Exclusive interview: Maha Daoudi

10 April 2018
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In the wake of International Women’s Day and amid much public discussion of gender equality in the workplace, we reached out to veteran metals market leader Maha Daoudi to get her views on the workplace and the industry

Human Capital (HC): Have you seen the approach to women in the metals industry change over the course of your career?

Maha Daoudi (MD): From my 20 years’ experience in the metals industry, I do not think that there is an intentional hindrance to the inclusion of women – I believe that it is more the nature of the work that leads to such gender inequality. Trading roles require staff to be available to the business almost 24 hours a day, seven days a week, to travel extensively and to make work their first and foremost priority. Modernising societies tend toward the equalisation of gender status and power within the family microcosm, but let’s be honest with ourselves – we are not there yet. Family roles are still largely gender-based, even in modern society – women continue to become pregnant and to have babies, and men do not. Women in general still tend to seek a work-life balance that allows them to successfully undertake both family and professional duties, even when they are career-orientated.

HC: Trafigura is well known for supporting equality among employees, but you were one of a small number of female global book leaders within the business. What do you feel were the main reasons for your being able to develop into that role and succeed in it?

MD: It takes a lot of passion for the business, a strong sense of accomplishment, everyday dedication, technical and interpersonal skills and hard work! Also, I would like to add that without the great support I have constantly received from my husband I would have never been able to succeed in the role. We don’t mention it enough, but it is certainly a key factor of success at work to be surrounded by the right people in private life.

HC: What do you see as the key barriers to the development of female talent in the physical commodities trading industry?

MD: Frankly speaking, I don’t see any specific barriers to the development of female talent in the industry. If women really want a career in the physical commodities trading industry, they can achieve it and I think that it is very much up to them. I think that the barriers are more evident when it comes to reaching C-level or Board-level roles. There is a sort of glass ceiling at that level, which probably reflects the fact that such decisions are still mainly in male hands. But this is not just applicable to the physical commodities trading industry – it remains a universal issue in the business world, with some countries trying to remedy the situation through measures including the implementation of gender quotas.

HC: We have noticed huge development in the technology space in commodity trading. Are there key developments that we should expect to see over the next few years?

MD: The digital disruption and fast technological development we are observing is a general trend across industries – it is not specific to commodities trading. I live in Zug, Switzerland and I can tell you that the discussions here are all about blockchain technology and how it will change our world in every respect.

To put things into perspective, the commodities trading industry is still very much behind in terms of technological development. I think that our industry will need to join the technology game. The first key reason for this is that market information is more widely and readily available (a trend supported by the growing necessity of greater market transparency), and commodities traders must stay ahead of this curve to find and maintain a competitive advantage. The second reason is the need to streamline costs in an environment marked by general margin compression.

I think that many other industries including electronic commerce, logistics, banking and intellectual property will tackle technological development more quickly, and that it will take time before we see major, widespread technological change in the commodities trading industry, because there is still an important cultural barrier to such change.

HC: We have recently seen a couple of well-known names in the industry being acquired by Chinese investors. Are there any other factors or trends that you see affecting global metal concentrates markets?

MD: Indeed, Chinese investors have recently been very active in buying international trading houses, which is not very surprising considering the preponderance of China in commodities purchasing, its need to secure more and more resources in the future and its willingness to further integrate downstream and create more value inland. It is very difficult for western companies to compete with Chinese investors, as the latter are cash-rich and typically put a much higher ‘strategic’ subjective value on the assets they are chasing that is miles away from the valuation metrics commonly used by western investors.

The other major trends affecting metal concentrates markets and the global metals industry can be summed up as follows: more transparency; more regulation; better availability of market information; and better-informed suppliers and consumers leading to less geographical and qualitative market inadequacies. These factors combined are certainly putting pressure on margins, and I believe that the winners will be the players that succeed in achieving bigger volumes, offering more (bespoke and creative) services and flexibility and reducing costs while demonstrating the ability to build strong strategic alliances and long-term relationships.

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