I recently received an invitation to travel to Dubai and Jordan from Jim Lafferty, the CEO at Fine Hygienic Holdings, a paper company based out of Jordan. Jim has hired me several times before at his past companies. In 2005, we climbed Kilimanjaro and helped to form the Kilimanjaro Blind Trust which is involved with literacy among the blind in East Africa. Jim has always been somewhat of an over-the-top character and his office in Dubai is reflective of the types of changes he’s trying to implement at FHH. For example, with a fire pole that connects two floors and a huge hammock to lounge and brainstorm on, he remarked that the features illustrate his desire to push through his employee’s fears and get them to think differently; to approach problems with a creative mindset.
Jim was a fabulous host who planned elaborate dinners and meetings with his whole team during my first few days in Dubai. One of my favorite stops was a local lunch place with incredible dolmas; stuffed grape leaves native to the Middle East.
In Jordan to meet more of Jim’s team, we made a stop at the Royal Academy for the Blind. The place buzzed with cute little blind kids who were learning reading skills using JAWS, a screen reader I also use on my own computer. I particularly enjoyed a painting activity with the students in which the teachers had used scented markers to help them identify the colors: cherry for red, pine for green, banana for yellow, etc. Of course, the activity was fun, but to see teachers adapt their materials for their blind students made me proud.
Later in the evening, during my presentation to FHH, I was honored when His Royal Highness, Prince Mired Bin Ra’ad, showed up to the talk. We found an immediate connection with the knowledge that we both attended college on the East Coast of Massachusetts. We also talked about his work on the Higher Council of the Affairs of Persons with Disabilities, and his advocacy work for disability rights in Jordan.
During my time in Dubai and Amman meeting and talking to so many members of FHH, I was impressed with the company’s ethos and employees. I also had the pleasure of meeting the founder’s son, Ghassan Elia Nuqul, who continues to help manage the family-owned business. I was intrigued to hear the story of its roots. His father, Elia Nuqul, arrived in Jordan as a refugee from Palestine completely penniless. In 1952, he started his own company from scratch – 6 years later, it became Fine Hygienic Holdings. An incredible rags-to-riches story, Elia built this business empire and now operates under the belief that, “if you’re going to go out and make money – use that wealth well.” I think this is what the Sherpas are talking about when they say the summit of a mountain is only a “halfway summit.” The real value is what you bring back with you to the real world when you climb back down.
It was an honor to speak to a group that was founded by innovation and hard work and continues that legacy.