Jokha Al Hussaini, the first Omani female engineer, founded Shumookh Engineering Consultancy in Muscat in 2011.
Failing to secure a university place after finishing high school, the then 19-year-old Al Hussaini took up a clerical position. However, five years later she decided to pursue her dreams of becoming a civil engineer again, and consequently managed to enrol in the Caledonian College of Engineering in Oman.
“My family did not accept my decision to study civil engineering. So, when I enrolled in college in 2002, I told my family that I was studying accounting,” she says. “Before graduating in 2005, I won the first prize for the model of a highway project at a competition organised by the college and Muscat Municipality. The story about it and a photo of me appeared in the local newspaper the day after.
“My father was shocked, but he told me to continue. He even said: ‘It was my mistake. I was hesitant because mostly men work in that industry, but if you love it, go ahead.’”
As a fresh engineering graduate, Al Hussaini started working for Hurley Consulting, an international company that acted as a sub consultant to ADPi, a French company engaged on the new Muscat International Airport project. She credits her British boss Brian Pratt, who was the director of the Hurley Consulting Oman office at the time, for encouraging her to take the plunge into entrepreneurship.
“When I started this business I had only OMR2,000 (AED19,000) in my pocket,” she says. “It took me six months to get the licence and register my business. In order to register your business in Oman, you cannot work anywhere else. If you have a job, you have to resign.
“So I was really suffering for six months without working and earning a salary. At the same time, I had to rent an office and pay the rent for all those six months while I was waiting for the licence.
“However, my boss was encouraging me. He got me my first project as a sub-consultant on the airport project with ADPi. When he was leaving the company, he gave me a cheque for OMR10,000 (AED95,400) and said: ‘Jokha, I have already resigned and I am going back home, but now you have your career and your future.’”
During the difficult three years that followed, her biggest challenge was earning the trust of both public and private sector clients. “In Oman people do not accept local companies easily,” she says. “They think that we are still not capable of producing high quality work. I was challenging them.
“One of my colleagues even told me that it would be better for me to close the business immediately. I said: ‘Okay, if it is like that, this is my challenge.’ Then I decided that I would take any project, with no profit, just to show to them that I can do something.
“I wanted them to compare an Omani company with an international company. That is how I showed to them that I am equal with all those big companies. The only difference was that I had just started and they had been in the market for 10 years or more.”
“Since that, I’ve got many projects from the Ministry of Transport and Communication.”
Shumookh Engineering Consultancy, which provides engineering consultancy in the areas of legal advice, quantity surveying, architectural and structural design, land surveying, and project management, now enjoys steady organic growth due to the high quality of deliverables and high customer satisfaction.
Al Hussaini has since won a number of awards for her business success, including the Entrepreneurs Conclave 2015 award and the Al Wathbah Businesswomen’s Award 2016.