Kirsten O’Neill, CEO of the bespoke professional services firm, Zaataj, is one of the region’s emerging entrepreneurial minds. After spending four years working in Dubai, Kirsten left for Melbourne, Australia to run a medium-sized engineering firm. Yet, when she left in 2010, Kirsten knew she would be back. Prompted by her success in Melbourne and then the Gold Coast, this past January, Kirsten returned to Dubai to launch the Middle East branch of Zaataj, which currently connects clients across the Middle East, Asia, and Europe. Kirsten’s love of the region and outgoing personality were a natural fit for an entrepreneurial venture, especially one focused on international logistics and business development.
“Once I moved back to Australia, friends and old business contacts kept calling me to understand how to enter the UAE market, launch a brand, and even just ask for basic travel advice,” says Kirsten. “Whilst Dubai is internationally renowned, I was still surprised how underprepared and frankly, naïve, companies were about the best way to access the region on a professional and personal level. I saw a huge need to bridge not only the business, but also the cultural divide and knew this was something I was already doing.” In June of last year, Kirsten started Zaataj from the Gold Coast of Australia, first focusing on the Oceania and Middle East markets. She quickly moved into connecting clients from Asia and Europe and hasn’t looked back since. Kirsten’s team is just as comfortable navigating across multiple industries, while understanding the intricacies of the region. Clearly, Kirsten’s time managing a staff of 350 while in Melbourne has paid off as she balances not only her current team, but also the interests and objectives of multiple and disparate stakeholders.
Talking to Kirsten, one quickly learns that her passion extends beyond her own business interests. She’s passionate about the long-term vision of the region and deeply hopes to contribute to the growth and dynamism of the country. Though Kirsten still holds tight to her Australian roots (especially her beloved Queensland Reds) and enjoyed her stint back home, she never doubted she’d be back for the long run and is holding firm to the Middle East.