Egypt Businesswoman, CEO Joins USAO Hall of Fame
CHICKASHA – International business CEO Ann Marie Hooper Harrison may have had humble beginnings as a singer at the Oklahoma College for Women (OCW), but today, she is the only foreign woman to head a major corporation in Egypt.
The chair of Egypt-based International Business Associates is being inducted into the University of Science and Arts Hall of Fame Nov. 3-5 during the annual Homecoming activities.
Following her marriage to William Harrison, the couple moved to Cairo, Egypt when William accepted a senior position with the Ford Foundation in 1966.
Although they were in new territory as foreigners in the Middle East, Harrison said Egypt had an unexpected affect on them.
“I didn’t plan on falling instantly in love with Egypt,” Harrison said. “Perhaps it was the energy unique to this ancient land that is so important to the three monotheistic faiths.”
In 1973, the Harrisons made a career- and life-changing decision. They founded International Business Associates Group, Ltd. (IBA), their first entry into the world of business in the Middle East. The company offers consulting services to foreign companies looking to establish in Egypt.
With nearly 30 years to back it, the business is going strong. Harrison recently signed a partnership agreement with Arab African International Bank, one of the Middle East’s top five financial institutions, to offer services at AAIB branches nationwide. She also is launching an innovative public-private partnership with the Egyptian National Post Office to offer money transfer services to more than 2,000 post office branches in Egypt.
After graduating from OCW in 1956, Harrison was one of seven students selected to receive a full scholarship to the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia. She then received a Certificate of Performance from Curtis and continued her education at Indiana University as a part-time doctoral student. She transferred to the University of Texas in Austin and furthered her studies for three years.
Harrison taught as a professor of voice for six cumulative years at the University of Corpus Christi and Southwestern University in Georgetown, Texas before marrying William Harrison.
War evacuation forced the Harrisons to East Africa after their first year in Egypt. Harrison served as a soloist for the Mozart Requiem and Hayden’s “Creation” with the Nairobi Symphony Orchestra in Nairobi, Kenya. She continued teaching voice and performing in other concerts during their African stay.
Three years later, the Harrisons moved their two young children, a son and daughter, back to Egypt. Harrison’s husband took a position as vice president of the American University in Cairo, Egypt’s top private university. They took a chance and founded IBA as a way to help bring foreign business to the Middle East.
By 1983, Harrison took the reigns as managing editor of IBA Media, the publishing side of IBA responsible for Egypt Today, which is considered the Middle East’s oldest and most respected current affairs magazine. Now nearly 30 years old, the magazine has spun off multiple publications including Business Today Egypt, the region’s largest business and economy title, and Horus, the in-flight magazine of EgyptAir and the largest circulation magazine in the Middle East.
Harrison was promoted to publisher of the media division in 1995, following the death of her husband. She also became Chairman and CEO of IBA, which then included the Egyptian franchises of Western Union and FedEx. IBA was the first company to introduce private, transparent, non-bank money transfer services to Egypt and North Africa. Today, IBA has nearly 70 offices across Egypt, employing more than 350 Egyptian staff members.
To Harrison, it’s the people who keep her in the Middle East.
“I’ve stayed in Egypt because of the 350 employees whose families depend on me for their livelihood,” Harrison said. “The people, who are open, friendly, hospitable, modest, loyal and the incredible history and culture keep me here.”
Harrison said an important part of her company’s job is to help paint Middle Eastern culture in a non-biased light.
“We are aware that we have a very special role in the wake of September 11, 2001, as English-language magazines based in the Middle East,” she said. “We are recognized champions of freedom of the press in the Arab World and leaders of the growing movement for media freedom and privatization in Egypt.
“We maintain some of the most-visited websites in the Arab world. Readers from around the globe – 42% of them American – look to us as they try to understand the politics, culture and social issues of Egypt and the Arab World.”
IBA Media’s influence reaches not only globally; it’s also a family affair. Today, Madeleine Harrison, daughter of Ann Marie, is continuing the legacy of Harrisons in the senior ranks of Egyptian business as managing director of IBA. A young mother herself, she has made Ann Marie a grandmother of two. Harrison’s son, Justin, lives in Austin, Texas and works in the computing field.
As an American in the Middle East, Harrison said she has learned that experience outweighs hearsay.
“I am, I think, living, breathing proof that amid the alarmist headlines that have accompanied our war on terror, there is more to Egypt than what one reads in the daily headlines,” she said.
Two other alums will be honored at the USAO Alumni Homecoming Nov. 3-5. Cincinnati urban housing revivalist Betty Remy Burns will be inducted into the USAO Hall of Fame alongside Harrison. Irish light-welterweight national boxing champion and Oklahoma City charity volunteer Oisin Fagan will receive the Outstanding Young Alum Award.
Tickets for the USAO Alumni Homecoming are available from the USAO Alumni Development office at (405) 574-1290.