Getting personal with Persona

Theodore May
5 Min Read

CAIRO: “A person’s success relies only 15 percent on the technical skills and know-how and 85 percent on the people skills, said Riham El-Hawary, founder and director of executive coaching firm Persona International.

This has become something of a mantra for El-Hawary these days as she zooms from meeting to meeting, pitching her vision for a 21st century Egyptian business culture.

And if the success of her company is any indication, the business world seems to be listening.

El-Hawary was inspired to begin her own business after spending five years in management positions at the Arab Suez Engineering Company (ASEC).

She became managing director at age 32, having leap-frogged more senior staff mainly because she has better technical skills.

Recognizing the importance of interpersonal professional skills to her own rapid ascent up the career ladder, El-Hawary set out to create a breed of young professionals who would better adapt to the corporate culture demanded at most multinational firms.

Many Egyptians have top-notch technical skills, she said, but lack basic professional skills like writing a proper curriculum vitae and handling clients.

This knowledge gap, she believes, keeps many qualified professionals out of high-level jobs.

“Companies are complaining because they cannot find people, and people are complaining because they cannot find jobs.

The dearth of soft skills, she claimed, is to blame for this.

El-Hawary argued that the most successful corporate culture comes from the US.

“The US is the leader in management science, she said. “Soft skills and people skills, we cannot fall 10 years behind what’s happening around us in the world.

One advantage to this western corporate culture, she argued, is that it follows what she calls the “baby boomer trend.

“No matter how old you are, she said, describing this trend, “if you get the job done and you’re really into it, then you deserve to be a CEO.

El-Hawary left ASEC in 2004 and began putting Persona International together in 2006. She attended the Protocol School of Washington and contacted business leaders from the Fortune 500 all in an effort to inform the kind of management style she hoped to teach.

Persona International launched this January and now boasts eight high-profile clients, many of them multinational firms.

El-Hawary manages a network of freelance trainers and acts as an intermediary between trainers and companies. She also works with placing fulltime coaches in larger multinational firms.

Earlier this year, El-Hawary became certified by Reach Communications Consulting, which is a leader in corporate coaching. This leant credibility to her in her capacity as a trainer and allowed her to certify trainers that work under her.

She also teaches a number of courses herself, when time permits.

Persona’s programs offer a range of training options, all focused on molding a better breed of manager.

Skills that El-Hawary aims to impart include developing an awareness of personal strengths and weaknesses, learning to place employees in jobs that accentuate their strengths, and building a well-rounded team of employees.

Persona also places significant focus on first impressions, noting in one of its brochures, “It may be cliché, but you never get a second chance to make a first impression.

Most of the rest of the brochure is dedicated to coaching professionals on how to dress appropriately in the workplace.

Another of El-Hawary’s goals is to impersonalize business.

“You can be assertive and firm and at the same time not offend anybody else, she said, adding that Egyptians too often take business disagreements as personal affronts.

Persona International will presents its Top Soft Skills Trainer Award at the Wazayef Masr Employment Fair later this month.

Besides recognizing the accomplishments of the industry’s top trainers, El-Hawary hopes that the award will focus attention on the “85 percent, as she often calls the importance of soft skills.

“If you really love what you’re doing, said El-Hawary, “If you’re really into it, then it’s not that hard to work 24/7. .My work is my hobby, so actually I’m enjoying every bit of it.

And with the significant inroads she has made into the world of corporate soft-skills training, there seems to be ample reason for El-Hawary to enjoy what she’s doing these days.

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