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. 

Dubai Skyline. Photo Credit: Rob Raker
a photo of erik and ceo jim lafferty standing on stage at fhh conference
With Jim on stage.
a photo of the exterior of fhh office in dubai
Fine Hygienic Holding’s brand new Dubai office.
a photo of a man in a suit skateboarding in an office with a sign behind him that says risk
An employee testing out the skateboarding ramp in the new FHH Dubai office.
a photo of jim sliding down the fire pole in his office at fhh in dubai
Jim demo’ing his office fire pole!

 

My turn! Photo Credit: Rob Raker
a photo of a hammock in an office in dubai
The hammock in Jim’s office. Photo credit: Rob Raker

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. 

a group of blind kids and erik taking a photo together smiling and posing
Fine Hygienic brought in this special group of kids to say hi!
Speaking to the kids at the Royal Academy. Photo Credit: Rob Raker
I was so impressed by this young girl. Photo Credit: Rob Raker
Testing out the markers. Photo Credit: Rob Raker
a photo of an abstract watercolor painting by blind kids in jordan
I was encouraged to put my own talent to use! What do you think? 10k starting bid? The kids even signed it for me!
Photo Credit: Rob Raker
The kids are a bit more talented than I am! Photo Credit: Rob Raker

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.

a photo of erik and prince mired bin raad smiling facing camera
His Royal Highness, Prince Mired Bin Ra’ad

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. 

a photo of erik walking towards stage with his cane and folks applauding and standing
Entering a talk to a warm reception from FHH.

It was an honor to speak to a group that was founded by innovation and hard work and continues that legacy.

a photo of erik with group of smiling employees of fhh

 

erik and another group of individuals from fhh in middle east