From humble beginnings living in a tiny Syrian village, to creating a global empire with no formal education, no financial backing or business skills, Sue Ismiel, CEO of Australia’s Sue Ismiel & Daughters, made up of leading brands Nad’s and NitWits, reflects on her journey from Syria to Sydney. We are honored to share her truly inspiring story on Women You Should Know and thank her for contributing her voice.
By Sue Ismiel – I grew up in a tiny village of about 500 people in Syria that had just the local school, a small police station, a post office and a few shops. Life was simple and carefree and I spent my summer days swimming, fishing with my Dad and riding my bicycle (a rarity for girls in my village). My family lived on the bank of a crystal clear river and owned several hectares of agricultural land. While there were no restrictions, limitations or curfews in my village, most women were stay at home Mums.
The first significant moment in my life that sparked my determined attitude was at the age of 14 while walking down a dirt road in my hometown. After witnessing a woman driving for the first time, I became mesmerised, not only as cars were rarely seen where I lived, but that never in my wildest dreams had I ever imagined that a woman was capable of driving. Spurred on by this discovery, I was determined to learn how to drive, and after immigrating to Australia a year later, I was able to achieve this. Since that defining moment, I have continuously strived to break through barriers and redefine stereotypes of what both women and immigrants are capable of achieving.
Moving to Australia in 1974 opened up a world of opportunities for myself, and in the 30 years that I have lived here, I have felt accepted and embraced by my fellow Australians, and have even been nominated for the Australian of the Year award in 2004.
I underwent an overwhelming amount of personal and professional growth to overcome the many obstacles I faced as a Middle Eastern woman and mother, such as lack of support, no formal education, no financial backing or business skills.
However, my move to Australia was not without challenges and one of my earliest memories was being assaulted by a group of girls on a school bus because I could not speak English. Years later, while building my business, I underwent an overwhelming amount of personal and professional growth to overcome the many obstacles I faced as a Middle Eastern woman and mother, such as lack of support, no formal education, no financial backing or business skills. These hardships were instrumental in shaping my philosophy that where there are no struggles, there is no strength!
My entrepreneurial drive was largely inspired by the incredible life my Syrian grandmother led. An enterprising woman, she set up a grocery store to support her family after her husband became paralysed from the waist down. She prevailed against judgement and criticism to provide for her family and the community, turning home produce into sellable items and travelling for days along the dirt road to the capital city, to buy additional grocery goods for her tiny store.
Unlike my grandmother 100 years ago, the advantage for me is living in the greatest country in the world, this land of opportunity. 100 years ago my grandmother was punished for her achievements, today my hard work and efforts have been recognized & validated as being worthwhile.
For me today it is important to remember the difficult times I was faced with, as a mother and a Middle Eastern woman who’s first and foremost priority, even in today’s world, is perceived to be dedicated to her family. I am fortunate to have been able to manage the expectations and the emotions of the most important men in my life, my father, my brothers and my husband. I was able to make them see me as an independent individual and convince them that gender has no relevance to being successful in life. I am sure somewhere in the world even today, there are women treated just as harshly as my grandmother had a century ago. The question is how can we help, lend a hand and make a difference.
It’s heartbreaking and painful to see millions of innocent people dying and millions becoming refugees with no shelter and no hope for the future. When I see this problem that is bigger than life and I can’t really provide a solution, my despair amplifies. The only thing that I can do is keep those innocent people in my thoughts and my heart. I suppose it does amplify just how different it is between us here and them there. How lucky we are.
I believe with financial success comes an obligation to help others and passionately believe our civilization depends on able women, those who can nurture, love and lead. I’m proud to have been able to give back to the country that helped make the impossible become possible and to have the ability to provide employment opportunities and bring export dollars into Australia.
From donating hundreds of thousands of dollars to the Jean Hailes Foundation to fund an important world-first study known as the Sue Ismiel International study into Women’s Health and Hormones that is now published in a US Medical Journal, to funding a cochlear implant operation for a child in need, to sponsoring 101 children through Child Fund in Ethiopia and raising over $200,000 for Westmead Children’s Hospital, I’m passionate about supporting charities that enhance the lives of women, children and those less fortunate. I have also supported charities that help women with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome, of which excessive facial and/or body hair is one symptom. I want to create awareness about Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome to assist women in seeking the best treatments and support.
I originally created the Nad’s Hair Removal Gel as I was determined to help my middle daughter Natalie with her sensitive skin. Unable to find a suitable product which was gentle, natural and effective, I created my own hair removal product based off a Syrian family recipe with ingredients found in my own kitchen and Nad’s was born. Named after my eldest daughter Nadine; I started to try the product on family and friends with such high praise that I was inspired to share it with the general public and haven’t looked back since.
I am proud to say that this enterprising ambition and hard work ethic has been passed down to my 3 daughters, Natalie, Nadine and Naomi who all hold critical senior executive roles in the business and are actively involved in the day-to-day running of the company. Nadine heads up Research and Development; Natalie is Brand Manager of all of the company’s products and Naomi is head of design responsible for producing exemplary design work for the company.
My advice to others is to never take no for an answer and embrace every challenge. I truly believe that extracting endless opportunities from every obstacle presented to you is the driving force behind successful outcomes.