By Reem Abouemera
“You must be joking! I’ve been at Microsoft for less than a year!”
This was the reaction of Mirna Arif ’02, ’07, country general manager at Microsoft Egypt, when she was informed of her promotion in early 2020, making her the first woman to head the company in Egypt.
“Of course, I was frightened, but it was also a dream come true — the dream of making a difference,” she said. “It’s always challenges and changes that provide the most exciting experiences.”
Early on, ever since she received her bachelor’s in computer science from AUC, Arif knew exactly what she dreamed of achieving. “I realized that what I want to do is make a difference, and that’s what has been motivating me ever since,” she explained. “I didn’t want a career with no impact because that would be just a job, so I chose a career that drives impact. I’ve been taking leaps of faith since then.”
From day one post-graduation, Arif has been striving to make an impact everywhere she goes, taking unconventional career strides in the hopes of accomplishing just that. From working in the oil and gas industry that she “knew nothing about” to holding a government role, she sought new experiences in the Middle East, Africa and Europe.
Today, she takes immense pride in her current position, especially that when she began, the COVID-19 pandemic started taking its toll on the economy, with institutions and organizations having to shift their operations remotely. “To businesses, we were the first responders of the digital world just like health care providers were for the society at large,” reflected Arif.
This is exactly the type of “tangible impact” she’s been seeking. “The reason this is one of the best roles I’ve held is because I’m doing it in Egypt. Nothing beats driving impact in your own country,” she said. “Technology is pivotal to Egypt’s economic reform, and the country has a great opportunity to not only recover but also leap forward.”
When it comes to leadership, Arif doesn’t consider herself a boss. “I’m a member of the team. I just have the role of the general manager,” she said. “While many managers prefer to lead right from the front line, I prefer to lead from within. It’s never my way or the highway. I believe in empathetic leadership with a growth mindset,” she explained.
Arif has always juggled multiple things at once, and that’s why she’s used to the challenges that come with a position as significant as hers. In fact, a couple of years after completing her undergraduate studies, she pursued an MBA in marketing and operations at AUC, graduating with a 4.0 GPA, while she held a full-time position and was pregnant with her first baby.
When asked how she does so many things at once, Arif shrugged, “I have no idea. I think when you’re passionate about something, you go the extra mile.”
But it’s not haphazard. To avoid getting overwhelmed, Arif relies on her planning skills. “I plan things to death,” she said, laughing. “It is like running a marathon. You have to prepare, pace yourself and make sure you are headed in the right direction. I always know where I want to go. I set small milestones to complete along the way, and this gives me a sense of accomplishment, confidence and perseverance to continue despite any challenges I may face.”
Arif’s kids are also key supporters in her journey. “When I see pride in my kids’ eyes, that’s when it’s all worth it for me,” she said.
With regard to her children, Arif has a unique take on work-life balance. “Everyone is always striving for work-life balance, but personally, I believe it’s really about managing the imbalance,” she said. “There will always be phases when my children will need me more than work will and other times when my professional commitments will need me to spend more time at work. It’s a matter of managing and accepting that it won’t always be a balance.”
However, Arif emphasized the importance of having a support network. That’s what encourages her to keep going. “I never shy away from help when I need it, and I believe that support is part of how you succeed,” she said.
As an AUC student, Arif made a deliberate effort to join as many student organizations, cocurricular activities and trips as possible and still graduated top of her class, earning the President’s Cup. “I miss that mix,” she said. “They were the best days of my life. AUC is an eye opener in many ways. For instance, diversity is now becoming a buzzword, but it’s been a core value at AUC since forever. To me, AUC is home. Whenever I hear about anything related to the University, I’m like a magnet attracted to it instantly. One of the reasons I did my MBA was to keep going to AUC.”
Offering advice to young aspiring women, Arif said, “Nothing should stop you. Don’t shy away, dream big and go for it.”