In 2008 I was hired by a Fortune 300 American corporation to start up a new pharmaceutical plant which was under construction in the US. When the construction phase was completed I stayed in the plant to start it up and run its Engineering and Facility departments. The corporation had high hopes for the plant: the anticipated growth curve was steep. The top executives in the corporation kept a close eye on it.
Against all odds and perhaps against logic, the corporation hired an unusual team to run the plant, probably the only one of its kind ever. It wasn’t a conscious decision, but when the three most qualified available people (based on skills and experience), were hired, it turned out to be a team that no one would have given a chance to succeed. On paper it was a recipe for disaster: In addition to me (an Israeli born Jew) who was responsible for the facility and all its sophisticated equipment, an Egyptian born Christian was hired to run the manufacturing operation, and a Saudi born Muslim was hired to run the quality assurance department. All of us lived in the in US, but belonged to different circles and lived in different cities, so we never met before.
For a manufacturing plant to be successful, all three functions; Engineering, Manufacturing, and Quality Assurance have to work well together. Especially in a new plant where all the physical and managerial systems are new. Constant coordination between the three functions is required to get the plant through its qualification phase and off to a good start. Starting up new pharmaceutical plant is a difficult process. The plant needs to satisfy customers, meet strict government regulations, and be competitive in a tight marketplace.
The corporation invested close to a 100 million dollars in the new plant. There were high hopes for this plant. Under these circumstances, if you were one of the top executives of this corporation, would you hand over a 100 million dollar investment to such a team (Egyptian, Saudi, and Israeli)? To the credit of this corporation and its executives, they saw us as people. They did not stereotype us.
As unlikely team we might have been, we respected each other and worked well together. We were suspicious of each other at the beginning, but with time we found out that we had a lot in common: We all enjoyed a good Middle Eastern meal, so occasionally we would go together to a nearby restaurant for lunch; a place where we could find Falafel, Humus, and Shawarma.
We knew a lot more than the average person about the Middle East. We all had immediate family members in that region, so we were all concerned about the rise of radicalism in the region. We shared our different perspectives on events as they were unfolding. The result was that the new plant was, and still is, successful. It produces high quality pharmaceutical products, used by people all around the world.
Seven years later, the manufacturing manager and the QA manager had moved on, I remained in the plant. Although we don’t see each other anymore, I consider them as my friends and I’m sure that they are considering me as their friend. We would have never had this opportunity if we were stereotyped based on our national affiliation.
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