Debbie Stanford-Kristiansen’s cinemas in the sand


Have you ever felt like, as a woman, you would never get the chance to reach the very top of the world? Even if you work really hard, as a woman, there seems to always be a disadvantage – Sadly, this is what many truly believe.

We live in a world, where gender equality has not been fully reached yet. But we are already on a good track. Success stories from strong women show that the dream can come true – if you believe in yourself and work hard enough.

Debbie Stanford-Kristiansen is one of them. Since 2013, she is CEO at one of the most innovative cinemas in the world: Novo Cinemas. The concept of cinemas that make a whole experience out of the cinema visit instead of just showing a movie is not totally new. But Novo Cinemas became a market leader and Debbie Stanford-Kristiansen plays a key role.

The company currently has cinemas in the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Qatar and Oman but they plan to expand in new markets soon. They deliver four kinds of experience. 3D is already common today, but with their 4D concepts for many movies, they take entertainment on a totally new level.

How did Debbie Stanford-Kristiansen come to that position? Why did she lead her company in especially this direction of making a whole experience out of the cinema visit? If you are interested in the answers, you need to read this article.

Debbie’s journey began with monthly theatre visits in her childhood

You are always better at something you love than in everything else. Maybe this is Debbie Stanford-Kristiansen’s secret. Basically, she explored her cinema love already in her childhood. The small Roxy Theatre in Sussex, England, was always full of surprises. She described it as follows:

Red velvet curtains, striking gold applique which adorned the high ceilings. It was a classic setting with magnificent balconies, the smell of popcorn and glamorous ushers, who sold ice cream tubs on a wooden tray during the 15-minute interval.

Debbie Stanford-Kristiansen, CEO, Novo Cinemas, UAE

Once a month she felt this magic in a cinema and this experience was something she always could not wait for it. Having this beautiful tradition in childhood in mind, she still wants to capture the magic of the cinematic experience with Novo Cinemas.

It is probably the mix of a childlike imagination of a magical world and modern technologies in the industry that makes her concept so successful. Still, she did not always dream to become part of the cinema industry. Instead, she began her career in hospitality and social environment.

In 1988, she graduated in Hospitality and Event Management. Then, she stepped in the sales field of several companies: EIBTM, Reed Travel Exhibitions, IMEX Group … Here, the young woman already showed that even if she has her roots in Great Britain, she loves to work all around the world. Her first Job was in Switzerland and later she also worked in Frankfurt, Germany. Since 2005, she came to Bahrain for a job at the Bahrain Exhibition & Convention Authority. This was probably her starting point for a career in the Middle East.

Debbie Stanford-Kristiansen

Even if she did not always work in the cinema industry, her former experiences helped her to succeed. Her key learning has been to be adaptable and flexible. The MICE (Meetings, Incentives, Conferences and Exhibitions) and the hospitality industry have something in common with the entertainment sector: They all focus on customer experience. Bringing people together, sharing experiences, bringing them joy and adding the WOW factor is the ultimate goal for all. Changing into the entertainment sector was kind of preassigned.

As you can see: Successful women do not always have one straight career path. If you missed opportunities in the past or still are not sure which career path you want to follow – do not worry. The experience you gain right now will be helpful for the future! The time will come when you realize that.

A female leader in the Middle East

Debbie Stanford-Kristiansen admitted that the industry (especially in the Middle East) is male-dominated. Taking this into account, it is even more astonishing that she made it to the CEO role of an exclusive cinema company. But of course, without support, this is almost impossible. She had a high level support inside the company and from the leadership team.

Her own hard work and the management’s support made her excel in the cinema industry. In 2015, she got the Asia Retail Leadership Award. Three years later, she became the Middle East Female CEO of the Year and in the same year, she was under the top 30 most influential women in the Arab World.  She also became #5 in the top 50 Women in Global Cinema 2019, which must be a great honor for her.

Her success is no accident. In the six years working in the cinema industry, she already reached a lot. She has pushed Novo’s geographic expansion to make it the Middle East’s largest cinema chain, partnered with Imax and Coca-Cola as well as overseen the opening of ‘Seven Star’ theatre experience with individual iPads at the seats of food and beverage ordering and innovation such as dedicated kids’ screens.

What a powerful woman! Her success story is inspiring for many women out there, who also want to become a powerful voice and change the world. Debbie Stanford-Kristiansen changes the world in her own way – by giving people a magical place for entertainment. Who knows which butterfly effect that can have for the world?

If you want to learn more about her and her future vision, you need to attend the discussion on the 13th of May 2019 at the Global Female Leaders Summit. The topic will be “Cinemas in the Sand: Developments in the UAE and the Middle East” and we would love to see you there! There are still a few tickets left – book your seat now!

Review 2019: Collaborating to Build a Better World

Once again, remarkable women and influential leaders from all over the world convened under one roof to share their expertise, perspective and acumen on how the world we live in is developing and what everyone can contribute to make a positive impact. Learn more and download the offical review 2019!

Martina Eckermann

At Management Circle, I lead the content marketing team. Amongst others, I manage and oversee the Global Female Leaders blog. I am also responsible for the topics soft skills, project management and trademarks on the Management Circle blog. I am delighted to inform you about current topics, trends and creative ideas. I look forward to hearing from you!

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Looking back at Global Female Leaders Summit 2023 – Review

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