Laura Umetsu, Editor in Chief
When I first met Ela Misut, she was a sixteen-year-old undergraduate preparing to graduate from business school. After her family fled to Germany from war-torn Sarajevo, they settled in the United States, where Ela quickly became fluent in English and excelled in school. Exceptionally bright, she graduated from college at the age of 17 and finished her M.B.A. by the age of 19. Now 21 and employed by Al-Shaif Consulting, a multinational business consulting firm, Ela is a Ph.D. candidate in economics. Today she shares with CGN her life story, experience as a multinational consultant, and finding her career niche.
Sarajevo: Then and Now
CGN: How old were you when you left Sarajevo? How has Sarajevo changed since you left?
EM: I was born in September of 1991 and war erupted in March of 1992. At the time, my family lived in one of the most notorious areas during the war, Grbavica. We were lucky to escape to Germany at the beginning of the war. I believe I was only 7-months old when we left.
So I don’t really remember Sarajevo. My parents always insisted on my brother and I speaking Bosnian in the house and in the car. And I’m very thankful for that today.
We visited almost every summer when the war ended. So as a kid, Bosnia to me was associated with summer break and all the excitement of traveling to a new place.
Going back every year I was able to see how the country was slowly recovering: new facades replaced the bullet ridden buildings, sidewalks were repaired, and the despair and hurt on people’s faces faded.
CGN: What is the nightlife like in Sarajevo?
EM: I think that’s the question most of my friends from the States ask! Sarajevo has a very active nightlife. From the Sarajevo Film Festival, to jazz clubs, cabaret, clubs, to turbo folk restaurants… There’s always something for everyone.
CGN: Why did you decide to go into business?
EM: I originally wanted to study law. As a kid, I remember watching movies and perceiving women lawyers to be so powerful and in control in the courtroom.
However, after taking a law class, I soon realized that it wasn’t for me.
My brother has always been a role model for me. I was always pestering him and copying him as a child, and he studied business.
When I saw that he really enjoyed studying business, I thought, why not give it a shot? After managing to get through the first few accounting courses, I ended up finding myself and my niche in marketing and management.
I now work for Al-Shaif Consulting Group, as a consultant. The company specializes in economic development and procurement.
CGN: And you’re in Sarajevo now? What kind of projects are you working on in Sarajevo?
EM: [After graduating from college in the United States], my parents decided to move back to help my aging grandparents.
Both grandparents from my mother’s and father’s side are still alive. My brother found the MBA program in Sarajevo and decided to move with them. At that point I had just graduated from UW and was working at Washington Employers. Since I was still a minor, I couldn’t stay alone. So I applied to the MBA program as well.
Most of the projects that I do [with Al-Shaif] are not specifically related to Bosnia. But I try to take into consideration local companies when approaching new projects. The last project we worked on was a procurement bid for sugar, wheat, and rice for Yemen. Unfortunately, the prices of Bosnian companies were not competitive.
CGN: What kind of skills did you learn in business school and elsewhere that were most useful for succeeding at your job and why?
EM: I think the most beneficial skills I learned from business school were networking and negotiating. In this particular environment, the importance of networking isn’t stressed enough.
CGN: What are some examples where networking and negotiating were vital to success at your job?
EM: We recently worked on armoring a luxury vehicle for a client.
This included purchasing the unarmored car, delivering it to a special armoring facility, ensuring the final product meets the client’s needs, and overseeing the entire project down to the shipping.
Our main objective is to always meet our clients’ demands while staying on budget.
In other words, negotiating is key when getting down to the figures.
We had some difficulties reaching an agreement with the armoring company. In the end, we were able to secure a mutually attractive deal.
A Global Workplace
CGN: How does understanding of different cultures and languages help you in your job?
EM: I was born in Sarajevo, Bosnia but moved to Germany in 1992 and then to the States in 1996. I speak Bosnian fluently and still speak a little German.
I started working at Al-Shaif in their Sarajevo office to expand their presence in the Balkans. Therefore, it was one of my advantages that led me to getting hired.
Most of our clients and projects are based in the Middle East, and my lack of Arabic knowledge has sometimes proved to be a obstacle.
But I think living in different countries and knowing different languages has allowed me to become more accepting and aware of different cultures and traditions.
I remember my biggest shock was when I started working for Al-Shaif and learned that Thursday and Friday are the weekend, while Saturday and Sunday are working days.
In Islamic countries, Friday is the day for religious prayer (Jumu’ah). So people get the day off.
CGN: What are you studying, where, and what do you hope it will bring to your company?
EM: I’m a doctoral candidate in Economics at the Sarajevo School of Science and Technology, which works in cooperation with the University of Buckingham.
My thesis will try to explore the economics of water on a global scale, with implications for Bosnia.
I think the water dilemma our future generations will face will prove to be one of the biggest in human history, particularly for the Middle East.
The Middle East is finding itself burning one precious liquid (oil) for the pursuit of another (water through desalination).
I think water demand management could be an area Al-Shaif can prosper in; it’s all a matter of sustainability.
Advice and Goals
CGN: Consulting and business are traditionally male-dominated fields. What is your advice to girls who wish to enter these fields and succeed?
EM: Stick to your morals and ethics. Hard work and perseverance will pay off in the end. And results are something no one can argue with, regardless of your gender, race, or background!
CGN: Where do you see yourself in ten years and how do you plan to get there?
EM: I’d like to imagine by then that I’ll be well established as a professional and academic.
I’d like to have made a relevant and specific contribution to the field of integrated water resource management in Bosnia.
And having a balanced personal and professional life would be nice too.