One of the ‘Most Powerful Women in the Middle East’ Loula Zaklama

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By Emad El-Din Aysha

Loula Zaklama, President and CEO of Rada Research & Public Relations, is a doubly blessed business ‘person’. She was blessed by adversity, losing her father as a young girl and almost losing her husband as a young woman, and blessed by good luck during those hard times – all guided no doubt by a little divine intervention. She moved into advertising in 1962, taking over a company owned by foreigners who were leaving, and survived the socialist-to-capitalist economic merry-go-round of the following decades. She went from one end of Egypt to the other studying Egyptian household and consumer habits with scientific detail, something that still isn’t entirely done in Egypt to this day.

Zaklama then moved into public relations, her newfound great love, in 1982 with Rada Research, and had the good fortune to be signalled out by then foreign minister Amr Moussa for the uphill task of fixing Egypt’s international image. She’s bursting with energy and doesn’t look a day over 50 – she’s in her seventies – and no wonder since she plays tennis every morning to clear her mind and goes to the gym twice a week. The most any of us can muster is a brisk walk to but not back from work!

A quick chat with Cairo East Magazine revealed much of this mogul’s story and stature!

CEM: What was the ‘pivotal’ moment in your career?

LZ: 1962 when my husband was detained, held incommunicado for three months. I was only 19 and had two infant daughters and had to make a choice – sit and cry or fight my way and work to provide for my children.

Who was the strongest influence in your life, personal or professional?

Personally, my mother: a housewife from a very strict Assiut family who had to raise four children all by herself when my father died. Professionally, Ted Anderson from Johnson Wax, and Mahmoud Aboulfath and Omar Muhammad from Proctor and Gamble, who taught me everything I know. They gave me their trust and insisted I be educated in all the intricacies of market research.

What are the pros/cons of being a businesswoman? How do you balance family and work life?

I don’t believe in the category of businesswoman to begin with. I’ve never felt discriminated against in my field for being a woman. People work with me for my values. Pros, continuous learning and upgrading one’s self. Cons, the sacrifices you have to make as a woman with small children. I would never advise a woman with infants to go into business unless she absolutely had to. Balance, there isn’t any. One of the two parties has to make a sacrifice. My mother helped tremendously, especially when I had to work abroad. The way I compensated my children was to make every minute count, spend ‘quality’ time with them – saving up all my money to show them the world. It’s certainly better than being there all day long and just yelling at them. And I always made sure to be there to bathe them, tuck them in at night and read them bedtime stories.

Of all your accomplishments, which do you feel most proud of?

Two awards. The Atlas award in 2007, given to the one person in the world who has done the most for public relations and at three levels – locally, regionally and industry-wise. There were only 18 candidates and I was in the top three. The second was a Dubai award for the 200 most powerful women in the ‘Arab world’ – I was number 48!

What’s the most valuable lesson you’ve learned over the years? How do you approach life?

Never give up no matter how many times you get knocked down. Get up and have faith that God is always on your side. My philosophy of life is to always be happy, happy, happy! Enjoy what you have and not what you don’t have and never look back.

Who’s your favorite global personality? What’s your favorite quote?

Sisi. He may not be global but he’s better than Obama and the French President. Quotes: “Vision without action is a dream. Action without vision is a nightmare.”

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given? And what advice would you give to a young a woman who feels ‘stuck’ at the start of her career?

Never give up, what my husband always told me. He was always there encouraging me when things went terribly wrong. My advice, don’t feel stuck. Always look to the future and know yourself. Everyone has one talent. Find it and cultivate it.

 

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