Ever set your intention on a significant and meaningful career change…only have your dreams taken down by naysayers? Huda Janahi crushed the opposition while overcoming some of the most formidable obstacles of our time—and if she can do it, so can you.
Welcome, Huda, and thanks for speaking with us. Could you please tell us a little bit about yourself?
I graduated from the University of Bahrain with a degree in accounting before pursuing banking studies at BIBF, where I graduated with honors. In 1990, I joined Reuters Middle East. During my time there, I worked as a professional in the financial sector, serving and supporting large financial institutions such as Citibank, GIB, ABC, CBB, MOF, and more.
In 2003, I decided to strike out in a different direction entirely, and began to follow my lifelong passion for all things equestrian. I opened Horse Pride Equestrian Equipment, the first business of its kind to be owned by a Bahraini woman. We sell a complete line of equestrian gear, accessories, feed, and supplements. Thirteen years later, Horse Pride has become an iconic name in the industry—both in Bahrain and across the GCC. Our products include everything for pleasure riding, show jumping, endurance, racing, Arabian conformation shows, dressage, and western equestrian sports.
WE TAKE OUR BUSINESS SERIOUSLY, AND I DO A LOT OF RESEARCH AND PLANNING PRIOR TO EXECUTING ANY PROJECT OUTSIDE OF BAHRAIN.
Would you mind telling us more about the export and production fields you’re into? What are you exporting from Bahrain?
We acquired a company from the U.S.A. two years ago that specializes in the manufacture of in-hand horseshow halters. We have transferred the knowledge and equipment to produce these halters here in Bahrain, under the company name First Choice. Most of our products are exported to the U.S., Europe, Australia, and the Middle East. We have also expanded this business to produce Arabian-style halters and saddles as well as endurance and racing bridles.
Do you think businesses in Bahrain lack the experience necessary to export their products and services outside of Bahrain?
It is not only experience that is required to produce any sort of product. It is exposure and availability of tools and raw materials. Sometimes, the idea is there, but it is difficult to acquire the necessary materials to execute the project. I believe this is the responsibility of the individual country’s commerce decision-makers: to encourage the import of specialized tools and raw materials in all fields. It is a cycle that everyone benefits from. I am convinced that what enables individuals and manufacturers in developed countries to produce and develop new products is the fact that raw materials and specialized tools are readily available in their markets.
Were you faced with any financial or non-financial challenges while setting up your business?
I have faced many challenges, especially during the financial crises of 2008-2009 and 2011-2012. I was lucky to already have branches outside Bahrain—in Qatar and Saudi Arabia—and this played a major role is covering losses during those times.
Were you faced with any gender-based challenges? We understand that women can sometimes face these types of hurdles.
When I first started the business back in 2004, I heard a number of people saying, “This lady will not sustain in this field for six months!” It is now 12 years later, and I am, with God’s will, expanding beyond Bahraini borders. I have plans to be present in all GCC countries. Yes, unfortunately—some people do hold negative stereotypes with regard to gender. However, I strongly believe that it is not about gender. It is about how much faith you have in yourself, and your own ambition and willingness to succeed.
Could you tell us more about how Tamkeen has supported you throughout your journey?
I have benefited from Tamkeen programs, and they did help me to overcome a number of challenges. A lot of people do not understand what Tamkeen can offer, and this is mainly due to a lack of information about their programs and goals. Tamkeen initiatives and support are unique. They can definitely make a difference for developing businesses and the country’s economy, if they are executed properly.
How did you manage to expand beyond Bahrain? Was that an easy decision to make?
Nothing is easy in business—but once you work hard toward your goal and have a clear and focused strategy, everything becomes possible. We take our business seriously, and I do a lot of research and planning prior to executing any project outside of Bahrain. I have had two very successful experiences: in Saudi Arabia and Qatar. I now have two branches in Saudi (Riyadh and Khobar) and one branch in Doha, in addition to the main branch in Bahrain.
What kind of effort does it require to manage several branches within the region?
First and foremost, a clear strategy and business plan; and secondly, robust departments of accounting and inventory. For these, you will require the right manpower and the right premises. I look at all of our branches as distribution arms. You need all it takes to manage a distribution business—just like any other business such as supermarkets, food chains, etc.
Where do you see your business heading in the future?
I am planning to expand further in the production and export business through our company, First Choice. Horse Pride will remain as our retail and distribution business. We intend to expand with further branches, mainly in Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, over the next two years.
CREATIVITY AND DIFFERENTIATION ARE THE KEY WORDS TO SUSTAIN A BUSINESS IN BAHRAIN, AND THIS IS A VERY DIFFICULT TASK.
What would you tell entrepreneurs who are aiming to expand their business abroad?
I highly encourage entrepreneurs to look at opportunities beyond the Bahraini market. Bahrain’s market is small, and it is congested with almost every business you can think of. Creativity and differentiation are the key words to sustain a business in Bahrain, and this is a very difficult task. There are still good opportunities in adjacent markets that we can benefit from. The GCC market will eventually become borderless; and starting now is certainly better than starting later.