Middle East CEO of the Year Awards 2023

MEA | Middle East CEO of the Year Awards 2023 Situated in the port city of Jeddah, Paper Trails is Saudi Arabia’s first English indie bookstore and community hub. In 2022, the business was established by Founder and CEO Jawahir Mohammed, who strongly believes in the power of books and the importance of fostering a holistic community. Here, we speak to Jawahir to find out more about Paper Trails and its mission to inspire young people through the magic of storytelling. Having gained a bachelor’s degree in marketing and marketing management from Dar Al-Hekma University, Jawahir Mohammed began her career as a cluster marketing intern at prestigious hospitality company Hilton. As part of this, she was requested by the general manager of Waldorf Astoria to come up with a fullscale marketing campaign, utilising her skills and capabilities to achieve a number of set objectives for the brand and hotel. Despite the promising start to her career, Jawahir found herself unemployed during the Covid-19 pandemic, which began the year of her graduation. During this time, she was inspired by her love for reading to start her own book blog, titled “The Never-Ending Chronicles of Jawahir the Bookworm”, along with a corresponding TikTok account. Having previously been a member of her university’s book club, she was well-equipped to write reviews of various pieces of literature. She worked hard on this project until she began receiving Advanced Reading Copies from the publishers that paved the way for Paper Trails to exist, including well-known names like Penguin Random House. Later, Jawahir took on the role of Ecommerce and Marketing Manager at Eyra Design, before leaving the company to pursue her dream of establishing her own indie bookstore. Eventually, after months of hard work, she successfully launched Paper Trails. Through this new venture, she wanted to pay homage to paper books and traditional brick and mortar shops, whilst still creating a modern concept of what a bookstore can be. Her wish was for Paper Trails to not only sell English books that tell vibrant stories, but also offer a space where people can share their love of reading. Today, Paper Trails is a cool, friendly shop with all the charm of a quaint independent bookstore, providing its customers with a contemporary and elevated experience. It specialises in matching the right book with the right person, both through human recommendation and through the innovative Discovery Engine feature on its website. Using this tool, people answer questions in a quiz-like game to produce a curated list of personalised book recommendations. “As a mood reader myself, buying books and getting into reading again has been difficult when going through the traditional process of selecting books based on genre,” Jawahir explains. “I needed something that ticks off the rest of my needs, like music, film, art, and fashion. The work needs to speak to you on an emotional level too.” Furthermore, Paper Trails has recently introduced a B2B curation service to its offerings. In working with these clients, the shop’s process can be summarised in three simple steps. Firstly, it sits down with the client and engages in discussion with them about the core elements of the curation, taking into account space, holistic environment, and visual design. Then, using their respective analysis, Paper Trails curates a list of books for them. Once the list is approved, it then handles ordering and delivery, always ensuring a smooth process. This is where the service ends, but for those who are looking to enhance their collection, the shop offers a range of additional services, catered to their needs. This includes event marketing, workshop planning, and book styling. In everything it does, Paper Trails maintains a philosophy centred around knowledge of the literary world, passion for books, bringing communities together, and integrity. The business also has a full workflow process that employees must navigate, no matter their job position or department. This includes planning, brainstorming, ideation, and research, followed by plan execution and progress tracking, then reporting and outcome assessment. Lastly, if needed, they should undergo analytical reviewing and crisis management. “On a personal level, my leadership style is diplomatic yet firm; I make critical decisions when needed but make sure to actually listen to the team’s concerns and opinion,” Jawahir shares. “People fit is much more important to me than skills; one of my core goals is to make my workplace a positive and holistic space, no matter where they work from. My organisation is one of few to offer paid period leave for our female employees.” Whilst Paper Trails has achieved a lot so far and is well-positioned to succeed in the years to come, establishing the company has not always been smooth sailing for Jawahir. The biggest challenge has been trying to pioneer the Saudi Arabian region, since it can be disorienting for an entrepreneur to navigate an unfamiliar market and position themselves within it. Alongside this, Jawahir has faced the challenge of stigma when trying to convince international publishers and suppliers that the region is a risk worth taking and that there is a demand for their products. Having overcome these difficulties, Jawahir looks towards a bright future. Paper Trails is continuously evolving and has recently launched a membership that includes pop up experiences, author talks, and access to the book club. Jawahir’s dream is to see the shop flourish in the years to come. “I’d love for us to be the bookish destination of choice Best Independent Bookstore CEO 2023 (Saudi Arabia): Jawahir Mohammed