‘I’ve lived my life as a journey, never afraid to jump on an opportunity to grow as a person’
More than 400 years ago, Sir Francis Bacon expressed the maxim, “knowledge is power.” He had no idea how apt a mantra that would be today, especially in the fiercely competitive and highly complex world of business.
Roula Zaarour, MBA 98, knows how true it is. In March 2022, she was named managing director for the Americas and board member at Dialectica, a rapidly growing firm forging a path through the thickets of primary market research. From her office in downtown Montreal, Zaarour leads the company’s Americas operations as it scales its business across its current locations and expands into new cities. The company currently employs more than 800 people at its offices in Europe and Americas.
“The market research industry is huge — it tops $80 billion,” says Zaarour. “Most of the projects we get are due-diligence projects — we provide companies with unique real-time insights to make informed decisions.”
Opportunities for development and growth
The bulk of Dialectica’s clients are leading consulting firms looking to recommend investment opportunities to their own clients, or private-equity clients looking to make investments themselves.
“Each day is different at Dialectica,” says Zaarour, a graduate of Concordia’s MBA program. “One day we could be providing a private equity firm with insights on the sub-Saharan African telecommunications market, while the next day working with a strategy consultancy looking into the growth outlook for solar energy in Latin America."
As business grows ever more multi-faceted and interconnected, knowledge — about one’s competitors, the potential for growth in a market or the targets of a possible acquisition or merger — isn’t just power, it’s indispensable power.
“Everyone wants to make informed decisions fast,” Zaarour says.
And, of course, no one wants to miss the big one that got away or make a mistake that could cost millions. Dialectica is investing heavily in its proprietary technology and data assets. With more than 60 professionals, its tech team is working towards building “the most trusted and unmatched knowledge-sharing platform in the world,” says Zaarour.
She adds that she’s proud to be part of an expanding team. “What I love about this place is how much we invest in people and provide development and growth opportunities,” she adds. Zaarour believes that investment should go hand-in-hand with fast business growth in order to create a solid foundation. Her diverse experience and exposure to different cultures and environments continue to serve her well in her role as Dialectica’s reach increases.
“I’ve lived my life as a journey, never afraid to jump on an exciting opportunity to grow as a person,” says Zaarour, now a mother to a six-year-old daughter. “But being a single mom has been the most challenging and enriching part of this journey. I am learning something from her every day. To be a good parent, one needs to look inward first. I’m constantly growing with her and for her.”
Those reflexes extend to her employees, where she revels in the successes of people she has nurtured. “Seeing them flourish is the most rewarding thing,” she says.
‘I knew exactly what I wanted to do’
In her first job as a programmer with the National Hockey League, Zaarour was a fish out of water. She knew nothing about hockey and after couple of years, she realized that coding and building information systems was not what she wanted to do for the rest of her life.
When tech work left her unfulfilled, she pursued an MBA at the John Molson School of Business. The program pointed her in the right directions, she says. “I went in there not knowing what I wanted to do with my life. It opened my eyes to the business world, and I loved the international side. It showed me my passion. By the last semester, I knew exactly what I wanted to do.”
Zaarour then landed a dream job at Air Canada, working in the corporate strategy department, growing Air Canada’s international presence through alliances and partnerships. Her next move was to Brazil for a senior advisor role in aviation-related investments at a private equity, before working as vice-president of business transformation at Aerolineas Argentinas.
In 2011, CBC/Radio-Canada recruited Zaarour to serve as the network’s vice-president of people and culture, leading the human resources and labour relations components of the corporation during a major restructuring phase while building a five-year strategic plan to adapt to an evolving digital sphere. She stayed until 2015, taking a year off from work following the birth of her daughter.
Now, leading a team that enables business growth and the expansion of products and accounts, Zaarour has found her path balancing that business drive with a nurturing mindset she loves.