Career Profiler: Maha Shoukri

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In this issue we have Maha Shoukri, Interior Designer, telling us about her career path.

What is your background? What’s the career path you took to reach where you are now?

I went to AUC to study psychology but quickly realized it was not for me. It is actually very hard to know what career to choose at 17, and in those days there were not the career opportunities there are now. I left Egypt at age 21, married and lived in Southeast Asia then moved to Spain where I had my children. There I received diploma after diploma in art. I took pottery, sculpture, wood carving, paint techniques, furniture design, carpentry, architectural drawing, and etching, to name a few. I realized that art and creation was the path I wanted to follow.


Did you have any mentors or role models who inspired or guided you? 

I actually felt that most of my teachers were my role models, but what really got me going in this field was an apprenticeship I did for a year at a friend’s furniture workshop in Spain. I was always eager to go, sorry to leave and felt that I would like to have a place like that of my own someday. The ambiance was terrific and time just flew by and the satisfaction of painting a piece of furniture that people actually really liked was amazing.


What were the most influential or challenging moments in your career?

The most challenging moment in my career was starting from scratch in Egypt.  I returned to a country where I had only spent 7 years in, plus the fact that I did not read or write the language. My Arabic was fair and you can well imagine trying to get established and dealing with carpenters here was no easy task. On the other hand I had to build up a clientele, make a name for myself. My family and friends were very supportive and I have come a long way since I returned to Egypt in the year 2000.


Looking back at a large track record would you have made anything different in retrospect? If I knew then what I know now, I would have started my business a lot sooner…but one gets caught up with life. I have 2 great kids (23 and 20 years old) and life has been good to me thank God.  When I am an old lady sitting on my rocking chair I will have many fond memories and no regrets.

Do you believe that women in the field of interior design and architecture are treated with equal opportunities?

Yes, indeed they are. About 15 years ago, people were not really into decorating, supplies were scarce and choices limited. Now we have a construction boom and people take pride in their homes. A home needs a woman’s touch to make it warm. I believe that in fact, woman in this field have better opportunities than men.


Do you believe in gender discrimination in Egypt private sector companies?

Perhaps this was the case some years ago, however things are changing in our favor and I have a lot of friends (females) who have great careers and are respected for what they do. I am not saying that there is no room for improvement though. Things are getting better and it is up to us to keep pushing and fighting for what we believe in.


Looking at the younger generation of fresh graduates, what advice could you give them? 

I would say “Choose a career that you feel passionate about and love as you will do it well. Take pride in what you do, be motivated and constantly keep raising the standard bar.”


What about Interior and Furniture Design in Egypt, how do you view its situation and developments compared to the early beginnings?

Well, it has come a long way. I believe Egypt is full of talented people with great imagination due to the years of deprivation we had.  In the 60’s we had nothing to work with…so, we started creating and using our imagination to obtain what we wanted or close to what we wanted.  Now, with the choices available plus our imagination and experience of making due with what was available, some amazing work is being produced. We no longer have to settle for either a classic French home, or an arabesque “Mashrabeya” home.


With a demanding job and family, how do you balance yourself? How do you handle both? Is it possible? 

It used to be difficult. I lived in Europe and household help is not common there, so it seemed like I was always running errands, taking care of the kids, going to PTA meetings, working…the children are away at university now and it is actually a blessing to be working because it fills my day and I don’t sit around moping and missing them.


At last we know that you were handling the finances of none other than Sean Connery, please tell us a bit about that! 

It started out as being a part-time job answering fan mail, mainly to fill my time as both my kids had started school and I had a large void to fill. Soon after, I was given the task of collecting Sir Sean’s residual payments, managing his estates worldwide, and last but not least investing his money. I dealt with private banks, film studios, attorneys, and traveled a great deal. I ended up working with him for 10 years. He was always very kind to me and appreciated everything I did. That is actually when I realized that if I was going to be working that hard it should be for myself. The years I spent with Sir Sean gave me a greater knowledge of finances which has helped run my own company today.

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