As the mum of seven children aged two to 18, you’d think that Dubai-based expat, Charlotte Borghesi, has enough on her plate. But she’s also the owner of two successful businesses, as well as a Crossfit fanatic, and one of the most inspirational women we’ve come across in a long time.

So how does she do it? Let’s find out…

I have always loved kids. My grandma came from a family of 13 brothers and sisters, and I have actually always wanted to open an orphanage in India (I still do) so I have always imagined taking care of lots of children somehow.

My husband and I prefer to work hard in our careers to generate money to spend on family, rather than spending it on cars or big houses. I think if you can afford a large family then what better investment is there? A large family keeps you feeling young and full of love and energy!

I always wanted to be an entrepreneur. Having spent the first 20 years of my career working in corporate multinationals – I was vice president of marketing in Reckitt Benckiser, based in India, at the age of 30, and by 36 I had moved to the Mars corporation to become general manager of the Gulf countries. A year ago I felt it was the right time to take a step out of that world into the world of entrepreneurship.

My shortest maternity leave for all seven of my children was two weeks, and the longest was six weeks. Both Mars and RB offered me six months’ full-pay maternity leave for each of my children, however I preferred to return earlier and establish a flexible working plan of working from home once a week, plus late starts and early finishes. For me I prefer to establish a great mix of both family and career and from my experience it’s better to establish that mix as soon as possible.

Read more: So you've just had a baby. Is now the perfect time to become your own boss?

I got into the early years market by accident. The nursery of my three youngest children was closing down, but it was such an amazing school I couldn’t imagine sending them anywhere else. The owner, Petra, was retiring, and she didn’t want to sell for fear that a future owner wouldn’t maintain the high standards she’d established over the last 32 years. I knew there was no nursery in Dubai that came close to Children’s Oasis Nursery in terms of environment, teacher quality and the head teacher, Ms Cait, so overnight I decided to try and buy the school. It took some convincing, but finally Petra agreed… The rest is history!

My second business is Kidz Inc. It covers the distribution of early years school furniture, play equipment, learning resources, consultancy, interior and exterior space design planning and training. It’s great to be working with and for children.

I believe in the concept of work/ life integration, not work/life balance. I try to do both as best I can, and having a family has made me a better leader, while being a leader has made me a better wife, friend and mum.

Being a mum helps me to be more empathetic, nurturing and patient at work. I’m a better wife because of my business and because of my children. My desire to work on my own terms and for myself fuels my creativity and my intellectual needs, and it helps me grow as a person, which allows me to be a better person all round.

I never considered giving up work when I had children. I always had my picture of success as doing both and managing both. It’s not always seamless, but I have found it works if I stay focused on trying to keep it smooth 80% of the time, and accept that 20% of the time there may be some turbulence and tricky situations to be managed!

Read more: The Dubai mum who's made a business out of helping other mums

My husband and I have a super strong relationship and we always spend time together. We regularly have dinner together, as well as some weekends away throughout the year. I am completely in love with him: he is my partner, my best friend, my confidence-giver. He believes in me more than anyone else and without him I would not be able to follow all of my passions. I am a big believer in ‘Vitamin L’: you need it everyday, at 10,000mg!

I am great at delegation, so I have always had a team to support me managing the household. This enables me to spend time on what really counts: my children, my husband and my business. When my children were young I had three wonderful nannies; now they are growing up we have two and they are part of our family. Laxmi and Bandana have worked with us for over 11 years now; they come on holiday with us, share Christmas and birthday celebrations with us. Building that ‘leadership team’ at home is no different to building a leadership team in the office!

I have to prioritise all the time. That’s one of my biggest pieces of advice to anyone: it’s super important be clear on what your priorities are and continuously re-evaluate them, and also make sure you are clear what you will not do. For example, we don’t really socialise, never go to the cinema and we don’t have a TV… If I have more to do I wake up earlier (I already get up at 5am everyday however some days call for a 4.30am start!). I am ruthless with my time and my focus and I never waste time on stuff that is not in line with what gives me energy, what is important to me and what I have decided I will do.

I find the idea of finding ‘time to myself’ a bit cliché. Why do you need time on your own if it’s not how you get energy? I would advise anyone to find your own energy well to drink from. This can be anything from the gym, a mani pedi, leg waxing, blow dry, lunch with the girls, dinner with hubbie and so on. Plan drinking from your energy well like you plan your meals: find your nutrient sources that boost your body to be at its best and your mind to be focused. 

Read more: Making it work: How to keep your career after kids

Life feels difficult when I am concerned for my children. It can be an issue at school, a puberty issue, friend issues, a love life issue with the older ones, or any small health issues for example… When there is something not quite right for my children, these are the moments that feel difficult. For the rest, as long as I have my husband Paolo and we all have our love for each other my life never feels difficult!

Our older children are at boarding school in the UK and Switzerland, however I see almost all my kids every day somehow, through video calling or some kind of phone communication. Each child is unique, making each relationship different to suit the needs of the child. Obviously as children grow up their needs also change depending on their life stage and there are always wonderful moments and difficult moments to go through as a family – but these are the things that make our bonds and connections stronger!

The most challenging moment in our lives so far is probably now with me setting up my new businesses. I want to give them my all, while at the same time my youngest children are not babies any more so they are starting to need more attention, and at the same time our eldest children have important exams – IB and A levels. Setting up a business is hard work until you have the right team in place, but I’m confident I have that now.

I would love more children – we’d like 10 to 12 – however the doctor put a stop to it for me (too old and too many potential complications). I have always wanted to adopt children, however I have a different plan to be able to impact more children and that is to invest in building and opening an orphanage in India close to where my nannies are from. In this way I hope to be able to care for and educate a large number of in-need children. This can live beyond my physical capability of being a parent and could hopefully be something my children would want to and be able to take forward.

Read more: Making it work: How to keep your career after kids

British Charlotte is mum to seven children: Hattie (18), Riccardo (16), Sebastian (14), Beatrice (9), William (4), Florence (3), and Ale (2) whom she raises with her Italian husband Paolo. 

Charlotte’s weekly schedule

Weekdays:

5 AM Wake up, breakfast with Paolo (husband). Prepare Sebastian’s breakfast (14-year-old son), then pack his lunch. Send messages to kids who are at school abroad with thought for the day.

6 AM Wake up Sebastian for school (sometimes I take him to football leaving home at 5.30am). On the days there is no early football my driver takes him to school.

6.30 AM - 7.30 AM Cross­fit at Innerfight with Paolo (on Monday and Wednesday, I do two hours from 6.30 - 8.30, which includes weightlifting and gymnastics).

7.45 AM Home to say good morning to the smallest kids (William, Florrie and Ale), who have been woken up, fed and dressed by two home helps (Lax and Bandana).

8 AM – 8.10 AM Small kids leave for school with my husband and with our driver – I always put them in the car with him and he drops them o‑ at nursery. I now go for a shower, get ready and take my 32 different supplements and vitamins!

9 AM Arrive at my office at Kidz Inc., Al Quoz to see my team.

10 AM – 2 PM I tend to either be working in the office or at customer meetings. I’ll call all my team with lots of ideas and often visit the Ministry of Education (we operate their nursery and are working on other government projects. I buy lunch out and about or at Al Serkal, and I like to encourage the team to stop and eat together in the office.

2 PM – 4 PM My son, Sebastian, ­finishes school at 2.45; my driver collects him (he stays till 6pm if he has football). He comes home, relaxes, and has something to eat prepared by my home help, or he comes to my office to study there.

4 PM – 5 PM I like to go to Children’s Oasis Nursery to catch up with my head teacher Ms Cait. I see the kids as they are playing at school and I’m there to pop them in the car for home time.

5 PM – 7 PM My son William is learning to ski at the moment so I am taking him to Ski Dubai three times a week for ski lessons. We leave at 5pm, the lesson is at 6pm–7pm, and then it’s home time.

7 PM On the days there is no skiing the kids have other activities after school, and they may go to the park, swimming, or to the beach. I am home at 7PM for bath time (sometimes dinner if they have not eaten already) and then play and story time (I always read them a story every night).

8 PM Kids are asleep at 8pm and I’ll grab something quick to eat with or without my husband depending on if he’s travelling or working late. Twice a week a lady comes to my place to give me a massage for an hour.

9 PM I read, chat with Paolo, and we talk to the kids who are abroad on the phone or via video call.

10.00 PM Time for bed!

Weekend schedule:

Thursday evening Paolo and I always go out for dinner together - Nobu or Petit Maison. We are creatures of habit so always do the same thing!

Friday This is our day 100% completely for the kids. We always wake up early and go out for breakfast, or play at home. We’ll spend time in the pool, go to the beach, that sort of thing. Friday is my rest day from the gym.

Saturday Morning gym session, then some time for me and Paolo, possibly some yoga. In the afternoon we usually spend some time with the kids.

Read Charlotte’s 'tips for success' - all about raising a family as a working mum - here 

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Photography by Stefan Lindeque