There are lots of opportunities and there is a lot to be done

Joman Salama is bringing a paradigm shift to the chief operating officer role at Alexbank, the Egyptian subsidiary of Intesa Sanpaolo

Rhiannon Edwards


Joman Salama joined Intesa Sanpaolo in May last year. She is chief operating officer and a member of the management committee in Alexbank, Intesa Sanpaolo’s Egyptian subsidiary. Originally from Egypt, she has a vast international experience that goes back to more than 40 years across the Middle East & Europe.


Tell us something about your working experiences so far

I have always worked for foreign and Arab private banks. Immediately before joining Intesa Sanpaolo, I worked for Barclays Egypt for around 10 years, where I gained exposure and access to UK and South African business, technology, governance, control and human-capital development plans. Before that I was with the Arab Banking Corporation for 11 years, with access to the Bahrain headquarters.

Previously, I was with National Bank of Kuwait for 23 years. I worked in technology relatively early which gave me an edge, especially as a woman because there were not many women in that field of speciality at the time. To start working in programs, applications, and systems development and design in 1972 was really something; it was different.

How has international experience helped you grow?

I spent almost 23 years outside of Egypt and I was mainly in Kuwait for that time. Being in Kuwait, I had lots of opportunities to travel to Europe, the US and other Arab countries.

During the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, the National Bank of Kuwait operated from the UK, and after liberation I spent a few months there, to share the knowledge around new opportunities and projects for data analytics. The National Bank of Kuwait was one of the leading banks in introducing technological changes in the Middle East.

In the early 1980s we implemented what would probably be the Middle East’s first data warehouse and in the 1990s we brought in paperless banking and workflow concepts in the corporate and retail credit approval process, after being re-engineered.

When I returned to Kuwait after liberation, the management team realised the importance of networked virtual banking; we needed to be prepared to operate from anywhere, so we introduced our Business Continuity Management and Disaster Recovery strategy and plans.

I believe that my success was down to a mix of being in the right place at the right time, with the right competencies, but also due to putting a lot of effort and hard work with the right passion and willingness to introduce change. It gave me the opportunity to show that women, when they are passionate, committed  and most importantly empowered, will surely deliver on success stories – even better than men!

Working internationally gave me a ‘charge’, so when I came back home, in 1997, it gave me a competitive edge in the Egyptian Market among the Egyptian Bankers. I remember at that time people were surprised of me, being a woman, having so much experience in the technological and process reengineering field – that could bring forward to the Egyptian market the innovative thinking of technology and process re-engineering, in one of Egypt’s most powerful and strategic sectors –banking.


“Women, when they are passionate, committed and most importantly empowered, will surly deliver on success stories”

Joman Salama

How does it feel to be an ambassador for Intesa Sanpaolo group?

ISP Group is a great institution to work in, and Alexbank has so many untapped areas with ample opportunities and great potential to grow. The business in our bank is quite advanced because our CEO and MD is a man of clear vision, mission, passion, and strong character who drives the bank strategy with great focus and determination.

I would also extend this to the management team who have shown great support since I joined the bank. On the other hand, when I look at the COO area of technology, operation, shared services, Project Management Office, Information Security, the backbone of the organisation, I see that there is a huge room for enhancements, optimisation, automation, digitisation, innovation, trimming of excess fat, cost reduction, and cultural change. A challenge I am taking with great pride and passion.

To cope with the growing business in Egypt, to cope with the demands of the market, the COO Team including me have to drive the COO functions through transformational and cultural change, however in a short period of time. This is where the real challenge is, but also very interesting and intriguing. I have to challenge myself to prove that, yes, together we can do it, and in a short period of time. I am a team player and truly believe in team work.


What do you like about Intesa Sanpaolo and its people?

I am impressed with such an international and diverse group and work environment in different markets where we can leverage on different capabilities across the group. We can use our international reach to get the most from our operations. Each market has its own flavour, strength, services and rules. It is important for us to be able to change our processes to optimise for this. Intesa Sanpaolo in Egypt is in a growing and emerging market and has ample space to grow, with new areas such as microfinance, SMEs and fintech.


Has the bank helped you progress in your career and the choices you’ve made? How?

Every market is different and gives you different experiences. I haven’t worked with Eastern Europe markets before and having this area in the Intesa Sanpaolo network – if we get the opportunity to exchange solutions and adapt different models – will help. This is in addition to the challenging cultural and transformational change that I’m currently managing and driving.


Where would you like to be in your career in five years?

I thought the furthest I could take myself was COO, but with every challenge I build confidence and think about how I can push myself further. Perhaps if I was given the right set-up I could become a member in a company / institution board, a managing director or a consultant at an advisory level. I can see that Egypt is a massively evolving market; the curve is picking up after the revolution of January 2011, especially during the last four years, setting the market back on track, less inflation rates, better growth rates, less budget deficit, major strategically economical projects, and more.

In fact, Intesa Sanpaolo has a significant role to play with the available opportunities, and with hard work, passion, drive, optimism, and people buy in, I see myself part of this interesting journey.

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