Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Friday, February 26, 2016

Behind powerful men are powerful women

It's rare to hear about a powerful Iranian woman. Here's a profile from Peter Waldman at Bloomberg Businessweek.

Thanks to Peter Whitehouse, who teaches at The Bolles School in the city of my birth (Jacksonville, FL).

The Woman Shaping Iran’s Oil Future
At Monsoon, a bistro in Tehran that serves sushi, Szechwan beef, and Gouda and calamari on whole wheat toast, the fusion cuisine is an act of defiance… The restaurant, with its rough concrete walls, red countertops, and statues of Hindu and Buddhist goddesses, looks more Manhattan than Islamic Republic. Seated at a corner table is Elham Hassanzadeh… Her dining companions are the middle-aged bosses of two large Iranian engineering and construction companies.

Elham Hassanzadeh
Raised in a pistachio-farming family in tradition-minded southern Iran, Hassanzadeh, 31, earned her law degree and Ph.D. in the U.K. … She has returned to Iran to head a consulting firm, Energy Pioneers, based in Tehran and London, that’s at the vanguard of Iran’s all-out push to lure back foreign investors after the expected lifting of sanctions in coming months… Lately she’s been commuting between Iran and Europe to speak at trade conferences and in meetings with Western oil executives, fund managers, bankers, and lawyers about her country’s reemergence.

Despite her age, she cultivated a wide network of industry players in Europe during her years at the Oxford Institute for Energy Studies…

Iran is ready to rebuild its energy industry. The West has been salivating since the July 2015 breakthrough on lifting the sanctions…

Hassanzadeh became fascinated with energy while earning her bachelor’s degree in law at Islamic Azad University in Tehran under Hassan Sedigh, one of Iran’s leading oil and gas attorneys… “People are really intrigued by her, especially in the West,” says Jonathan Stern, Hassanzadeh’s dissertation adviser and the founder and chairman of the Oxford Institute for Energy Studies’ natural gas research program. “A young Iranian woman with great English skills, an academic background, real-world experience, and a law degree isn’t like anything anyone’s ever seen before.”

In terms of shock value, it’s not only that Hassanzadeh is a woman in the largely male world of oil and gas. It’s what she says. To her Iranian clients… Hassanzadeh tells them they’re not ready… Iran needs technology, know-how, and good jobs…

For Western companies to make joint ventures with Iranian partners on more equal terms, Iran must first build an “investment infrastructure” of independent auditors, lawyers, consultants, and courts that foreigners can trust, Hassanzadeh says. This takes time and a societal commitment to the rule of law. As of now, Iran doesn’t even have a reliable credit reference system…

To potential Western investors, just as eager as Iranians to establish ties, she counsels patience… After her book came out, she gained foreigners’ respect for having a clear-eyed view of Iran’s problems, and for not simply trying to earn a quick commission as a middleman…

While graybeards in turbans generate most of the headlines, it’s the young who are driving Iran’s reengagement with the West. Two-thirds of the nation’s 78 million people are under 35; almost 60 percent of high school graduates attend college, roughly the same rate as in Britain and France. The demand for jobs and a sense of normalcy by this educated demographic bulge is the gravest long-term threat to the Islamic regime—and its greatest human asset, Hassanzadeh says…

Another point of tension: While women now make up more than 60 percent of the nation’s college students, they’re only 18 percent of its workforce. Education is cherished in Iran, but marriage and stay-at-home motherhood are pushed even harder, particularly by husbands…

“Ahmadinejad’s reelection was like a heart attack,” she says. “Everything collapsed, and everybody was suspecting each other. I said, ‘I’m leaving.’ ”

The timing was perfect. When Hassanzadeh finished her energy dissertation in 2013, Rouhani was assuming the presidency…

A lot of their work is assisting Iranian companies with preparing financial documents and feasibility studies that Western investors can trust and understand…

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