Neveen Moussa: An educated guest

Published: 08/03/2013

14 October 2009

By Emily Roberts, HighGrade.Net

AS A young girl growing up in Egypt, Neveen Moussa never dreamed of working overseas, let alone as a financially independent successful businesswoman.

She grew up in a society where middle-class women who decided to work were pitied for their bad choice of husband, who was deemed incapable of supporting her, and the women who were fortunate enough to go to university only did so to improve their prospects for marriage, not for the pursuit of a career. She has certainly followed an unconventional career path which today sees her as a principal of one of Australia’s largest engineering and project delivery companies, SKM.

“This was 30 years ago when I was growing up, and things have changed a lot since then thankfully,” Moussa told the 250-plus crowd at the Women in Mining and Resources Western Australia in Perth last month.

“All this is not to say, by any means, that all Egyptian women were ignorant,” she said. “Quite the contrary, some of the most intelligent and inspiring women that I have met in my life I met back there; only that society did not require women to acquire or apply knowledge and skills outside of the house and there were limited options open to women. Aspirations depended strongly on individual families and the inclinations of the women herself.”

Moussa was brought up in a traditional Egyptian family with a dominant father, two sisters, and three strong female influences, her mother and two grandmothers. She said despite having an inquisitive mind and a passion for knowledge, she was still a “daddy’s girl” who wanted to follow the “expected”, traditional path.

With her father’s main goal to see his daughters marry early and well, Moussa thought she had found approval in an heir to a large manufacturing company when she was 17 years old. This potential marriage never eventuated, much to Moussa’s despair, and so she decided to pursue a career.

“It quickly became clear to me that what I wanted most in life was to be treated as a rational creature not just an elegant female,” she said. “I wanted financial independence, I wanted to see all those places that I dreamt of and I wanted to contribute to society as a successful female leader in my field. The only reliable, durable and perpetual guarantors of independence were education and a career.”

Moussa applied to study overseas where she obtained a scholarship to study civil and structural engineering in Scotland. When she graduated, she began work in the construction industry for a large company that fostered good training and career development. She then got another scholarship to do a masters degree in project management before being headhunted by the European Union. She completed a PhD before coming to Australia 10 years ago and has been with SKM for nine years. She is now a principal with SKM, working on $A20 billion-plus worth of projects for BHP Billiton Iron Ore on the Fluor SKM Iron Ore Joint Venture (FAST). She is also an adjunct professor of project management at RMIT and QUT, and involved in a couple of charities, as well as being the national (and first female) president of the Australian Institute of Project Management.

“[My current role] involves managing a team of engineers, draftsmen, estimators, contracts and procurement officers, logistics and transport specialists and project engineers in multi-disciplines,” Moussa told HighGrade. “The input from each of these individuals has to come together to produce a business case for each project. The challenge is providing a vision and a plan and carving out the roles and responsibilities for the team so they all know where they fit in and how it all comes together. It is all about the people; they can be the biggest challenge but they are also the main assets of my project and the key to its success. You have to involve all team members and allow them to contribute their knowledge and input so that they have buy in and feel part of the solution. People make it all happen.”

Moussa says making the move to Perth “was one of the best decisions I ever made”.

“I do not believe that there are good and bad decisions, that is too black and white for me. You make the best decision you can with the information that you have at the time and you trust your abilities and intuition and hope for the best. Regrets are not something I believe in, and I have been very blessed with a wide and varied career spanning a number of industries, numerous countries and a lot of travel. I have made contacts, built networks and enjoyed sharing goals with some of the best minds in the world.

“I could not have asked for more. The main thing is that when the opportunities come you capitalise on them. It [moving to Perth] gave me an opportunity to take part in making history in this unprecedented mining boom. It fitted just right with my aspirations and career plan and opened up doors that would not have been possible had I stayed where I was.”

Moussa believes that to set goals you have to be aware of your needs and desires. This involves a process of exploration, clarification and elimination.

“This level of self knowledge is entirely necessary if the plan is to be followed through and the goals achieved,” she said.

A strong network of friends, colleagues and mentors is also essential to help set goals and get you through difficult times, as is revisiting your goals periodically to ensure they are suited to you.

“Ensure you have the mindset to match your goals and aspirations,” she said. “There is no use setting clear goals but having that little voice of doubt or inner conflict over your abilities. You need courage and conviction to get to where you want. Visualise the outcome and possibilities. Silence the critics and the negative influences. Be assertive and take actions.”

Moussa still continues to find inspiration from others.

“Generally speaking I am inspired by people who stand up for what they believe and freely express their opinions, ordinary people that you would not have heard of but who have much more impact on me than any celebrity ever could,” she said. “I do not like conformity and find that it stifles innovation.

“My biggest inspiration comes from a group of young people I mentor on the charities that I am involved in, Oaktree and the Global Poverty Project. I am in awe of these youngsters who have an enormous amount of social consciousness and are giving freely of their time to make the world a better and more just place.”