Hallelujah

I have been thinking a lot about what I am most grateful for this year, and I’ve realized that it is the luxury of dreaming – the luxury to dream big and to go after those crazy dreams. Furthermore, the luxury of having a support system that nurtures those wild ambitions, tolerates my madness in going after them, and are all-in for the whirlwind adventure.

I’ve heard there was a secret chord

That David played and it pleased the Lord

But you don’t really care for music, do you?

Well it goes like this; the fourth, the fifth,

The minor fall, the major lift

The baffled king composing Hallelujah

2016 was a heavy year at the macro level, the planet aching under the weight of all the tragedies and disappointments. Yet at a more micro level, I can’t help but feel blessed. So I ask you all to take a moment of silence to pray for all those fallen stars we have lost in 2016.

Professionally 2016 has been extremely rewarding elhamdollelah. I am often driven by the philosophy that “if you are still talking about what you did yesterday, then you have not done much today.” Yet the drawback of that philosophy is that you often lose track of the multitude of reasons you ought to be proud and happy within that time-frame.

2016 was a year of big risks. I’m not much of a gambler, yet 2016 was certainly a high stakes year. I quit the comforts of a regular pay check and a job I know I could do well, to follow THE dream. I am now a very lucky co-founder of a start-up that I love with the same intensity and whole-heartedness that I would my unborn kids. Acumen Consulting is almost one. I dare say that this was a phenomenal first year. It was a year of challenges, learning, growth, patience, and hard work. We saw instant success, suffered the business cycle and fought hard to make come-backs when we needed to. I learned that there is possibly greater layers of multi-tasking than I thought imaginable. I’m greatly appreciative of the collaboration, team-work, value creation and success. I’m proud of us for working both hard and smart to contribute to changing Egypt for the better. I am indebted for all the help and support we got along the way.

Well baby I’ve been here before

I’ve seen this room and I’ve walked this floor

I used to live alone before I knew you

And I’ve seen your flag on the marble arch

And love is not a victory march

It’s a cold and it’s a broken Hallelujah

2016 was a year of great variance, its highs were sensational and its lows were back-breaking. 2016 was filled with health scares, trips to the emergency rooms, time spent in hospitals, clinics, labs and waiting rooms. There were so many funerals as friends and family bid farewell to siblings, kids, parents and friends.  There have also been so many near misses; so many tears; and so much faith and hope that things will get better. Our fears and our pains bring us together. Hugs remain the sincerest (and at times the only) form of support and solace during these darkest times.

2016 was also a year of love! Four weddings and a funeral. All grand acts of love! Four of the closest people in my life got married. I got to be a bridesmaid once, sister of the bride 3 times, best man once and wedding co-host once 🙂

Through it all they were days and nights full of the pursuit of perfection. More significantly they were wedding bashes full of music, dancing, joy, family, friends, surprises and vows. May their lives be everything like those wedding nights: endless symphonies of love.

I remain grateful to all parties who contributed to making my sister’s wedding perfect. I’m thankful to Sarah for managing the customized M&M delivery. I’m indebted to Sandra for re-arranging the first dance. I’m start-struck that the talented Nathalie Alain took time out of her hectic schedule to come in and record it. That studio recording time will forever be a highlight for me.

Mustafa Ghannam’s death has changed me. In a sense it has changed all of us. Yet it has triggered dormant emotions that had originated with Bassem Sabry’s death. (Please remember both in your prayers and your end of year donation themes). I’m once again in an existential phase. I’m obsessing about my mortality, my legacy and what I would like to leave behind. It took a lot of soul searching, yet I have realized that I want my legacy to be education. I want to bring knowledge and science into this world. I want to improve the quality of education in Egypt. I want to provide access to a better alternative to Egyptian talent.

Well, baby there’s a God above

But all I’ve ever learned from love

Was how to shoot somebody who outdrew you

And it’s not a cry that you hear at night

It’s not somebody who’s seen the light

It’s a cold and it’s a broken Hallelujah

2016 was the first time in 6 years that I got a proper summer vacation. I’m grateful for the opportunity to see some more of Europe before the devaluation. I’m grateful for having such amazing travel buddies to share the moments with. I will always have a special spot in my heart for Tegernsee and Cesky Krumlov. I’m grateful for the ziplining adventure (and that despite emergency room pit-stop it ended well), shopping sprees, lakeside & riverside dinners, high profile oud concerts, Ibrahim Maalouf by the pyramids, and countless other perfect moments.

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I’m grateful to family and friends whom have been partners in crime, back-bones, sounding boards and voices of reason throughout the madness that was 2016. I’ve discovered new facets of these amazing individuals which I appreciate endlessly.

I tend to claim that my universe often treats me like my success is inevitable/easy/expected. While their faith is extremely flattering, given how tough this year has been, I’m realizing the extent to which divine pats on the heads & “bravo”s have re-energized my stamina through it all. I’m grateful for every opportunity we have had to raise Acumen Consulting’s name. I’m grateful to RiseUp’s overbooked workshop. I’m grateful to the ICT Khales application launch. I’m grateful to the YEEL events and conference. I’m grateful to the “thank you” that our clients share. I’m grateful for having gotten into Stanford. I am grateful. A thousand times over.

Hallelujah, Hallelujah

Hallelujah, Hallelujah

Hallelujah, Hallelujah

On Career Moves

I guess what most people fail to see when they shift careers 5 – 7 years into their work life is how difficult starting over truly is. You would be amazed at the amount of knowledge, skills and basic understanding that becomes irrelevant or which must be chucked at the door. Welcome to a new world where you have to rapidly absorb new concepts, approaches, knowledge, skills and work-styles which seem second nature to everyone around you. Many of which are several years your junior. In this environment it is adapt or die. You will soon find yourself being a source of disappointment, frustration, awe and support to yourself and others several times within the same day. Like mad hot flashes of awesomeness or sheer and epic failure. It doesn’t get easier. Not immediately. It takes patience, tolerance and an honest to God willingness to put your ego on hold and embrace the learning experience. Believe me, it is taking a lot of patience, tolerance and hard work from those on the other side of the equation whom are attempting to kick you into gear so you could pull your own weight.

All of the above is even more true for the world of management consulting, where there is very little that is static or dependably constant. Life is a whirlwind of concepts, clients, engagements, strategies, tasks, deliverables, meetings, negotiations and deadlines. Moreover it is all happening in turbo speed. The phrase “multi-tasking” starts to take on new meaning. As does “work-life-balance” if you are not careful. The environment isn’t hostile, but it isn’t fuzzy, nor is it supposed to be.

You were hired, congrats, we recognize the talent. Now please step up and live up to our best expectation of you. Strike that, strive really hard to out-do our best expectation of you. Show up early, read, read some more, ask, listen when people attempt to explain things to you, learn the rules so you can be allowed to break the rules, befriend google, read again, remember to breathe….

Yet when you do take that moment a couple of months down the road to stop, take a long breath and admire the roses, be sure to know that “we are proud of you”. Congratulations, you made it. More often than none, the career move would have been totally worth it. Yet if that isn’t the case, there is no shame in realizing you made the wrong move, just be sure you are not just escaping back to a comfort zone.

Good luck to all of you.

Reflections from the office – Kiki

Was sitting in Cilantro Zamalek talking about the future when I got asked if I knew Kiki. Naturally I know Kiki, she only sits on the desk right behind mine. We share a partition which is a lovely thing really.

So here goes nothing, the start of a series of reflections about the people in our office.

Kiki is young, turning 23,  but probably one of the oldest and most mature 23 year olds you’ll ever meet. Extremely old and wise for her years, something that has manifested magically into her looks. Lady Kiki.

I get the distinct impression that she tele-ported here, from another time, from the era of the King. She gives off the air of a revolutionary woman from that time. Driven, rebellious, calm, cool and collected, analytical, creative, deep and incredibly PROFOUND. Back in her previous life she was a journalist, a university professor or headed an NGO and brought welfare and enlightenment to the masses.

Looking at her I can completely see the woman she will grow up to be, the change she will bring upon the world.

Funny thing is, when you meet her, she’ll throw you off by how chilled out and non-melancholic she will come across as. Yet you will be mistaken. Behind the extreme diversity of interests, eclectic choice of music, varied reading list, shopping and BBMing activity lies a woman with “development” at heart, one way more intense than you can imagine.

There it is ladies and gents, my shout out to the Girl from the One Long Road.

On Gal Bladders

Thursday

Me: See you after Eid.

Boss: Actually we need to work on Tuesday, so you guys only get Sunday and Monday off.

Me: But Eid break is usually three days.

Boss: Hmm, still need you to work on Tuesday we have to move premises, so 9 am new premises.

Today

I interrupt my glorious stay in Alex, drive all the way back to Cairo, make my way to the new premises in Maadi only to receive a 8:30 am call from my subordinate telling me that he’s at the door and there are no signs of life. I tell him to call the boss.

Five minutes later my phone goes off.

Boss: Maykel’s at Maadi.

Me: Yes, as per your instructions. I’m on my way too.

Boss: The workers are not done yet.

Me: (feeling the gal bladder explosion coming on) So what does that mean?

Boss: I wish you had called me yesterday to confirm. I learned on SATURDAY that they are still a long way off. So take Maykel now and work from your house this week, we are hoping to move on Sunday.

Me: (taking in a really deep breath) So now we are to work from home today?

Boss: Yeah.

Me: (Hangs up).

COULD YOU BELIEVE THE NERVE OF SOME PEOPLE!!!

My poor poor gal bladder!!!!

On Citizenship

Meet Guitar Freak, the latest addition to my team.

A young engineering AUC graduate. The AUCians amongst you might recognize him. He was a brilliant IGCSE student, a talented guitarist, an active campaigner, a hit fund-raiser, king of the activities and overall nice guy on AUC campus. His versatile profile inspired his professors to nominate him to the KAUST (King Abdullah University of Science and Technology) Discovery Scholarship.

Following extensive screening, writing personal statements, sitting in for interviews and competing aggressively Guitar Freak was shortlisted for this scholarship. Following that, KAUST has paid his AUC tuition, a monthly stipend, gave him money for a state of the art laptop, etc.. Basically they have been making some serious investment in those chosen ones who were later to go study at KAUST for a masters degree.

Guitar Freak was cloud nine, he had his entire life mapped out for him and he felt happy with the direction it was going. Earlier this summer, his older brother, an ex-employee of mine gives me a distressed call from Italy. He asks if I once again was in a position where I needed engineers as part timers to work on a consultancy project over the summer? At the time I had nothing in the pipeline. He tells me that Guitar Freak is in shambles because he was told that he was not eligible for a postponement of military duty on account of that masters degree; that this particular article in the law applies only to those already studying abroad. That he had to wait in Egypt and find out whether or not he would get drafted, possibly getting drafted for up to 3 years.

As luck would have it, I did close a deal this summer and am currently working on it with Guitar Freak (didn’t bother interview anyone else). Needless to say the boy had a broken quality to him; one unusual at his age; but one which made perfect sense given the background. I could feel his tension, disappointment and frustration. He made countless efforts, knocked on doors, pulled strings and asked for favours; all to no avail.

Thursday he comes flying in, his feet barely touching the ground. Every ounce in his being screaming out with joy. He says “I have some good news and some bad news.” I smile, “You fixed it, you are leaving!”.

He nods emphatically, he starts telling me how after AUC intermediation to solve the boys’ problem had failed, the KSA parties decided to get involved. I’m unsure on the details of how things worked, but basically what I understood is that his Royal highness somehow interfered, the KSA ambassador in Egypt was involved, there were extensive negotiations with the Egyptian MFA and military. Finally the boys emerge with a “tasree7 saffar” i.e. a document allowing them to leave the country. Kindly note that they didn’t get exempted from military duty, it was just postponed till their return to Egyptian soil, if they ever do return.

I’m grinning from ear to ear at this point, partially infected by his own inner happiness, and partially because the cynic in me found it extremely amusing that the problems of Egyptians on Egyptian soil are being solved by the KSA government, wa 3agaby!

“So where is the bad news?” I ask him. “I’m leaving on Tuesday, so I feel bad about abandoning you mid project”. I mean seriously, how sweet is this boy?!! I assured him that I’d be fine, he offered to bring in a replacement. Meeting new guy on Sunday.

Impressed..

… would be the understatement of the year!

I interviewed a young man today, for a vacancy at our company. A young man who’s CV was so impressive that he could practically jump off the page and dazzle you.

First thing that caught my attention was that it said “finalist at the 2009 MIT business plan competition“; the very competition I had not been short listed for. So off the cuff, this young man had beaten me at something. I with the unhealthy competitive streak. I who am obsessed with winning. So naturally I call him up and have him come in for an interview.

He walks in, now this is a young man who’s vision is impaired. He had grown up almost blind. Books had to be read to him. Yet this young man managed to keep the fire within burning, maintain his commitment to excellence, and do so well at high school that he was the highest scoring individual in his year! Awwal elgomhorreya fel thannaweya el3amma!!

He gets a full scholarship to the AUC, where he breezes through the 4 years with the highest of honours. He dedicates substantial chunks of his time to giving back to society, to teaching those less fortunate. Having realized the first of his dreams, he sets out to make his mark in the field of business consultancy. Lands a job at a major local player and quickly climbs the ranks within the company.  A couple of years down the line decides to leave it for a customer and is currently the brand manager of what possibly is the biggest dairy brand in the world.

Now this young man is only TWENTY THREE. Yet he has got more brains, ambition and drive than anybody I have ever met. His future is crystal clear to him and it is so bright it burns my eyes (cliche I know). When I asked him what his plans were, he said, INSEAD MBA when I turn 26, on a scholarship. Then a PhD from an ivy league university. Finally become a partner at McKinsey, Booze or Baine.

His dream? To walk the earth revered and leave it remembered!!!!!

What do you say to that?!!!!

I am off the charts impressed and VERY humbled!!!

Catch Her If You Can!

Not sure how to start this, given that the event of the past month at our firm have been so unbelievable they have rivaled Hollywood great theft story-lines. I personally, had I seen this plot-line at the movies this summer, would have given the screenwriter in question hell about having an excessively vivid imagination and no disregard for the mentality of the audience. Yet here we are…

Sunday:

Boss calls me in to tell me that one of our staff will no longer be with us and that this is a head office decision.

I, naive as I am, ask if the company is downsizing. Am assured that the company is not, but there is an incident of check fraud so she can no longer be with us.

So far believable no? I mean she’s only human, she could have been strapped for cash and lost moral judgement and decided to forge our CFO’s signature on a check.

Monday:

CFO is flying in to sort things out.

Turns out that not only has she been forging checks and cashing them herself; she has been cashing checks made out to vendors (the bank is sooooooo getting sued over this), and inventing stories to vendors about why payment has been delayed. Going at times to the extent of issuing them official papers from the office (letterhead, signature and everything) apologizing for the delay.

A bit much? Highly undetectable and she could always have a buffer of total outstanding payables as she uses next month cash to pay off last month’s debts and so on.

Smart girl, dangerous, yet feasible so far!

Tuesday:

Vendor informs us that there was a complimentary laptop on last sale, one the office never saw and which she sent directly to her house.

They confront her at the office during handover; lock her in; take away her passport (this is a diverse nationality office); make her sign a statement confessing to all her crimes; cut her loose with the promise of payback within 10 days.

Unusual, but still not the stuff of cinematic “yeah right!”, no?

Wednesday:

Land-lord comes to collect the rent and we discover that the rent is  a much lower figure than the amount she had been paying for the past 2 years. We show the guy the contract. He shows us a different contract.

Discovery: She had two sets of contracts for every single long term transaction the company was in, office rent, guesthouse rent, maintenance, car rental, gardener services and the list continues….

She was making a monthly income of the difference and was forging invoices and signing on behalf of both parties. She was the company to the vendors and the vendors to the company! She had made replica invoices at a professional print house with serial numbers and everything.

Egyptian movie status? Indian? Hollwyood? Can you bloody believe her!!?!??

I’m still in a state of shock!

I’ve heard conversations that you only hear at the movies, I’ve seen massive firings, I’ve seen lawyers and cops, top executives have been flying in for weeks. In short it’s been MAD!

Yet between you and me… DAMN ENTERTAINING 🙂

Update: Forgot to tell you, when we reported her to her embassy, they told us we were the third company in her line of victims. Our seasoned embezzler has had lots of practice! When we asked them why we were not informed, they simply replied “well you never asked!”!!!!!

Note To Self

These are messages to myself, you may not necessarily agree with them, yet they are lessons I need drilled into my thick skull.

  • There is such a thing as being over- competitive; that intense need to win can be detrimental and can backfire. It can also eat you alive or cause severe depression when you lose.
  • Sometimes, irrespective of how much energy you put in, a cause could be utterly futile.
  • The customer is ALWAYS right! One can not decide they’ve had enough of a customer being unrealistic, un-informed, cheap, arrogant, stupid or flaky. Under no circumstance is it alright to snap at a customer.
  • All good things come to he who waits. Must…practice… patience.
  • Allow for circumstances. Just cause your bosses promised you things, doesn’t mean that they can’t eat their words due to “unforeseeable circumstances”.
  • Just because you’ve done the work, is under no way a guarentee that you will get any of the credit.
  • No matter how brilliant you think you are, it’s what your boss thinks that matter.
  • There is no such thing as a job description, grow up and get over this point already!
  • Never again work for a company with fewer than 20 people on the ground. More so if you are going to be the youngest member in the team.
  • It is ok to be tired, exhausted, exasperated and suicidal. As long as you find healthy release.
  • Crying is therapy.
  • My best friend is bliss.
  • CFA self-study was (and continues to be) a bad idea, was absurd to think one could teach oneself self discipline by studying to sit for the CFA exam without an institutional study structure.
  • Your superiors can give you hell about not meeting targets, then pass a perfectly fine deal to another branch because they are scared of taking the responsibility of executing such a large project. WTF??????!!!!! (can’t talk myself into this one quite yet).

Going to blog readers for assistance!

Working on something and can really use the input. I need rough estimates of the following:

1) Hospital occupancy rates.
2) % of doctors who are surgeons.
3) Ratio of nurses to doctors on average in a hospital.
4) Price of doctor coats.
5) Price of scrubs.
6) Price of nurse uniforms (if you happen to know).
7) Price of patient gowns (if you happen to know).
8) Contacts of procurement heads in hospitals would be immensely appreciated.

Also if you could tell me what the famous brands are for lab coats, scrubs and gowns I’d highly highly appreciate it.

Dreaded office phrases

These are sentences that are thrown around by bosses lightly but which experience has taught me are usually followed by a great deal of wasted time, effort and redundant work.

  • “Can you spare a minute?” (Answer at your own peril.)
  • “What is Z working on right now?” (Z being one of your subordinates)
  • “Run that by me before you send it out.” (also reads, that file is never going to get sent out, it will get stuck in an editing and re-editing cycle of doom.)
  • “Remember when we were working on that project a couple of years back….” (prepare to go digging for files).
  • In Ramadan “Start thinking what you want to order for Iftar today.”

Finally the deal breaker: “What did you have planned for this weekend?”

Spoilt rotten? Yes I am!

I’m not an angry person. Ok wait that wasn’t very accurate, I’m not a generally explicitly angry person. I’ve been told too many times already how like my dad I am. I’ve seen him angry. Hence I don’t want to be that person. I don’t want to be stressed out all the time. I don’t want to constantly be on the brink of explosion. I realize I probably have deep rooted anger management issues. That’s why I’ve gone out of my way to be the passive aggressive persona you know.

Yet today, this week, I am angry. I am defiant. I am in shut down mode. I do not wish to see other people. I don’t want to welcome them to the dark side. I want to be alone. Alone to my thoughts. Dark and brooding; that’s who I am! Take a step back. Accept that this is a wrong time. Meredith, I’m sorry for all the times I did not respect your shut down mode.

I am angry because the life I’m living now, the life most people are telling me is normal, is completely unacceptable, at least to me. I lived in a different world, a world where people were professional, where life was easy, where division of labor was respected, where there was such a thing as a job description, where everyone did their job and let you do yours, where “respect” and “punctuality” where not archaic notions of the past and when time mattered and human beings mattered.

I realize that doesn’t sound like Cairo, but honestly for 5 years it has been. Only now I’m in a situation where my job description has become “performs to her best ability the tasks assigned to her” which is wide enough and vague enough to allow for pretty much everything. I since hiring have been event organizer, HR recruitment specialist, driver, secretary, translator, personal relations officer, telemarketer, press liaison, travel logistics persona and finally the job they actually hired me for “business consultant”. Needless to say I don’t like it. I don’t like having to worry about my own work related travel arrangements. I don’t like playing wing man to heads of departments not my own. I won’t be your personal assistant! I damn well won’t sit in stupid time consuming meetings all day. I’m a technical person. Arrogant as this will sound I’m damn good at what you hired me for, so let me do it for God’s sake!

Is it I that have been spoilt rotten by years of working for decent organizations with fine bosses? Or am I will in my right to be angry at the status quo?

Freaky

I almost never dream, I get a nice black screensaver all night long and wake up all rested and stuff. Yet last night I had a lousy night and apparently was subconsiously arguing the night away. I woke up with reminiscens of that argument. I just checked my work e-mail and there is an e-mail resolving issue that was argued in my dream.

So far quite coincidental No? Only in his e-mail it says “pertaining to our conversation on ….”. That had me panicking for a while cause our “dream” argument was not the most civil of arguments. Yet I called him up and apparently he’s referring to a much older conversation. Nevertheless, completely creeped out!

Around our office

1. Random Guy: Allo

Me: X&Y company; Juka speaking

RG: Allo.. is this Hazem Hassan

Me: No sir, this is X&Y

RG: Are you a recruitment company?

Me: No sir.

RG: Are you hiring?

Me: What exactly do you want sir?

RG: Can you give me Hazem Hassan’s contact info!!!

2. My Boss: Did you follow up with the QWE (Government entity)?

Me: Yeah!

Da Boss: What did they say?

Me: I had to repeat the whole proposal all over again.

Boss: He didn’t remember us straight away?

Me: Yeah, took him a whole 10 minutes to have a clue what I’m talking about.

Boss: Damn! We weren’t showing enough cleavage!!!

Sad thing is, she’s probably right!

3. Prospective client: So what is it you do?

Me: We are in the information intelligence business!

Client: Ah, you’re an IT firm!

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