"Pioneering the Confident Life"
Olfa Zorgati - Energetic | Intellectually Curious | Revolutionary
Angel Investor at Remix Coworking, Board Member at Code for Fun, Confiance,
Amplifier Strategies, Mother
London, United Kingdom | 41 years old
“You have to believe in yourself or no one will.”
Olfa Zorgati grew up in the subtropical Mediterranean climate of Tunisia, enveloped in the warm embrace of a large dynamic family. With siblings, grandparents, aunts, uncles and nearly 40 cousins all living nearby, her childhood was filled with many fond memories of parties revolving around good food, family, and friends.
"… relationships are the unique key to happiness.”,and her parents knew this well. They had a large social network and their home was always full of the energetic bustle of visitors. Olfa went to the Arabic public school; her mother was a successful English teacher at the University, and her father was a dedicated High Official (incl. Minister of Finance) passionate in making Tunisia strong. She was surrounded by amazing women, including her cherished grandma, Ma Hallouma.
“They have been the most inspirational part of my life.”Tunisia is an exception in the Arabic world. Women benefit from equal status to men, so they are very educated, and occupy high level positions. Since the Arab Spring, and despite the political instability and rise of Islamism and conservatism, Olfa continues to be very positive and believes in the benefits of democracy.
“I grew up in Tunisia, I love Tunisia and I still go there often.”Describing her recent trip in December you get a feel for her commitment to her homeland,
“I met with incredible entrepreneurs and political leaders, we have a lot of educated people including engineers in Tunisia and we need to better connect them to the Tech Global Ecosystem to greatly benefit from the new opportunities the digital world offers.”
She also plans to attend The Global Women’s Summit this year with the Tunisian delegation to be sure that the rights Tunisian women have gained don’t slip away, and she struggles to keep the momentum building for the further empowerment of women in politics and the workplace.
Olfa is beautifully animated. Her chocolate hair and sparkling eyes are intoxicating, and a perfect compliment to an energy that borders on superhuman. Her rich accent rolls across the English language in a rapid fire melody as she unravels the story of her life.
“It was by accident that I went to Paris.”
Her father was in a tragic car accident during her last year in high school, and he was medically evacuated by helicopter to the best hospital in France. He needed months of specialized care and the doctors said he would never walk again, but with the tenacious spirit that he has passed down to his daughter, he proved them wrong. In the interim of her father getting back on his feet, Olfa was enrolled in a Parisian school to finish out her senior year. She was top of her class in Tunisia and transferred easily into the French system. When the school year came to an end, Olfa was eager to return to her homeland but fate had a different future in mind.
“All of my French teachers wanted me to stay in the French education system, and my parents insisted on it, even though I was very against it, and wanted to go back to Tunisia.”
She stayed in Paris and enrolled in the best business school in France, HEC.
“I didn’t initially love Paris. I was used to lots of sunshine and Paris seemed very grey.”
Learning to adapt to a whole new culture had its hiccups. In Tunisia people feel honored when you show up at their house uninvited, as it means that you feel very comfortable and welcome, it is also a demonstration of fondness for another.
“It is the Tunisian way, but not in France. I had some misadventures.”
But Paris soon captured her heart and so did a fellow student at HEC. The two just celebrated 20 years together, and the bond with their university friends remains so fresh and strong that they all travelled to London to join in the celebration.
Upon graduation, Olfa began a career in mergers and acquisitions. She went to Hong Kong as a trainee, and was sent to Beijing, Thailand, New York, and back to Paris. It was at this time that she,
“...started awakening to other places in the world.”
Once back in Paris she went to work with the Vivendi Group. It was an exciting time of growth, and Olfa was learning a lot of different aspects of running a large corporate company and advancing quickly. Her upward momentum was unstoppable. While contemplating an amazing job offer, she discovered that she was pregnant with her third child. Olfa decided it wasn’t the best time to start a new challenging job, as she already wasn’t seeing her two children as much as she would like and wanted to take the time to be with her family and ‘...relax’.
Not accustomed to a homemaker lifestyle, she enrolled in some art history classes to keep herself entertained.
“I had a few months waiting for the baby to arrive. Being a Frenchman, my husband is very educated in art, and I thought it would be nice to share some of this knowledge with him.”
She loved it, and ended up completing a three-year degree in a year and a half. She now holds a Masters degree from the IESA (Institut des Etudes Superieures d’Art) in Art and Furniture History.
“I thought I would relax, but I couldn’t help myself, I worked a lot.”
Olfa worked in galleries and auction houses; it was such a departure from the world of finance that her world was expanding yet again. The people in the art community operate from a core of passion, which is exciting, but can be frustrating when you come from the corporate world. Artists tend to be solitary, private, and move at a different pace than the world of business.
“I am very impatient! Everything in the art world takes time.”
Art & Furniture remains a beloved hobby for Olfa, but she prefers the fast paced world of high finance.
The transition back to the corporate world was extremely difficult. While Olfa was eager and ready to dive back into the world of finance, the finance world wasn’t so sure, and this was a harsh realization for Olfa. Her break in being a CFO to have a baby and pursue a passion in the art world didn’t bode well for her chances of getting back into the executive corporate position she desired. Even with her stellar background and track record, when she would sit down at a high level interview, the man behind the desk would ask, “Oh, are you sure? Is your husband okay with you going back to work?” Olfa was stunned.
“I discovered how hard it is for women to get back into the corporate world once they have kids, not because they wouldn’t do an amazing job, but because there is a stigma attached to taking a break in the field.”
The realization that they were afraid her priorities were elsewhere, and the outside perception that she wouldn’t be able to perform as well as a man, only doubled her resolve.
“I never thought about the differences between men and women in the workplace before. My career was skyrocketing, I was making the same money as my husband.”
However, after three kids and a two-year break to explore art history Olfa was experiencing the discrimination she had only heard about.
“I was very frustrated because I realized that as a woman you need to have twice the energy as a man to be offered the same opportunity, even if you are similarly skilled.”
Fortunately, Olfa has that energy. She plowed past the naysayers that insisted “It was too late.” They had forgotten the simple truth that the more experiences you have, the more you will have to bring to the table.
“Now, I am very interested in finding ways to educate the world that there can be different paths in the corporate world, and that these paths are important for company growth. Women are a very important part of driving the economy, and shaping our future as CEOs, CFOs, entrepreneurs, and mothers."
Olfa persevered and found a rewarding job as a CFO for Ventadis, a collection of acquired companies in Ecommerce, TV shopping, and retail space within the Bertelsman/M6 Group. It was exactly what she was looking for, and it was what everyone told her she would never be able to get. Olfa enjoyed many years in this position and was back on the radar in the corporate world. She was being solicited by a number of large companies that wanted to steal her away. And then, her husband announced that it was the perfect time for him to go international with his business, and Olfa quickly responded,
“But, it isn’t a good time for me!”
She had just made it back on top and would have to start over again. With a sigh, and a tinge of excitement for the challenge that new beginnings bring, Olfa left Paris, and followed her husband to the Silicon Valley in California. Ironically, during this time they were featured in a bestselling book on the impossible dual career between women and men. The end of the book left a question mark,
“...will they make it?”
It is a testimony of strength, not weakness, to support your soulmate in following their dreams, and Olfa was confident that she could build a career wherever she was.
"It was incredibly hard, because in San Francisco no one knows about your school in Paris, or the big companies that you worked with. You are starting over. And the three main industries are start-ups, engineering, and tech.”
Olfa was back to square one with people telling her she would never be a CFO because she hadn’t worked in the U.S., and didn’t know U.S. regulations, or know about startups.
“It was a nightmare.”
But again, they were no match for Olfa and her fierce determination. She started as a consultant, and climbed to the CFO and COO positions at VentureBeat, proving that while it may be difficult, nothing is impossible.
“But Tunisia is far from the Silicon Valley and a lot was happening over there after the Arab Spring.”
Olfa also missed the art lifestyle, where everyone is talking about the new exhibition and going to art shows and museums. She speaks fondly of the Silicon Valley and the
‘...positive, can do attitude’
that everyone seems to have.
“I loved the spirit, the mindset, and how people valued work, and supported innovation.”
While Silicon Valley was an amazing life experience for her family, she thought it was time to give her three children, now 8, 10, and 12 years old, a different perspective closer to their Tunisian and French families. And so they moved to London, where her husband was able to transfer within the same group he was working with in California. Once again, Olfa is reinventing herself.
“I love big cities and London is very cosmopolitan."She is taking the time to build her community,
“...you need to be surrounded with friends, because relationships are the most important thing in life.”
When you come from a family with 40 cousins living nearby, you need a lot of people to fill the void of their absence. London is the perfect meld of positive anglo-saxon mindset, strong economy, and cultural diversity, plus it is a short hop to France or Tunisia. In true Olfa form, she is not idle during this time of transition. She is still supporting three very successful and exciting startup companies, offering advice, expertise, fundraising strategies, and much more as an Angel Investor and Board Member.
“I still have a lot of ambitions for making an impact with women’s rights for my country."
Now more than ever, Olfa is passionate about empowering women.
“We can be our own worst enemy. We are the only ones that decide what we can and cannot do. We have to believe in ourselves, and we have to support one another.”
Olfa has just arrived in London, and she doesn’t have a job there yet, but she says,
“I know I will find an amazing job. And I will. Even if it isn’t the reality, I have to be that sure, because if I am not, who will be?”
She is looking for a large digital company with an entrepreneurial mindset.
“I love to do something different and not the same thing every time.”
Olfa’s strong will, energy, and perseverance continue to see her through each new change and challenge. She advises me,
“You always must be confident and shoot for the moon.”
But, what about Olfa the woman? Well, she loves an adventure, one of her fondest memories is an African Safari she took with her husband on their honeymoon.
“We were by ourselves watching a lion hunting for hours, it was quite dangerous, and we had to be very quiet. It was an amazing experience, the smell, the tension... it is a very wild place, and we were seeing how life is very raw.”
She reads biographies and history. Her favorite author is Simone de Beauvoir, a French writer who spent her life examining and writing about the intricate relationships between people.
“Life is about relationships.”, Olfa insists. She is interested in people, in making connections, and in creating one large extended family, so much like the one she left behind in Tunisia. “I’m very curious and I appreciate and love being in an environment that has multi-interests.”
She also loves helping her friends who try to change the world with simple concepts, and Anya with Les Lunes is one of them,
“Clothes where we not only look beautiful, but feel so good... that is revolutionary.”
What’s next? To be a part of the new world technology. It is enabling humanity to build a better place for everyone,
“...more connected and truly global.”
If we can be sure of anything, it is that she will succeed, just as she has so many times before.
"When I think of Olfa, I think of strength and happiness. She has a brilliant communicative smile that fills any place she enters with amazing energy. She was my inspiration for the Gambetta dress, a perfect balance of strength and feminine accents, with a wink of her smile. I tailored a ruched flattering bottom that embraces the body, and the lace collar is a reminder of the softness and kindness that flies over her strength".
Mélanie Viallon, Creative Director.