Interview of Mazen Awad Transcript


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Interview of Mazen Awad Transcript
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Mazen Awad interview
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Revealing Florida’s Arab Immigrants Phase II: The Arab Business Community
Barbara Jardee
Mazen Awad
Jardee Transcription

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University of Florida
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Mazen Awad Wednesday August 8, 2012 Gainesville, Florida Esam Alhadi, Interviewer and Translator for University of Florida George A. Smathers Libraries Edited by Jardee Transcription Also present, Richard Saltzburg Alhadi: Hello Mr. Mazen Awad. Awad: Hello. Alhadi: We are happy to be here wi th you in your office in Gainesville. Awad: You are welcome to be here. Alhadi: My name is Esam Alhadi. I am a lectur er at the Arabic Language Unit of the University of Florida. This is my colleague, Richard Saltzburg, from the unive rsity library. Thank you for agreeing to give us this interview today. Awad: You are welcome to our company. I hope this interview will be of a benefit to the students and to those who study Arabic at the university. Alhadi: I hope so. Today is Wednesday, August 8, 2012. We are having th is interview here in your office. We usually begin these intervie ws by asking for a brief personal history and background. This includes your early upbri nging, place of birth, education, and your life before coming to America. Awad: I was born in a very small village calle d Budrus which has now become very famous following the production of a movie about it that bears the same name as the village. The movie talks about the wall that the Israelis ha ve built to separate the West Bank from the rest of the occupied lands. I was born in 1957. My father was a middle school principal. My early life was very comfortable in c ontrast to many people around us who were basically peasants or Jordanian army employ ees. After finishing elementary school, I had


to go to a middle school in a neighboring village that is two kilometers away. After that, I moved to the city of Ramallah with my fam ily in 1970 to join the science branch of high school there. I finished high school in 1974. I wanted to study engineering but that was not possible at that time in Palestine or Jordan. In order for Palestinians to study engineering, they had to go the one of the neighboring countries such as Syria, Iraq, or Egypt. However, you needed to be very well connected to get such an opportunity. I had an uncle who was living in Britain. Following a communication between my pare nts and my uncle, an arrangement was made for me to go to study in Britain. I started by going to a school in London and then to Plymouth University in the district of Devon in the extreme southwest corner of Britain to finish my educati on there. I got my degree in 1982. The period I spent there includes a two years of employment which follo ws a kind of college education in Britain called “sandwich course” which helps engine ers to become trained and prepared for technical and manufacturing work rath er than just being researchers. After getting my degree, and because of the limited employment opportunities in Palestine, I had to go to Jordan. Jordan was flourishing at th at time, and work opportunities were easily attainable. This was also true in the other Gulf countries. I obtained a job with the Jordanian Petroleum Re finery and remained with them for seven years as an inspection engineer. By 1988-1989, the Jordanian economy began to suffer and the Jordanian currency was devalued. The living standard became low and commodity prices began to go up. I realized that very serious economic problems were coming to Jordan in the days ahead.


It happens that my wife was an American citizen because she was born here when her father was doing his Ph.D. at Cornell in New York. We contacted the American embassy in Amman and started our immigrati on process. Three months later, our application was approved, and in March 1989 we landed in Gainesville, Florida. My father in-law had a house that he bought for his sons when they were studying at the University of Florida. Gainesville was our first home. Fortunate ly, I got to know the previous owner of this company. I accepted to work for him although the offer I received was very low. The low salary didn’t bother me so much at the time because my intention was to “get a foot in the door” and to begi n establishing work refe rences and experience in America. It is hard for people who come with qua lifications from universities other than American to instantly find employment. Co mpany owners prefer graduates from colleges they are familiar with and wh ere they understand the educati onal system and curriculum. Fortunately, my education in the U.K. was a big plus for me because their educational system is globally known to be an excellent one. My well-established knowledge of western culture and my good command of English helped me in my early days here. All these factors together contributed to me getting a position in this company. Alhadi: This sounds good. We well get back to the phase of your life after coming to America later on. I want to go back to the period befo re your arrival in America, when you were working in Jordan. In fact, I want to go ev en earlier than that, when you were still in Palestine. You talked about your family and your father who was working for a school there. I want to know about your family members. How many brothers do you have and what is their level of education?


Awad: I have two brothers and three sisters w ho all had the opportunity to proceed with their education. Unfortunately one of the brothers was killed in a car accident when he was finishing his education in the U.K. His na me was Hassan, and I named one of my sons after him. I have another brother who is a business man in Ramallah, Palestine. He has a factory there and he is managing to have a good life there. I have three sisters who are married to Palestinian men and live with thei r husbands in Jordan. Although Jordan is considered to be our home, I fi nd it unfortunate that we all left Palestine to seek refuge in another country. It is a fact that we are all Arabs and I am still under the influence of Gamal Abdel Nasser’s period when we used to think of Arabs as one nation. However, when every one of us leaves Palestine be hind, it will just make things harder. Alhadi: Can you tell me again what year did you say you arrived here in America? Awad: It was in March 1989. Alhadi: You mentioned that your go t settled here in Gainesville. Awad: Yes, it was my first stop. We chose it be cause we had relatives living here. They had a house here, although their father was back in Jordan working for the UNESCO office there. Alhadi: How much do you think the experience you got from your work at the Jordanian Petroleum Refinery helped you to be qualified for employment here? Awad: That is undoubtedly true, although my field of work has shifted to the energy conservation area here. This fi eld is not totally new to me. My work at the Jordanian refinery was of a similar nature, but my work here is different. I started working here as a production engineer, then I became an appli cations engineer. I can say with confidence that I benefited from the period I spent at the Jordanian refinery, and this experience helped to prepare me and qualified me for a job here.


Alhadi: When did you start working at this company? Awad: That was in August 1989, only five months after arriving in Gainesville. Alhadi: May I ask you to tell us about the prof essional development and job promotions that you have received since you starte d working for this company? Awad: I started as a production engineer. Th e company was looking for someone who was able to communicate with our customers and engi neers by offering instructions and advice, and also to help solve any technical problems which arose. They also wanted that person to be able to talk about new products that the company may produce. They gave me an office, and from that office I started communi cating with the customers and helped them troubleshoot any problems they might encounter with our products. I was also involved in the marketing policies. This lasted from 1990 to 1992. After that date, the company acquired some funds from investors and decided to sell its products through indepe ndent sales agents rather th an selling directly to the customers. Those sale agents received comm issions. We were able to recruit agents from all over America. During this period, I wa s promoted to a regional sales manager of the U.S. southeastern region. I continued in this position until 2000. A little bit before that date, my manager, who happened to be the company assistant manager of sales and marketing, quit his position. I took his position and since that date I became the company senior vice-president of sales and marketing. Alhadi: We would like to have on tape some de tails about the nature of work and products in this company. What does it produce and sell? Awad: Heat Pipe Technology makes dehumidifier h eat pipes and hot and cold transfer pipes that can be used in both cooling and heating. Its products help in controlling air quality,


temperature, and humidity by recycling contam inated air and replac ing it by pushing in fresh air. Alhadi: I understand from what you are sayi ng that your company actually produces this equipment. Awad: Yes, we actually produce these units. Alhadi: Do you produce them here in Gainesville? Awad: Yes, we do produce them here in Gainesville. Alhadi: Do you have branches of your company in other areas? Awad: No, we don’t have other branches. This is the main branch. We have one or more agents in all the states and we have agents overs eas in Europe, Asia, a nd the Middle East. Alhadi: A person who occupies a leading positio n such as yours must have relationships and contacts with many other people in simila r positions. You must also have many opportunities to travel around and abroad for me etings or conferences. Would you please tell us a little bit about these, and also about your connections with people in this field? Awad: This job is ideal for a person like me who loves communicating with other people and who also loves to learn about the outside world. One of the many advantages of my position is the chance to trav el around and to get to know many people, engineers, business owners, fellows who are doing work like mine, and sales agents in other companies in all the states. I recruit sales agents, train th em, and introduce them to other engineers who they will be dealing with on a daily basis. This job has given me the opportunity to make friends in many places across the USA. Many of these work relationships developed into personal relati onships. However, I am able to keep a dividing line between the professional and person al aspects of my rela tionships. I don’t


hesitate to fire anyone who is not doing th e work they should be doing and replace them with new employees. Alhadi: How about your relationshi ps at the international level? Awad: I have very good relations with our agen ts in Europe. After any meeting that we may have, we go out for dinner or to have a ch at about whatever. I also have very good relations with our agents in Asia and other countries. The trips I make give me the opportunity to introduce our new products bot h inside and outside the USA with more emphasis on Europe, the Middle East and Asia. Alhadi: Let us talk about your connections with the Middle East. How much did your background as an Arab person from that region help in developing your company’s exposure to that region? Awad: That is undoubtedly true. When I was th e regional manager, and before taking my current position, I went to Saudi Arabia to introduce our prod ucts. Of course that was easy for me being an Arab and knowing th e area very well and also knowing how to approach Arab communities. Now we have a British agent who is in control of our sales in that region. His contract with us will ex pire very soon. At that moment, I will be taking a trip to the Middle East next June to re cruit new agents. I will be in charge of this mission because of my background and my we ll-founded knowledge of the area. Alhadi: Let’s us move to some personal aspe cts of your life. I know you are a father. How many sons do you have? Awad: I have four sons. Alhadi: Have any of your sons fallen under the influence of your engineering work and decided to go into that field?


Awad: The influence might appear more in the area of work ethics. They notice that I spend many long hours at work, they notice that I ta ke many work-related trips inside or outside the USA. They also notice that I stay focused when I am working and I deal with all work issues very seriously. I hope these will be the work ethics that they will copy from me. However, in terms of academic speci alties, none of them has gone into the engineering field. The eldest one is getting his degree in e nvironmental science. I like this field and much of what we do is closely re lated to that area. My relationship to that field might have played a role in making hi m take that academic direction. My second son worked for a short period with an Arab optician. That work left an impact on him and he decided to go into health sciences. He may continue in the medical field. He is now in the final year of his health sciences degree. The other two are still young. I am not sure what academic direction they will be taking. I anticipate the younger one will go into the engineering field. Alhadi: This is undoubtedly a remarkable life and professional experi ence. What do you think this work has given you on a personal level? Awad: It has given me a way to make a good living and to provide my children with a good education and everything else that America can provide towards a comfortable life. The intangible aspects include an eternal satisfac tion because of my contributions to the field of energy conservation. Every unit or device that we produce helps in reducing carbon monoxide. I have been concerned about en ergy conservation since I was a university student. Whenever we sell a unit, I feel happy because I know it will help with energy conservation at the local and global levels.


Alhadi: Mr. Awad, you were bor n, brought up, educated, and worked in the Arab region. You know that region by heart. Do you think a company like this would have a chance to succeed in an Arab country? Do you think th at the business environment here and there is the same in terms of providing equal wo rk opportunities and th e freedom to develop that is necessary to keep a company moving forward? Awad: This is an American company. By that I mean it carries the American genetics of not being afraid of trying new things. Such bus iness mentality has no ground to stand on in an Arab setting. Arab people are suspicious by nature. One impact of colonization on us is that we like things to come from abroad. Americans are pioneers and they like adventures. They are never he sitant of trying new things. The Arab mentality is built on the notion of “why should we do this” while the American stands on “why shouldn’t we do this?” The business environment here is perfect and we benefited from it. People around us are encouraging and supportive. We had support from regular people, the Department of Energy, and from a company such as Disney who gave us lots of support by allowing us to try our products at their pr emises. For these reasons, I really doubt a company like this would have the good fortune to succeed in an Arab country. However, it is true that the thirty years we have been in business has made our technology known across the world. I am now working with our production department on a one-milliondollar hospital project in Qatar. Therefore, it is not hard for us to have business with Arab partners. The weather there is known to be hot and humid which is a good setting for us to do business.


Alhadi: These are nice details. We are approachi ng the end of this interview. However, I still have one question left. Do you feel that your Arab backgrou nd ever had any negative or positive impact on your employment or personal status in any way here in America? Awad: This is a good question. After the 9/11 ev ents, we, the Arabs, had a very difficult time because of the feeling of “guilt by associa tion.” Those colleagues who know me at the personal level know that my values don’t co rrespond with such horrific, terrorist, and criminal acts. That was a hard time on all of us. The fellow engineers that I deal with understood that these acts don’t reflect the true nature of Arab people. I feel that my Arab background helped me. Realizing that my name doesn’t sound familiar here, I always state my full name, and for that re ason the people that I deal with always remember me. I have no doubt in my mind th at there were some negative consequences as a result of the 9/11 events but I don’t let an opport unity pass by without denouncing these acts and to disassociate myself with th is kind of thinking and behaving. Therefore I don’t feel guilt inside me because it is agai nst my nature, but I know it has been very negative on the Arab image here. Alhadi: Thank you very much, Mr. Mazen Awad, for a very good conversation and for giving us the opportunity to be with you in your office. These are very good details. I am sure that my students and other research ers will benefit greatly from them. Thank you very much. Awad: Thanks to you Mr. Richard and Dr. Esam. [END OF INTERVIEW]