When Lamiaa Laurene Daif arrived at Stanford GSB in 2019, she was deep into a career that many of her classmates in the MSx program envied.
“When I got to the GSB, everyone was talking about private equity and venture capital,” recalls Daif, who had spent nine years as a high-stakes private equity investor in the Middle East, Africa, Europe, and the United States. “People were like, ‘Why are you leaving private equity when we’re all trying to get there?’”
But for Daif, a Casablanca native and former dancer, that career pirouette was a natural outgrowth of what she calls her “journey toward the West” and her increasing self-awareness.
“In the back of my head was this dream: What if I am on the other side, driving the answers and actually growing the business, and working with a team to actually do it?” she says. “I took that year to pause for the first time and ask myself questions I’ve never asked myself before, getting to know me and my intrinsic interests and motivations that are not necessarily the ones you could see on my resume.”
Daif finds inspiration in many places, including the Japanese art of kintsugi, in which broken pottery pieces are reassembled with melted gold. It reminds her, she says, that breaking things is part of life if you are pursuing it with passion. “I’ve changed hats and countries, and it’s never been linear or easy. But that’s the beauty of one’s journey. Instead of hiding those changes and difficulties, you showcase them. It means you tried and survived.”
“There’s an African proverb that says, ‘When the music changes, so does the dance.’ Music will always change, and it changed several times in my life, or sometimes I changed it,” says Daif, now a worldwide strategic business planning manager at Apple. “But every time, the steps remain mine.”
What did you find most satisfying about working in the private equity world?
The diversity. Whether it was the sectors I was looking at, or the geographies, even sometimes the size of companies, we were constantly switching. One week I’d be looking at a deal in the consumer space, and then the next week I’d be looking at B2B services. I really developed a sense of how diverse the business world can be, from business models to growth strategies and company cultures. Plus, it’s a high-pressure environment, so it teaches you to focus and work effectively.
Anything you don’t miss about that world?
I would spend months trying to become an expert on a company and becoming a member of that team, and then — boom — it’s done and you have to switch to something else. So I was a little frustrated by that. Also, after nine years, my learning curve was flattening. I thought I was too young and settled in my job, and I needed a bigger challenge. It felt like the end of a cycle.
What convinced you it was time to move into global strategy and business development at Apple?
I didn’t come to the GSB knowing exactly what I wanted to do, but I knew what I didn’t want to do anymore and I had two hypotheses I wanted to test: Continue to invest in people and moving earlier stage in venture capital or moving to the other side and being more hands-on in driving business development.
To experiment, I took venture capital and entrepreneurship classes, but also strategic management of innovation, sales, operations, and design thinking classes. Halfway into the program, during winter break, I had that honest conversation with myself and concluded that what I’m excited most about is growing a business from the inside. That’s where I felt the butterflies. Is it the easiest path? No. Will I be able to get the job I want? Maybe not. But if I didn’t try, I would never know.
How did you end up at Apple?
I’d never worked in a company, or in tech, but I could see how I could leverage what I’d learned as a private equity investor. I worked with the GSB’s Career Management Center on a “pivot” resume, but I sent Apple my “investor” resume. And they called and were interested in learning and getting this view and my background. That signaled a lot about the culture, which is very similar to the GSB. It’s not “I was doing this, and now I do this.” It’s more like “I was doing this, so now I can do this.” It was the first place I applied with hope and positivity, and it ended up being the right match.
What was the toughest part about making that decision?
Letting go of a successful career and following my intuition. And once the decision was clear, it’s incredible the level of support I found at the GSB. My coaches and mentors were constantly empowering me and asking me the hard questions, like a good therapist would do. It was almost a spiritual journey.
Investing involves calculated risks. Was taking a chance hard for you?
It was about learning to have a peaceful relationship with the unknown. How do I fully embrace that the unknown is the place of extraordinary possibilities? It requires a lot of optimism, self-awareness, and resilience. I had to explore and take risks which would lead to some failures and many lessons. But I knew I would grow from them.
Other than helping with your resume, what role did the Career Management Center play?
They’re really good at designing frameworks and helping strategize and build your approach. I had so many questions. Which is the right first next step? I used to think I had to choose something long-term, but they helped me understand this was just the first step into that next phase of my career.
Any core values surface for you during that phase?
It made sense for me to go large scale, because that’s what I know how to do, right? I didn’t do zero to one. I did 10 to a thousand. So I focused on that. The second thing that really matters to me is that I’m a multicultural person. I cherish that, and love doing that in business as well. I wanted to work in a global organization and I wanted to stay in California. I wanted to make a U.S. company shine internationally.
How did you learn to adapt so well?
I grew up as a dancer. I remember my family would come to shows and wonder how I could learn so many different dances so quickly. Dance taught me how to adapt to something new by deconstructing anything I want to learn, mastering the fundamentals or what is at the core — it’s the beat for dance — and then add that little extra that makes it amazing.
You’ve worked with Resonate, which provides leadership workshops for women and young people in East Africa to be better prepared for the business world. Why is that work important to you?
I was born into a society where women inherit half of a man’s stake. I was lucky that my parents gave me access to great education and empowered me from a young age. But all around me I saw so many women with potential and talent who never were able to express it. I saw every day how that confidence gap creates waste and missed opportunities. Resonate does storytelling workshops to build up that confidence and shift the mindset of these women so they can put their skills and talents to use and create the change they want in their communities. Maya Angelou said that your legacy is every life you touch. Every life I can touch matters.
Photos by Nancy Rothstein and Rachel Garrison