When Yara Anabtawi was a student at BYU, her insatiable curiosity and her love for a wide variety of subjects made choosing a major difficult.
Eventually, she decided to study information systems. “Information systems was a fairly nascent sector at the time,” she says. However, Anabtawi knew that the analytical, technical, and problem-solving skills she learned in the program would be invaluable in the ever-expanding world of business and would help her forge her own path forward.
Following her graduation from BYU Marriott in 1994, Anabtawi earned a master’s degree in business and systems management from the Florida Institute of Technology in 2007 and an executive certificate in international management from the Thunderbird School of Global Management at Arizona State University in 2010.
After moving back to her home country of Saudi Arabia, Anabtawi discovered a place in the world of business that piqued her interest: capital markets and their formation in emerging economies. She also recognized the viability of renewable energy and pursued a position at ACWA Power, a developer and operator of power generation and desalinated water production plants.
“I wanted to join this relatively young company and have a hand in making renewable energy accessible and commercially feasible,” says Anabtawi, who successfully landed a job at the company and is now the chief people, culture, and communications officer for ACWA Power. Her position brings her immense joy.
“I love driving business by nurturing a happy environment and an ecosystem where people are empowered and feel free to do their best,” she says. “I also communicate everyone’s accomplishments internally and externally, which brings feelings of immense pride to our organization.”
By pursuing two new sectors—capital markets and renewable energy—Anabtawi ventured into what she calls “unknown territories.” She has never shied away from moving out of her comfort zone and says that in many situations she was either the only woman or one of only a few women in the room. “I enjoy the challenge of going to new places. I am rarely deterred by windy paths, which has made me resilient and strong enough to face all types of challenges,” she says. “I try to steer the discussion from my gender to personal merit, which is how a person can truly make a difference.”
In addition to prioritizing personal merit, Anabtawi also cares about having personal integrity. “I want to sleep soundly at night, and for me that happens by acting with integrity and not letting myself doubt if my decisions were the ‘right’ thing to do,” she explains. Anabtawi holds herself accountable to her team members. She wants her coworkers to know that no matter what, she will not “compromise her integrity and will always stand up for what is right.”
Outside of work, Anabtawi volunteers with women empowerment initiatives and encourages women to venture outside what is comfortable. She works with Women Empowerment Global Outreach, a Salt Lake City–based nonprofit that she cofounded in 2010, where she focuses on encouraging, training, educating, and empowering disadvantaged women. She also mentors women.
“I especially enjoy challenging those I work with to break the glass ceiling that we often build for ourselves,” she says. “I frequently share in my discussions with other women that the challenges they face are not as insurmountable as they initially appear.”
Anabtawi’s curiosity, integrity, and personal merit have helped her overcome her own challenges and meet her goals throughout her career. “My values are integral to my decision making and have helped etch my life path,” she says. Anabtawi resides in Saudi Arabia with her husband, Wout. The couple has five children and one grandchild.