment, but not Omnia. Seemingly, her biggest strength is that she’s fully invested in the process and seeks to manage her time so she can approach every client as if they were her first.

The scarcest asset in Construction

Omnia keeps an unchanging and powerful tone when talking about being a woman in construction — a scarce, pristine asset — asserting that competence trumps gender any day of the week. “People listen to you no matter who or what you are” says Omnia “so long as you have the technical knowhow and experience”.

Listen to Omnia’s story below: