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Elia Nuqul: A lifetime of impeccable work ethic

Elia Nuqul
Elia Nuqul. (Photo: Elia Nuqul Foundation)
Elia Nuqul

Ruba Saqr

The writer has reported on the environment, worked in the public sector as a communications officer, and served as managing editor of a business magazine, spokesperson for a humanitarian INGO, and as head of a PR agency.

Many years ago, the chief editor of an Arabic-speaking newspaper asked me to interview Palestinian-Jordanian industrialist Elia Nuqul to mark a Nuqul Group anniversary. To my surprise, what started out as a regular interview quickly turned into a rare moment of insight and mentorship.اضافة اعلان

As a young reporter, I believed that within a professional setting, God was the actual “boss”, a conviction inspired by Prophet Mohammad’s saying: “Work is worship.”

Philosophically speaking, to serve mere mortals was dangerous, I believed; they could steer one wrong. Worse still, it was impossible to imagine that sexist and biased peers and bosses, with self-serving agendas, were capable of inspiring a moral path guided by higher principles.

As a young woman who gravitated toward journalism at a very early age, it became clear to me, once I entered the job market, that in real life, workplaces and professional relationships were anything but utopian. Against society’s widespread understanding of “right and wrong”, in real-life situations some people cheated, lied, and manipulated their way to success without an ounce of conscience to deter them.

My wish to impress the “All-seeing, all-knowing” deity was not always welcomed by the “guardians of mediocrity”, who did everything in their power to keep the curve at their institutions from shooting upward past their own feeble benchmarks.

Disturbing their unexceptional performance levels with higher expectations posed a direct threat to their ability to collect their salaries at the end of the month for as little work as possible. To them, excellence was the enemy.

Unfortunately, this mentality is an ethical illness that seeps through most of Jordan’s public and semi-public institutions, where every so often there is a group (if not groups) of naysayers who target hardworking people with demoralizing messages — such as “it is all in vain — to prevent them from serving their country to the best of their ability.

On numerous occasions, colleagues had gone out of their way to urge me and other newcomers to “take it easy” or to “slow it down a notch”. Some even shared tried-and-tested tips on ways to stretch out simple tasks over the whole month by cheating our supervisors into thinking it was impossible to finish them on time, or to a high standard.

In my mind, those who ventured to cheat unsuspecting fellow humans often overlooked the fact that God could still see every move we made and every intention behind it.
What Nuqul shared that day resembled much more than his journey to a life of economic success and fulfillment. It was about his mindset as a young man, as he paved a path of accomplishment, from scratch, while being true to his personal values.
Fortunately, my inner turmoil over this wide, and almost institutionalized, acceptance of ethical degeneration was finally eased the day I interviewed Elia Nuqul.

A few minutes into the conversation, I started to realize that this was more than just an interview. It was a life lesson imparted by a wise mentor whose every word reflected an unmistakable undercurrent of moral leadership. To him, values and ethical consciousness were the backbone of everything.

What Nuqul shared that day resembled much more than his journey to a life of economic success and fulfillment. It was about his mindset as a young man, as he paved a path of accomplishment, from scratch, while being true to his personal values.

In the late 1940s, Nuqul arrived in Jordan with one suit in his small bag and a few pennies in his pocket, having left the Palestinian city of Ramallah by foot to start a new life east of the river.

Nuqul hailed from a Christian Palestinian family, whose circumstances prevented him from pursuing higher education. Instead, as a young man, he went on to work for a sugar merchant in Souq Al-Sukkar, downtown Amman, to make a living.

He noticed that the worker at the shop’s main counter had the habit of weighing the natural sweetener using a faulty pair of metal scales and often charged customers a higher price for their purchases. Nuqul was also deeply bothered by the man’s lack of cleanliness, by his scattering sugar all over the place and wasting so much of the precious crystals due to negligence.

Nuqul took it upon himself to talk to the man about the problems and came up with a system to accurately weigh the sugar, while making sure nothing went to waste. This caught the attention of the business owner he worked for, who then asked him to apply his attention to detail and high standards in the storage area at the back of the store.

There, the chaos was instantly noticeable. Young workers took naps on the large burlap sacks filled with sugar, exposing them to sweat and dirt. They also spilled sugar on the floor, leaving it to collect insects and dust.

This time, Nuqul came up with two solutions: one designed to instill a sense of responsibility and accountability in the workers, the other to establish an in-house sanitation and hygiene code that everyone had to adhere to. As a result, the shop made a quick turnaround in revenues and improved its reputation, thanks to Nuqul’s trustworthiness.

Word traveled fast about his sincerity and work ethic, which prompted a bigger trader to ask him to join his business. The sugar merchant told young Nuqul that it would be a great loss to see him go, but opening new doors for his career advancement was more important than keeping him on.

A few years later, in the early 1950s, Nuqul started his own small business downtown Amman, which grew in exceptional ways to become today’s Nuqul Group, deemed as one of the country’s largest family businesses. The group includes the famed Fine Hygienic Holding, which seems to be closely linked to Nuqul’s earliest interest in good health habits and hygiene.

Nuqul passed away two months ago at the age of 93. His legacy as the founder of one of Jordan’s leading industrial groups did not come from business savviness alone. His journey will always stand witness to the power of ethics and integrity in shaping a young man’s future, in a country whose private sector and economy have been built on the shoulders of perseverance and moral greatness.


Ruba Saqr has reported on the environment, worked in the public sector as a communications officer, and served as managing editor of a business magazine, spokesperson for a humanitarian INGO, and as head of a PR agency.


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