(Archive) Interview with Ghassan Elia Nuqul, Chairman of Nuqul Group 2013
Mr. Ghassan Nuqul is the Chairman of Nuqul Group, a corporation of 31 companies that is considered one of the Middle East’s most leading manufacturers of hygienic paper products. A Purdue University alumnus, Mr. Nuqul previously served on the Economic Consultative Council to HM King Abdullah II, is a member of several governmental councils and committees, and is personally involved in several local and international business associations and not-for-profit organizations and initiatives. During a recent visit to Palestine, where he spoke to Birzeit University students about his career as part of a series of lectures the university is organizing about Entrepreneurship in particular about ‘’Family businesses. towards corporate governance”. Mr. Nuqul spoke to us in the occasion to visit Palestine about the recipe for a successful family business, the fundamental qualities he looks for in his employees, and future plans for the Nuqul Group in Palestine.
How did you start your business?
Nuqul Group’s mother company – Nuqul Brothers Company – was founded by my father, the Chairman of the Board of Directors, Elia Nuqul in 1952. Back then, it was a modest operation trading in the importation and distribution of foodstuffs. Through sustained efforts, it evolved and became a recognized and reputable business establishment well known in the markets.
Q1. How was your first day at work with your father in the company after your graduation? Some people might imagine that you had your luxury office waiting and a full team ready to be under your command?
A2. Not at all… (said smiling taking bringing his memories) During my first four years, he threw me in the plant, where I shared an office with five engineers. I would be in the plant at 6:45 am before anybody else. I would stay with the salesmen to fill the vans with our products and then I would go to the machine floor where I, wearing overhauls, would spend half the day tending to the machines, trying to improve efficiency, because I studied engineering and then I would sit in the office to do documenting, putting standards on every machine, determining number of workers, production speed, how many tons of paper are needed …Today if you come to me about any machine [in the plant], I can tell you its speed, I know what it takes to run it and it was very important for me to build myself up.
What were the biggest challenges you faced as an entrepreneur and how did you overcome them?
The challenges grow with the expansion of our business. When I joined my family’s business in 1985, the challenges were very huge. I wanted to achieve the best results; many responsibilities fell on my shoulders. I learnt to look at any crisis from a positive angle and to step out of it instead of allowing myself to drown underneath the problem.
Q3. What’s the status of your brands in Palestine today?
A3. We have [a variety of products like] Fine, Baby Fine, Fine Life, which is the adult diapers…In the market, we have toilet paper, kitchen rolls, feminine napkins and facial tissues. We have changed our business strategy model in Palestine, and now we have distributors here. In addition to our own distribution, we now have our own offices and our own staff. Then we realized it might be better to give it to another distributor. We secured a 30 per cent growth by the end of November 2012 compared with 2011. The figures are still modest and we want to grow much more. We want to have all the brands become available to the market here but I think the instability and the political situation sometimes [stifles our abilities] but I think we with the new distributor, with whom we are on the same wave length, we will be able to achieve a higher growth rate.
Q.4 Are you thinking of opening a plant in Palestine as you have in Jordan, Yemen, Morocco?
A.4 Candidly, I came here after Jordan signed the peace treaty with Israel. In 1994, I came looking for land to set up a plant. I will be honest with you, the feasibility at the time was not promising because of the size of the investment we were going to put even though we are less than 200 kilometers away from our plant in Amman. However, from a nationalistic point of view, I want to do it from my heart. The ‘where’ and ‘when’ is just a matter of time. The idea is there. We have to do but we are waiting for the right opportunity. We did some investments in some publicly traded companies in Palestine, but I think as a group we have every means and we have the conviction that we need to invest in Palestine further.
Q.5 What about social responsibility? What do you do towards that goal?
A5. We have different goals. First we have something aimed at families called the Elia Nuqul Foundation and it focuses on students in Jordan [in financial need] and offers them scholarships. The program is new – it is only three years old – but we plan to launch something similar in Palestine. And we work with them on soft skills, employability, training and we give them courses to make them employable and we plant hope in them so that they are good citizens in the future and they have a goal. Each company in the group has its own program depending on the area it operates in and the group as a whole has adopted a governorate in the north of Jordan where we went in with many non-governmental organizations (NGOs). We were the first company in Jordan to sow a government partnership: we do feeding, training, social events, projects, micro-finance, production facility, agricultural projects and other activities in conjunction with the Ministry [of Municipal Affairs] and in our own capacity. But we are financing all of that and our team is working hard on the ground to achieve these goals. We have adopted this community. This is social entrepreneurship. We used our business skills to do right and to do an impact on the globe.
Q6. Most of businesses in Palestine are small family-owned ones. What is your message to them?
A.6 The first thing that comes to mind is the need to first and foremost put together a family protocol. It basically governs the responsibilities and the benefits of the families, what is expected of them, what is the role of every member, what is the policy on employment of family members, the accountability, the pre-conditions for them to join the business, the conflict resolution, the family counsel, who represents the family on the board of businesses, the future investments, education or training. It’s very important. If you do it, you will be ready to institutionalize the business, because it governs who sits on the board of the business, who is qualified to run the business, who can enter the business and how. Even if it’s a small business, if I have one recommendation it is to put together a family protocol.
What do you look for — in terms of skills — in your staff or employees?
Commitment is probably the first thing that comes to mind. With it comes discipline, hard work, preparation. The recipe for success: First, the blessing of the parents. Second, to adhere to God’s will and to be afraid of His wrath. Third, to abide by the legal issues and laws. Fourth, to have a code of conduct to abide by. Fifth, to work hard. Sixth, don’t be afraid to make mistakes but learn from them. Seventh, prepare before negotiations, meetings, presentations. Always be prepared. Eighth, don’t look back. Never regret anything. Ninth, believe in yourself. Tenth, never give up. Persevere.
What advice would you give to those contemplating starting their own business?
Believe in your dreams; work hard and accept constructive criticism, seek opportunities and invest in your intellectual knowledge. Starting a business is not always easy, it requires a lot of dedication and persistence, you must find the means to achieve your goals and you will get there.
In 1952, Elia Nuqul (a Palestinian origined)established Nuqul Group. Today a corporation of 31 companies, is one of the Middle East’s leading industrial conglomerates. Nuqul Group brings together 5,800 employees and exports its’ products to over 45 countries worldwide.
It is a line of business which covers a wide range of products including the core business of hygienic paper (paper mills and converting). It is a diversified industrial activity that includes ready mix concrete, synthetic sponge/foam, printed packaging material and stationery. Moreover, Nuqul Automotive has the exclusive dealership for Audi, VW, Porsche, Skoda brands, and an integrated Automotive representing Lamborghini and MAN. Nuqul Group represents a variety of different brands such as: FINE, Unium and ABC stationery.
Another company profile:
Elia Nuqul, the Chairman of the Board of Directors, founded Nuqul Brothers Company on January 1, 1952, as a trade and import company for foodstuff. This modest operation has grown over the years to embrace a number of ventures in the Middle East region, primarily in Jordan, and has been distinguished for its emphasis on ethical business practices and an enthusiastic appreciation for opportunity. Six years later, in 1958, Fine Hygienic Paper Company was established. It has gone on to become the regional flagship brand for hygienic paper products.
Over the decades, the Group worked to expand regionally and to explore new investment and business opportunities. The 2005 inauguration of Al Sindian Paper Mill in Egypt, the largest of its kind in the region, cemented Fine’s regional hold, and in 2006 Nuqul Automotive’s dealership was formed presenting Audi, Porsche, Volkswagen, and Skoda brands in Jordan as well as Lamborghini and MAN trucks through the Integrated Automotive company in 2008. Further infrastructure projects took place over the next few years.
Since establishment, the Board has made decisions, sometimes influenced by political and economic situations, to center their strategy on integrated industries, expansion and diversification. However, the Group has never lost sight of the world class ethical standards which distinguished it from the start. Through these choices, Nuqul Group has become a worldwide corporation with a global presence in a variety of markets, known for its business acumen, smart investments and high priority for enhancing human resources, both within the Group and the larger community.
Today, Nuqul Group runs different investments and industries led by an empowered 5100 team members spanning several continents. It embodies two major holding entities; FINE Hygienic Holding (FHH) being the umbrella for paper mills, FINE hygienic paper companies and supporting industries; while The Promise Holding includes diverse investments in different sectors and modes.