AN EXPERIENCE WORTH APPRECIATING
“In my Father’s School, I learnt the best Ways to achieve Success!” Eng.Laila El Gammal
What mostly distinguishes “Khoyout’s” interview with Eng Laila El Gammal is the fact that it is like a unique practical lesson outlaying and describing how a person can achieve success, even when moving against the current of social beliefs in a society that expects this person to fail…. and more, how a person can be at the front of the race, to become the first and the best in their field.
Speaking about her road to success, Eng. Laila El Gammal appeared to be browsing through her memories, reviewing her life and the difficulties she had to face over the years to become the most famous agent of textile machinery in Egypt. She talked at length about her father, thanks to whom she became firmly established in the field despite his initial refusal that she joins it. Her rise to the top began through her father’s office which specialised in commercial agencies of international production machinery. She took over the responsibility at a time when the office was in a very critical situation. This represented a new challenge to her that she had to take on, and which in fact she did when she succeeded to acquire new industrial agencies. Not only that.. but with her continuous expansions she even established another company working in parallel with the mother company.
Eng. Laila El Gammal began the conversation by saying: “My father Eng. Mohamed Hussein El Gammal was one of the pioneers of the Spinning and Weaving Industry in Egypt. He was the Managing Director of the 4 biggest Companies which were:-
1- Misr Mehalla Kubra
2- Misr For Fine Spinning “KED”
3- Misr Rayon
4- Misr Beida Dyers
He was also the first Chairman of Damietta Spinning and Weaving Company.To his credit, he was the first to introduce Polyester and Viscose in Egypt. That is why he is considered part of the “history” of this Industry. When he retired in 1959, his income was low especially since the post-Revolution Government had confiscated all his properties & belongings. He therefore had to find private work to improve his income and provide him with a good life. His many connections in the field of Spinning and Weaving helped him to do that as he could easily acquire agencies for the import of production equipments. I still remember his words as if it was yesterday when he said: ” Abdel Nasser took everything except what is in my brain”. He then started his private work through his office.
I was very attached to my father and was always seeking his approval any way I could. While my eldest brother had let my father down by not becoming an engineer as he had dreamt, I made his dream come true. As I was an excellent student, I succeeded to join the faculty of Engineering from which I graduated in 1963. At the time, I thought that my father would ask me to join him and work in his office but he didn’t, claiming that this was not a job for girls.
During that period, engineers were assigned by the government to work in public Compaines so I worked at the National Spinning and Weaving Company. I worked on the production line in the Dyeing & Bleaching mill but after 1 year, I could no longer stand working there. I asked my father to contact Dr. Aziz Sedky, who was the Minister of Industry at the time, to transfer me to another Company but he refused saying “I have given you an education, I have married you off, now you have to find your own way”. So, I went to a relative of mine, Engineer Aziz El Gammal, who was the head of the Cairo Company For Silk Textiles, and asked for his assistance to be transferred to Misr Rayon Company which was presided at the time by Mr. Hassan Nagi. I was in fact transferred to this Company but unfortunately I faced many difficulties there, mainly that everybody, or the majority at the Company said that I was only successful because I was the daughter of Hussein El Gammal. That was not true! The Company president always asked for my assistance in meeting and accompanying foreign delegations when they visited the factory. And later, when an opportunity to train in Russia came along, I was chosen from amongst more than 30 engineers because I fulfilled all the requirements: I was less than 35 years old, had a Bachelors degree in Chemical Engineering with grade “good” and had a Masters degree in Dyeing.”
A Decisive Period
Mrs. Laila went on saying: “I travelled to Russia but had to return after only one year – in which I had proven my worth – because one of my brothers had died in a car accident. I returned to Misr Rayon company but I found a lot of changes in the work style and decided to resign. At the time, I was also teaching Chemistry and Physics in the afternoon at the french Schools of Notre Dame De Sion and Mere De Dieu to improve my income and to ensure a good education for my children: Amr, Omar and Nayla at language schools.That was in the middle of the Seventies, my father was 77 years old. He was starting to think about retirement at the time when his office was about to collapse as the number of agencies he represented decreased from 36 to only 4! One day as he had invited me for lunch, I told him that I was going to leave my job at Misr Rayon and that I was going to work full time as a teacher since my teacher salary would be more than the 75 egyptian pounds I was getting at Misr Rayon. He then said to me: “My daughter the engineer cannot become a teacher” so I asked: “What is the solution, then?” and to my surprise he replied: “you take charge of my office.”
Question: This transformation in your father’s position from refusing that you work with him at the beginning to asking you to take over the responsibility, did it have any signification?
Answer: Not at all. At first, he didn’t want me to work with him because, as I said before, he was not convinced that a woman/girl should work in this field. But then he was forced as he was getting old to leave the office responsibility to me, firstly because he loved me and secondly, because I was specialized in the field and he wanted to preserve the livelihood of his employees and workers, who were ten at least.
Question: What happened afterwards?
Answer: He asked me to start immediately but I preferred to do it 3 days later to have time to tend my resignation to the Chairman of Misr Rayon, rest for two days and then start work. I went to Misr Rayon and met the Chairman Dr. Ahmed Hafez but he refused my resignation and asked me to apply for a 6 months leave of absence to see first how things will go. I accepted his proposal. I went to my father’s office and faced several shocks: the first was that there were only 4 agencies left; also, there was no cash to pay even the salaries of the employees. So, I sold some investment certificates I had worth 5,000 egyptian pounds and started to work. I then succeeded to win 3 tenders whose financial returns helped to put the office back into operation. I also succeeded to acquire a Greek Agency for the supply of paper cones. They gave me the agency because they trusted that I could do the job well. What’s curious is that there were 3 women working in the field named “Laila”. They were “Laila El Banan”, “Laila Farag” and myself. They all retired and I was left alone in the business till now.
In 1981, my father died. With time, my name started to shine and in 1991, I founded a new company besides the mother company, intended for the new generation in the family. Work began to prosper until we reached a distinguished standing in the industrial field, one that we still have to date, thanks to God and to our effort, work & perseverance.
Question: What are the lessons you learnt from your father while working with him?
Answer: There’s no doubt that my father has opened doors for me and that his name has helped me. I learnt from him to work hard. I also learnt to admit my mistakes since denying them could have serious consequences. I learnt this lesson by having to give up my commission on an order as a result of a mistake from my side. I learnt from him and taught the others around me the importance of admission to avoid repetition.
The ability to succeed
Question: How did you – as a successful woman – break into a field exclusive to men?
Answer: By nature, the Egyptians tend to help women at work as they consider them to be weak…..(she laughs and adds) “but in fact they are not. The Egyptian Society has easily accepted me and with time, I started to evolve and develop my capabilities. Here, I would like to mention that Eng. Noaaman Abu Kamar was the first to introduce me to private sector business when he approached me to purchase a machine. Thereafter, the field was opened for me to deal with private factories in Mehalla Kubra then in 10th of Ramadan. And here, I have to point out to the kind assistance & support that was provided to me by Mr. Mohamed Farid Khamis, whose continued confidence in me pleases me greatly.
My biggest happiness is the gradual change in the Western view to women’s standing in the Middle East over the last years, and their belief in women’s ability to achieve success to the same degree as men do. I cannot deny that I faced some problems at work, but I never cry over something that didn’t happen. I always strive for the best and seek the new, looking far ahead and treating all deals with the same importance.
Question: Has the recent entrance of the Private Sector revived the Spinning Industry?
Answer: Yes, to a great extent because the private sector has adopted the mentality of quality manufacturing and competition with the aim to export.Thus, it managed to raise the value of egyptian products in foreign markets in an honorable way. I think that this sector is remarkably growing & flourishing.
Question: What about choosing you to represent Egypt at the World Bank Conference?
Answer: This choice has pleased me very much and I considered it to be an appreciation of my name and my career. They were looking for 4 different fields to be represented by 4 business women. There is no other woman in the field of textiles except myself so they chose me.
Question: How did you benefit from this experience?
Answer: The speech I gave, and that was completed by my daughther Eng. Nayla El Tawil, was a truthful presentation of the work and success of women in Egypt, not only through the first generation but also second and third generations. In addition, I gained more knowledge by learning about the experiences of others
Question: What was the aim of the Conference?
Answer: Gathering information about the work of women in the Middle East – its nature, the problems they face, the ways of creating and/or finding job opportunities, which is the main concern of the World Bank – through examining women’s participation in the work force and determining its extent.
Till the End
Question: What is the greatest achievement of Nobeltex?
Answer: Acquiring the Rieter Agency. I’m also happy that I stood by my father’s side till the end and that when he died, I received the condolences myself which had never been done before – condolences are received only by men in the Middle East – except by Mrs. Hoda Abdel Hady, another Alexandrian business woman, who also received the condolences herself at the death of her father.
Question: Do you expect more demand for machines after the “QIZ” Protocol?
Answer: Not only because of the “QIZ” but also because of the economical recovery we have witnessed lately and which has succeeded to attract Turkish Investors to the Spinning, Weaving & Garments Industries in Egypt, by offering big facilities in land, workers and others. This is a great thing. The Turks were also preceded in coming to Egypt by the Italians. All this will create more job opportunities and will result in a Boom in the Industry. Presently, we are achieving good export rates to Europe and America and these rates will increase.The only remark here is that we export to these countries but unfortunately they do not write on the products that they are “made in Egypt” and this is something we should rectify.
Question: How much luck and how much effort in your road to Success?
Answer: 85% work & effort and 15% luck; luck alone is not enough.
Question: If you could turn back the time, would you choose the same career?
Answer: Absolutely. Without my father’s initiative maybe I would not have reached the position I’m at now and of which I’m happy; but at least I would be a successful employee living a good life without needing anyone.
Interview in Khoyout magazine 17 th Edition October November December 2006