Just the right blend of confident glamour and insightful intellect makes her the right type of player in the new media game. As an Executive Producer she spots creative opportunities and works to bridge East and West through compelling content.
I’m waiting in a light and airy, seafoam-hued booth at an organic cafe in West Hollywood, just off Sunset Blvd, sandwiched between juice bars, concept boutiques, on-site roasteries, and other lifestyle staples of the western world. Incognito amongst the busy clatter of sunglass-clad ‘It girls’ and Cartier clinking against kale salads, I’m still recovering from the series of scripts pitched to me by my Uber driver on the way over when Carla walks through the door. She is smartly dressed in a floor-length silver tunic draped over a pristine, all-white outfit. As the epitome of what might be described as glamorous professionalism, with dark, flashing eyes, she is impossible to miss. She is in Los Angeles on a quick business trip before heading back to Dubai where she currently lives. We are grabbing lunch between her back-to-back meetings, but given the sense of calm that accompanies her, one would just as readily assume she has just returned from a meditation retreat and not an intensive meeting with some of the biggest names in Hollywood. There is a sense of style and grace in everything she does, from the way she greets me, to the way she offhandedly orders us both chopped salads. ‘They’re really good here,” she tells me warmly, leaning in as though she is disclosing a juicy secret between just the two of us. She’s right, by the way. The salad is delicious.
While this level of poise and confidence may be unsettling for some people, with Carla, it puts those around her at ease. She is immediately one’s best friend and older sister – the type of person you want to simultaneously confide in and learn from. Without even knowing her background or list of unending achievements, one immediately understands that this is a woman who knows what she is doing and where she is going.
As with many successful, high profile careers, Carla’s is more intangible, more difficult to grasp than the everyday job. Sure, you could blanket it under a generalized expression, such as ‘jack-of-all-trades.’ But in truth, that is not what she is. In fact, she’s almost the opposite. What she does is highly specialized. She possesses a specific set of well-honed skills that make her both unique and indispensable. She is a broker for what needs to be brokered. And there is almost no one else who can do that as seamlessly (or at all) in so many facets. And this is precisely what makes her invaluable to so many of the most powerful people in the world.
In a way, she does what an investment banker does, but with a wider playing field and a hell of a lot more swagger. It’s this sense of capability, paired with undeniable style and undisputed good looks, that throws off so many. In fact, although her career has turned her into something of a public figure, most who know her and know of her still struggle to comprehend exactly what it is that she does. And yet one can’t help but wonder if she were a man, who didn’t look the way she does (and didn’t have the friends she has), would her job be as misunderstood?
INTERVIEW WITH CARLA DI BELLO
“I think with social media, these days, and the level of accessibility that we have to people, anyone can now create their own life and their own job. Whether it be as a blogger or a model, or simply as a personality. You don’t need to be represented by somebody to be on a platform anymore. And because I do have a presence on social media, people often mistake me for a blogger or influencer. And while I love being able to share things on my platforms, it’s not my actual everyday job description.”
Instead of fighting these preconceptions of what she does, Carla leans into it. She sees both the strategy and, at times, value in perception. Even those that might be slightly misconstrued. When one is at the top of their field, a person does not need to defend their skill set. As a true talent, she recognizes the leverage that every opportunity contains.
“I think I realized that my favorite thing to do is to connect people and identify opportunities. I do this in my own life with my own career, and I do this for those I work with. I’ve always considered myself a producer in the sense that I have a puzzle, and I’m constantly putting the pieces together.”
Carla spots opportunity in everything, no matter where she may be, and moves as seamlessly from field to field as she does from country to country.
“I deal with people from different backgrounds – from catering to the lifestyle of entertainment executives and actors in the industry, to bankers in a very conservative atmosphere, dealing with strategic, complicated deals. Maneuvering these worlds has really just come down to re-calibrating my brain. So going to another country is just another challenge and another re-calibration. It’s exciting to figure out how to be able to succeed in a new world.”
New territory is what Carla is most familiar with. In a way, she is a modern-day pioneer of the business world. And right now, the new frontier is in arguably the Middle East.
“I think for me, the excitement of moving to and doing business in the Middle East was being able to be a part of a new ecosystem that is currently being created as we speak. It’s something that hasn’t been done before. It’s like Beverly Hills or Manhattan never existing. And you get to be part of that growth. So going into these places and having the knowledge of knowing how other countries and industries work and how technology is evolving, and being able to give my two cents on what we can do to make it work in a different country, is a huge opportunity for me.”
But working from country to country has as many misconceptions attached to it as Carla’s own career.
“The first question I’m always asked is, how am I treated as a woman and what is it like to be a woman in business, working in the Middle East? People are always surprised when I tell them that I actually feel more comfortable and respected (and like they want me to succeed) as a woman in the Middle East than I do in the U.S.”
She pauses thoughtfully, reflecting on this concept of misperception before continuing on.
“There is definitely a misconception that women don’t work in the Middle East, and that’s not really true. I mean you do have that history where women are more segregated, having families, and not working. But there are also a lot of female ministers and women who are pioneering new companies and corporations. And especially with everything evolving right now, that is changing even more. Being an American woman doing business in the Middle East at a time when everything is opening up has helped to show other people that they can do the same.”
Carla makes an interesting point about misconceptions in general, elaborating on how and where they come from. As with social media, the way things are presented and the channels they are available through, play a leading role in how perspective is shaped. Right now, the primary source of information on the Middle East within the United States comes directly from the U.S. media.
“In the U.S., everything is run by media and they do an amazing job at showing what they want to show. There is good and bad everywhere in the world, and with the media, these things are rarely given equal balance.”
Recently, Carla was able to see the myth of the U.S. media shattered, firsthand.
“I recently produced a documentary in Saudi Arabia for the Formula E race, and brought over an American film crew. Being in Saudi Arabia for the first time, they were able to see a different side of the country and culture for themselves. They could have a different perspective without the media or someone else shaping their idea of what things are like. They were able to appreciate the culture and the respect that everyone has for each other. We are all the same at the end of the day; we are all humans, we all have connection and feelings. We all have passions, hopes, and dreams.”
Although she has never really left Hollywood behind from a business perspective, this documentary is Carla’s foray back into the entertainment industry in more of a producer role, since leaving the States a few years back. And with a concept as powerful as this documentary, it is quite the return.
“With all the changes that are happening in this climate, bringing an electric car race to Saudi Arabia, an oil-wealthy country, was a huge step in showing how much and how fast things really are evolving. We were able to cover the first western conference and the first mixed concert of men and women in Saudi Arabia. Jason Derulo was also the first western artist to step on a Saudi Arabian stage in history. It was an exciting time to be able to cover that.”
With so much change happening so quickly, Carla has high predictions for the future.
“We’ve documented a lot of these changes that are already happening in our film. 7-year-old girls who were at the race will grow up never knowing what it’s like to not be able to drive. They will grow up in a country where they can drive, they can go to the cinema, where men and women won’t be segregated. Change is happening and it’s happening fast. It’s happened right here in the U.S. in the 20’s. It happened during apartheid in South Africa. Despite all the preconceived notions about Middle Eastern culture, I can literally see positive change happening all around me. It’s inevitable. And it’s an honor to be a part of such a monumental moment in time.”
Written interview by Tienlyn Jacobson