Nad’s CEO, Sue Ismiel, chats to Naomi Tsvirko about business, philanthropy and motherhood.
Sue Ismiel recalls the exact moment that changed her life, and surprisingly it all started with a slap across the face by a complete stranger on a public bus.
It was 1974, and Sue was aged just 15 and not able to speak any English. She and her family had migrated from her homeland of Syria to Australia. She had started school at Fairfield Girls’ High School, a place where she felt alienated and alone.
“When we first arrived in Australia, we lived in Sydney’s western suburb of Fairfield. It was one of the most challenging times of my life, a time when racism was rife.
“I didn’t belong, it was tough and then there was the point where I was assaulted on a public bus by a stranger, who slapped me hard across the face,” Sue recalls.
Sue believes she was a target of abuse because of her race and her inability to speak English, but instead of being a victim, Sue saw that slap as an awakening -an opportunity to demonstrate her strength.
“Right, I thought I can just be a victim or I can learn English. Being slapped in a public place was devastating but it was a defining moment. It really shaped who I would become. I wanted to prove the critics wrong.”
From that point onwards Sue said she changed, and soon after she decided to drop out of school and get a job.
At the young age of 18, Sue met and married her husband, who is also a Syrian migrant. She gave birth to her first daughter Nadine followed by her daughter Natalie and finally her youngest, Naomi.
“I started my family pretty young and a lot of my life was actually lived at a fast pace,” she explains. “I’m used to doing things fast and working hard.”
As a working mum, Sue did her best to balance family and work commitments. In the early 90’s, her daughter’s hair dilemma was the catalyst for the creation of Sue’s hair removal empire. It was then that she created Nad’s Hair Removal wax, a product that has now become an iconic Australian brand.
“It all started at home. I remembered my mum’s traditional Middle Eastern homemade wax and improved on her formula. I was determined to help my middle daughter Natalie with hair removal.
“Natalie had very sensitive skin and dreams to become a model. I was unable to find a suitable product on the market. So, I thought right I am going to do something. I created my own hair removal product from ingredients found in my own kitchen and Nad’s was born.”
Sue would trial her product on family and friends before deciding to advertise on Australian television, it was then that she says the brand really took off.
“Once we advertised on television, we saw an instant demand in the market. It was really exciting and there was even a point when the local Council came knocking on our door to say ‘hey, this isn’t a small business anymore.’ We needed a bigger place. We were really growing.”
From that point, Sue’s product became a household name and she started to work for her company fulltime.
“A lot of women think it’s impossible to be a mother and work, but it’s not. For me it was possible because I involved my children in it all. I did that on both a personal and professional level. I think the secret to being a good mother is always listening to your children and understanding their needs and talents.”
Sue’s professional tone begins to fade when she describes her daughters and their unique skills. “My eldest Nadine is our research and developer, she has a degree in this field and Natalie is our model and marketer. Meanwhile, Naomi is our creative one,” she says warmly. “They all have different talents that I am proud of.”
Although all three of Sue’s daughters have taken on a role in the family business, she insists there was absolutely no pressure on them to jump on board.
“It was always an option for them and they all studied different things before deciding to take on a role in the family business. I’m delighted they’re on board. I love having them working for the company, but I don’t treat them any differently to our employees at work. We all work hard and are judged on that, not on the fact that we are family.”
Although Sue boasts about the equality and professionalism that exists at Nad’s headquarters, she says the foundations of the company stem from her core family values.
“Integrity, honesty and respect are at the core of how we do business and I have passed on those values to my daughters. They are written on our office walls and we live by them each day,” she says.
As a child, Sue says her mother was the quintessential Middle Eastern housewife, putting the needs of her family first and it was actually Sue’s grandmother that taught her to have an entrepreneurial spirit.
“My grandmother lived on a farm in Syria and she would use all her resources to go into town and sell goods to consumers. She used to make her own goat cheese and I was really inspired by her. My mum always told me about her and her stories really stuck with me.”
Today, Sue continues to work hard on the family’s five-acre property in Kenthurst, a big change from the small suburban home that her business blossomed from, but for Sue it’s all about giving back.
“In my family there is a motto and that is that there is a very important connection between giving and receiving. You can’t simply receive. Success comes with an obligation to give back and I pledge to do just that.”
This article is from the May issue of Anoujoum magazine, out now! Get your copy from selected news agencies and Middle Eastern grocers.