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Who are the women who make us sit up and take notice? The women who have put in the extra effort to break the glass ceiling. The women who shake up the status quo and have the courage to forge their own path. Cairo East Magazine meets four who are truly influential.

By Emad El-Din Aysha

Hala Bassiouni

Helping the Economy One Mortgage at a Time

Many of us have issues with purchasing housing. Lack of funds and a fluctuating market lead to insecurities about investing in a house. In the West, getting a mortgage addresses these issues. In Egypt, Hala Bassiouni, Managing Director of Egyptian Housing Finance Company, bridges the gap between East and West through Egypt’s very first private sector mortgage provider. Bassiouni first cut her teeth in the banking sector, at the Egyptian Gulf Bank and the Egyptian American Bank. It’s no coincidence then that she’s ranked number 52 on Forbes magazine’s 200 strong Executive Management list of the ‘Most Powerful Arab Women for 2014’. Becoming a success in a country like Egypt that has more than its fair share of housing problems is no simple task, never mind if you live in a man’s world. Taking time out from an exceptionally busy schedule, Bassiouni had these uplifting words of wisdom for Cairo East Magazine.

CEM: What was the ‘pivotal’ moment in your career?

HB: Ten and half years ago when I changed my career from corporate banking to mortgages. It was a very difficult moment, moving into such a new line of business. I had been in banking all my life.

Who was the strongest influence in your life, personal or professional?

Personal, my late father. He taught me to be a fighter; that being a girl didn’t mean I shouldn’t have a career. Professional, a former boss of mine who taught me how to deal with others and to accept people for who they are; be tolerant and not think in black and white terms.

 

What are the pros/cons of being a businesswoman? How do you balance family and work life?

Pros, if you’re a woman men look at your achievements in a very different way, with much more respect. Cons, being a businesswoman in an Arab country, men just don’t trust your capabilities. Balancing is a tough job, being a mother and a wife, and having to make sacrifices. Fortunately my kids are now grown up but, thank goodness, my mother and my sister were always there for me and helped with the children.

Of all your accomplishments, which do you feel most proud of?

Going into the mortgage business here in Egypt. It’s still a green field area and we’re fighting many obstacles after all these years in order to make the sector an engine of growth for the economy.

What’s the most valuable lesson you’ve learned over the years? How do you approach life?

You need to take risks. Opportunities don’t come by themselves. As for my philosophy, I like to think a lot before acting, weigh pros and cons and put

 

myself in other people’s shoes. It comes from my legal background.

Who’s your favorite global personality? What’s your favorite quote?

Anyone who is successful deserves to be a role-model. That’s enough for me. People usually only look at the public glory and don’t realize what’s going on behind the scene, the full extent of the sacrifices that a person has to make to become a success. Favorite quote, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given? And what advice would you give to a young a woman who feels ‘stuck’ at the start of her career?

Work is silence. A previous manager cautioned me never to brag about your work. If you’re diligent then your work will eventually speak for itself. My advice is to be tough. There’s no free lunch. At first I used to come home from work crying, literally. Also, you need to accept your new environment and adapt to it. You never choose your name, or your boss!

 

Heidi Belal

Baking up a Storm with Cookies ‘n More

Who doesn’t have childhood memories of the smell of freshly baked cookies, made with love and wholesome ingredients?  Heidi Belal established her made-to-order cookie enterprise especially for kids of all ages, Made at home, from scratch, using fresh, healthy ingredients, even carrots, zucchini, pumpkin, and apples; her distinctive products have quickly carved a niche for themselves in the market.

CEM: When did your business really take off?

HB: About two years ago when I took charge of Cookies ‘n More. It’s a small enterprise in a big market. I was already a manager with Code Corner and my sister, co-founder of Cookies, was becoming overloaded with work so that’s how the opportunity developed.

Who has been the strongest influence in your life?

My husband. I have learnt a great deal from him.

What are the pros/cons of being a businesswoman? How do you balance family and work life?

The main downside is that it’s a male-dominated field, and then there’s the problem of prioritizing between work and home. The main perk is self-satisfaction. Being a mother isn’t enough by itself and since becoming a success I feel that I’ve become a better mother, and my two little girls feel this themselves, which will help them with their futures too. You feed off of this sense of achievement. Balancing is hard but my husband and our respective parents have been particularly helpful when it comes to taking care of the kids, and my daughters are all too happy when they see their friends eating and loving our cookies.

Of all your accomplishments, which do you feel most proud of?

Cookies ‘n More. It’s much more my baby whereas Code Corner is originally my husband’s initiative. Just being able to employ people and make sure they get their pay on time is another bonus, not to mention bringing smiles to children’s faces. Positive feedback is a great boon.

What’s the most valuable lesson you’ve learned over the years? How do you approach life?

I’ve learnt to never give up and remember that things always work out in the end. As for my approach to life, I go with the flow and don’t do things I’m not comfortable with – I keep on trying because things settle out in the end.

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given? And what advice would you give to a young a woman who feels ‘stuck’ at the start of her career?

The best advice I’ve been given is to never take anything for granted, never to assume anything. You have to clarify everything beforehand in contracts and agreements. As for my advice, “If you believe in, it you can do it.”

 

 

Deena Fadel

The Unrestrained Talent of Designer

Artist and designer Deena Fadel has made her way into many a home with her range of home accessories, capturing quintessentially Egyptian colors and images that celebrate the culture and its people through her line Joud, meaning ‘generosity’ in Arabic. We meet with Fadel to learn more about her successful brand, and about what it takes to “make it”!

CEM: What was the pivotal moment in your career?

DF: The biggest turning point came with the revolution. I’d only just got around to making the business official and rented space for Joud in January 2011. At first I was terrified. Sales plummeted to zero. I thought I wouldn’t even be able to pay off the rent, then production and exports took off and we were swept away by the wave of hope, seeing the Egyptian people taking their future into their own hands. Now we’ve gained international recognition for ourselves and our country.

Who was the strongest influence in your life, personal or professional?

Several figures loom large – father, mother, husband and father in-law. All played a role in motivating me and building up my self-confidence and teaching me the tricks of the trade. They have so much more experience and created a space for me where I could dream and roam free. I really couldn’t have done it without them.

What are the pros/cons of being a businesswoman? How do you balance family and work life?

Pros, the thrill of seeing your own business grow in front of your eyes due to you and your team’s direct effort. The sky’s the limit. The main downside is how external factors, like politics, can get in the way, along with the drudgery of paying your bills. Although there are times where you can be working nonstop, you can revolve work around your life; as a woman it is very important for me to make time for my children and family and friends. I’m nine months pregnant as it is!

Of all your accomplishments, which do you feel most proud of?

Being a mum and pulling off a successful business in the midst of the 2011 revolution. I’m also stunned that the international media considers me one of top 16 females changing the way business is done in the Arab World.

What’s the most valuable lesson you’ve learned over the years? How do you approach life?

Always be happy, creative, positive, and have faith in yourself. I believe you should never take things as they are, you should dig deeper, go behind the scenes; the world is an open playground, explore it.

Who’s your favorite global personality? What’s your favorite quote?

Richard Branson and Steve Jobs. Albert Einstein’s saying, “Your imagination is your preview of life’s coming attractions.”

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given? And what advice would you give to a young a woman who feels ‘stuck’ at the start of her career?

Have a goal, a vision and do whatever it takes to reach it, but enjoy the journey. Whenever you feel stuck don’t sit there and complain, go out and look for clues. Answers won’t just come to you. Read about other people’s success stories and always surround yourself with positive people who will lift you up.

Yasmine Khamis

Colors, Textures and Fibres – Rugs that Please

Since 1980 Oriental Weavers has been the “go to” source for carpets and rugs for thousands of Egyptian families. From classic oriental pieces to bright and contemporary ones, they can be found in homes throughout Egypt. When sisters Yasmine and Farida Khamis entered the family business they saw an opportunity to implement their creative energy and ideas, taking things to a new level. Before long the brand was garnering awards, and becoming an even stronger presence on the international scene. The sisters were recently recognised with inclusion in the Forbes 200 list of Powerful  Women in the Middle East. Licenced to reproduce work by iconic artist Andy Warhol, as well as National Geographic Magazine, their rugs have become works of art in their own right and treasured ‘statement’ pieces. Cairo East Magazine caught up with Yasmine Khamis to chat about her journey.

CEM: Has there been a landmark moment in your career?

YK: It was a buildup. I’ve been in the business for 15 years. It came when I found myself trusting my decisions, making truly ‘decisive’ decisions. No shades of grey. But only after dwelling on things. I finally made peace with myself.

Who has been the strongest influence in your life?

My father, Mohammad Farid Khamis, personally and professionally. A role-model because he is such a caring and giving person, full of love and concern.

What are the pros and cons of being a businesswoman? How do you balance family and work life?

Pros, the satisfaction of seeing the results of your work. It’s what keeps me going, day in and day out as a person, seeing your product everywhere, as far off as Japan and the US.

Cons, that my family needs me. I have two children, a boy and girl. My son’s just turned seven. I balance these demands by taking them to school every day first, head off to 10th Ramadan city, and make sure to get home by 5 or 6pm to help my kids with their homework, see them to bed, take them to karate class. We have a nanny but only for when I’m out, and my husband, bless him, helps tremendously with the kids. My priorities are always, children, family, work. In that order. But it is still hard, making it difficult to meet customers and travel abroad, keep up to speed with retailing and the global fashion scene.

Of all your accomplishments, which do you feel most proud of?

Making the ‘area rug’ a fashion piece. They no longer look at rugs as a necessity but keep their eye on the latest color. We did this. People now change carpets when the fashion changes, not when it falls apart.

What’s the most valuable lesson you’ve learned over the years? How do you approach life?

To appreciate every day and to appreciate the people I love the most – life is too short for anything else. I’m now past the stage of caring about those who pretend to like you or to dwell on small talk. The ‘happy go lucky’ approach, thank God for everything I have and take things one day at a time.

What’s your favorite quote, something that resonates with you?

My favorite quote is, “Everything bows to innovation, even success.”

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given? And what advice would you give to a young a woman who feels ‘stuck’ at the start of her career?

Keep pushing; don’t give up; practice, practice, practice. That’s what I tell my kids. As for my advice, I’d add ‘no in-betweens’. Either give it all you’ve got or don’t do it. Work full-time or go somewhere else.

 

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