In this interview, Ola Loutfi talks about both her personal and professional life, especially about her career shift from being a tourist guide to an entreprenuer. She discusses the challenges she met on her vesatile journey and the challenges women face in building their own businesses. She also talks about the novel COVID-19 pandemic, how she spent her time in lockdown, and how she benefitted from it to the largest possible extent.
Ola graduated from the German School in Bab El-Louk, then Faculty of Tourism and Hospitality, Department of Tour Guiding. She worked for 12 years as a tour guide, but the terrorist attacks that ocurred in more than one location in Egypt in the nineties made her reconsider her career path, because she found that the job does not provide her with financial security, so she decided to shift careers.
Ola states that this was not an easy feat, as computers were just starting to replace old typesetters and such in the worksplace and learning such new skills was vital for her career. She took a job as an instructor of Pharaonic History in German at a private university, but did not find her passion in teaching. Therefore, she switched careers again, this time, by starting a career in advertising, but still, she did not achieve her desired financial security and did not get many career development opportunities. She joined Vodafone, where she worked in PR, then Ghabbour Auto, and finally, Mondelez. Then, the COVID-19 pandemic happened, and she was made to choose between relocating to Dubai or resignation, and she chose the latter. When her son graduated college, she started considering the launch of a project managed by both of them. They decided on manufacturing pet foods. She says that the project has left a mark and is a strong competitor in the market today, and next October, it will be the project’s second anniversary. Ola also launched The Dog Café, a cafeteria for dogs, and currently markets both projects.
When asked if she had any concerns prior to starting her projects, she said she likes challenges and that just the fact that she is doing something ‘different’ gave her a sense of optimism about these projects. Ola did not stop learning. She obtained a diploma in pet grooming, whereas her son studied pet nurition. Ola emphasizes that this project is the first of its kind in Egypt, and that there are some similar cafeterias, but they do not provide the same services. She says she sells pet items and has a special menu for pet foods, unlike other cafeterias that feed dogs human food, which may cause them health issues.
As for Ola’s family, she said they have always been her support system. She talks about her father, a banker, with whom she enjoyed discussions about coprorate life. As for her marital status, she says she was a single mother, and decided not to break, as she wanted her son to have someone to look up to and to never let him down.
Regarding the challenges that she faced throughout her career, she said that back when she was a tour guide, the greatest challenge she faced was lack of awareness of the importance of tourism for Egypt, as some Egyptians mistreat tourists. As for her time at Ghabbour Auto, she said she felt out of place at that company, as most employees there were not used to dealing with an experienced, confident woman. However, her will to prove herself made them finally accept her. Even when she left the coprorate world and started working at The Dog Café, she met many conservative men, as she deals with technicians, suppliers, and refurbishing companies. They would sometimes refuse to let her lift heavy objects, but she expressed strong dislike for such thinking. She also asserted that she has many different interests and lots of experience in different fields, which may make men feel intimidated.
As for challenges faced by women entrepreneurs when building their startups, she stated that some people take women lightly, or make light of their capabilities in business. She would sometimes go to the nearby market to buy some pet supplies, and would be given strange looks, as if those around her are uncomfortable dealing with a woman who does not look like them.
Her opinion on gender discrimination when it comes to employment was clear: she did not witness such discrimination, but admits that women do not prefer doing jobs that require a lot of physical activity and she believes this is justified. When asked about whether she noticed differences between men and women’s performance at the workplace, she said that she did not notice a difference in the quality of work, but noticed a difference in favor of women when it came to punctuanlity and deadlines. She particularly emphasized the difficulty of being a woman manager, but said that she eventually earn’s men’s respect when they realize that she supports them, and that she has a certain management style, which they should, in turn, repsect. Less conflicts happen when they realize that. She also said that women have to work harder in order to prove themselves in the workplace.
As for the COVID-19 pandemic, Ola said that lockdown worked out well for her, and that she used the time to conduct laboratory tests on her formula for pet foods, which proved that it has the highest level of protein in the market. She also said she spent quality time with her family, and that the surrounding quietness helped her think creatively. Ola concluded the interview by saying that she is at a stage when she wants to work because she enjoys work, not because she must.