The Journey of Oz: from Egypt to the United States
It’s almost noon, and from the 27th floor of the Schneider headquarters in Boston you can see the city in all the four cardinal directions. There, sitting at a desk facing the East, is Ossama Abou El Wafa, Internal Communications Executive Business Partner for Schneider Electric. ‘Oz’, as he likes to be called, was born and raised in Egypt. He joined the company in 2014 as the lead of Digital Marketing in Middle East & Africa and relocated to the United States in June of 2019.
Natalia Pachón: How has your career evolved since the day you joined the company?
Ossama Abou El Wafa: I joined Schneider in November of 2014. I was responsible for the marketing communications in Egypt, North East Africa and Levant, a territory that includes Mediterranean countries like Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Jordan.
I spent three years managing the Marketing function in Egypt and learning a lot in a local and a global level. We had a lot of fun, good experiences and great learning [opportunities]. We were able to make the evolution of the brand: the concept of brand to order.
Then I got promoted to lead digital marketing in Middle East and Africa in 2017 after the Innovation Summit Cairo. [It’s as] Chris Leong, Schneider Electric’s Chief Marketing Officer, says ‘digital is not the future, digital is the present’, and I felt lucky to led this area and increase the digital footprint of this great zone consisting of six huge clusters starting with Anglophone Africa to Francophone Africa, Gulf and Pakistan, North East Africa and Levant, and also KSA (Kingdom of Saudi Arabia) and Yemen.
[At this time], we were able to drive one important part of the brand to order transformation, which is the connected customers and the digital demand generation. I learned a lot because I was dealing with a lot of global teams when it comes to facilitating the process of my team and understanding the trends and updates, the process and governance, and control. Then I took the next step at my career development and [in] June of 2019, I moved to the US to lead Internal Communications in Schneider Digital.
NP: What are some of your favorite moments of your career?
Oz: A lot of things. When I was in Egypt, in the Middle East, [we realized] we are spending 8 hours a day with each other, resulting in a lot of time inside the office, not at home. So, we agreed on making the work a lot of fun to look after our own well-being and backing each other up.
And I’m not saying this because we should say this, but I’m saying it because we are like a small family. This is the best thing about Schneider. I love the #SEgreat people hashtag because that’s the reality here. You get to know great people from great cultures and different backgrounds.
One of the funny things we had was a dance competition with different teams: one in Turkey, one in Egypt, another one in KSA. We did a very short video in which each team had an improvised dance to just enjoy and turn the workplace into a fun environment where you can work and be very productive. We [also] organized a local version of the famous show America’s Got Talent in Egypt and we discovered a lot of talents inside Schneider Electric: singers, dancers, poets, among others. It was really a good experience.
“We are like a small family. This is the best thing about Schneider. I love the #SEgreat people hashtag because that’s the reality here. You get to know great people from great cultures and different backgrounds.”
NP: So far, how many countries have you lived in and what’s your favorite?
Oz: I lived in Cairo, Egypt, but I was lucky to discover a lot of places because I have family living in California and in Australia. So, I was lucky to travel to some countries. For me, my home country is Egypt which is really great but, in the meantime, US has come to feel like home.
NP: What are some of your fondest memories of growing up?
Oz: The first time that I had a dog, it was like a dream. I pushed a lot for it [when I was little] but back then we didn’t have a home with a yard, and we couldn’t have the dog as we couldn’t keep it inside the house because our place was not set up to accommodate it.
Years later, we moved to another home with a garden and I thought to myself ‘now that we have a garden, why don’t I have a dog?’ I didn’t say anything to anyone but that thought was on my mind.
Suddenly, and short after we moved, my dad brought a very small golden retriever and surprised my brother and I with him. It was a great experience. This dog was with our family and it has longed passed away, but I did the same with my son. When I gave him a dog, we named him as my old dog: Joe. This is one of my greatest memories.
NP: What does home mean to you?
Oz: Home is where the heart is. There’s a famous quote saying that ‘home is not a place, home is a feeling’. In the meantime, US comes to feel like home.
It is where you and your family can be secure and share all of your emotions, where you can support and learn from one another. It doesn’t have to do with having a big or a small house, it is a place where you can feel plenty of feelings: happiness, love, sadness, and many more.
Here, I’m building a new chapter of my life with a fresh new start, a new home, and like anyone else I’m looking for safety, security and unity for me and my family. Most importantly, I believe home means a secure, cheerful place where family members respect and love one another. [It should be] the perfect definition of home sweet home.
“Home is where the heart is… It is where you and your family can be secure and share all of your emotions, where you can support and learn from one another. It doesn’t have to do with having a big or a small house…”
NP: What is the first thing that you do when you move into a new home?
Oz: Believe it or not, the first thing [I do] is search for Schneider products at home. If they are [there], you can’t imagine the happiness that I feel.
This close relationship has developed as well due to a personal experience I had in Egypt. There, I moved three times. The first time with my family. The second to my private home when I got married and the final move was to my in-law’s house. And this house was remarkable because I built everything in the interior design with my humble experience.
In Schneider Electric we have all the home electrical tools to make home everything it should be, and feeling secure in your home is an essential thing, so I equipped my home with Unica switches, and I was able to choose all the switches and sockets in an interactive platform called Mix & Match.
And I discovered something through a real experience. My littlest boy, Noah, was trying to explore and see what is inside the socket with a pen. And I found that safety comes first when living this moment, as I found that the plug in or the socket didn’t allow him to put something inside right away. To plug in something you have to push harder and that’s great in terms of safety. Of course, I tried to teach him so he stopped doing that, but the product design [of Schneider] protected my child.
NP: Comfort and safety, how do you conciliate both of them at home?
Oz: Here. I am building a new chapter in my life, in a new home, and like anyone else, I’m looking for safety, security, and comfort for my family and me. Most importantly, I believe that home means a secure, comfortable, and warm place where my family and I can feel it.
I’m sure that I’ll achieve a higher home safety level and get more peace of mind thanks to Schneider circuit breakers, which is ensuring my electrical systems are up-to-date and keeping my home safe with industry-leading technology.
NP: How will you celebrate Thanksgiving this year?
Oz: This will be my first Thanksgiving in the US because we do not celebrate it in Egypt. I was trying to understand the tradition and the relation between the Thanksgiving and the food, especially the turkey. Luckily, I have some friends and they are living close by. So, we are planning to have dinner together. I have my wife and three little kids, but they haven’t yet come to the US and I don’t want to celebrate it alone.
NP: What are you thankful for?
Oz: If I’ll give you the three things, I’m really thankful for God, for my family and for Schneider Electric.
I’m thankful for my family, as they are supporting me in each and every milestone of my life. We have a family business, but I chose the corporate life to work in the private sector. I have an elderly mom, she is 75 and she is not feeling well. Living abroad is not that easy, so I thank so much that she is understanding as I’m looking after her with my brother.
For me, the company is very important. As I always tell my wife, this is my second home. And Schneider has helped me a lot in my career development. It’s not just ink on paper, it’s the real thing.
I was discussing two years ago with my ex manager about my aspirations and desires of explore different locations and roles. I love communications whether it is digital or traditional, online or offline, internal or external, so I needed to take my next step to open a new chapter in my life and discover another culture. And I couldn’t believe my eyes when I was moving from the Middle East to the US. The support I received from Schneider was great.
‘This is my second home… Schneider has helped me a lot in my career development. It’s not just ink on paper, it’s the real thing.”
NP: If I would ask you to choose three words to define what it is like to work at Schneider, what words would you choose and why?
Oz: Multiculturalism, passion and belonging. Multiculturalism because it is a company that brings many cultures together, is diverse and inclusive.
Passion because we are passionate at everything we do. You can see that in our leaders. I worked with three previous employers before Schneider and from an outside perspective, energy management and automation can be a very harsh environment, not very easy to understand. But from the inside you can see the passion in people, and how we are reaching our external customers by being close to the people.
And finally, belonging, because you can feel part of the company no matter in which country you are. I haven’t tried it here yet, but I did it in Egypt by making fun activities. Here I have never felt as a stranger, even when moving across.
NP: Do you have any cravings back from home? Any guilty pleasures?
Oz: I’m missing badly the smoked herrings, I cannot find it here and unfortunately I can’t travel with it from anywhere to the US. Also, McDonald’s breakfast is not the same as in Middle East.
“You can feel part of the company no matter in which country you are. Here I have never felt as a stranger, even when moving across.”
This blog post is part of the series ‘What Does ‘Home’ Mean to You?’, created to understand the concept of home and its meaning by discovering the unique stories of expatriate employees located in China, France and the United States. They all have left their native countries to start a life in foreign lands and to build a home outside their own. To know more about the series, visit the other entries below:
- Executive ‘Global nomad’ on living in four countries and three continents
- ‘Four winters in Moscow’: Offer Marketing Director shares his expat journey
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