BSc Chemical Engineering, 1967
What path has your career taken since graduation?
Immediately after graduation I started work at the National Petrochemical Company, the petrochemical arm of the National Iranian Oil Company. I worked in the Planning Engineering Development department for 12 years, until the onset of the Iranian revolution, at which time I was unfortunately “cleaned out” because of my opposition to the head cover for women. During the 12 years there, I looked after many projects including the carbon black plant.
In late 1979, together with my husband and two children, I left Iran for Athens, Greece and after a year in limbo we immigrated to Vancouver, Canada in June of 1981. 1981 was the beginning of a recession in Canada and work in Vancouver in my field was scarce. I did not want to leave the city and move to the oil rich fields of Alberta where I was offered a position. Together with my husband, I started our own company to make a line of natural hair remover products.
We started initially with one product, a cold sugar-based wax to remove unwanted hair. My husband would make the product at home while our kids were at school. We would leave the products to cool down on our kitchen counters and cap them before the kids returned home. During the evenings and weekends, together with the kids, we all would box and package them.
By December 1981, we already had a company and were making products. To this day I remember that December driving to individual drug stores and showing the products to cosmeticians and demonstrating the product, honing my sales pitch each time. December was not a good time to sell hair remover products to Canadians.
In less than a decade by 1997 we had increased our product lines to around seven stock-keeping unit (SKUS). The products were available at most chain drug stores in Canada. By 1990, Parissa was a well-recognised brand in Canada and we were starting to sell in the US as well. Our product line now included Cold Wax, Warm Wax, Hot or Hard Wax, Wax Strips, and before and after care wax products. We also increased our distribution not only in US but slowly globally including the UK.
As time progressed initially my son Fardad joined the company after his graduation in 1992. He was instrumental in Parissa’s global sales and marketing and brand recognition. My daughter, Maryam, also joined us later, and now heads our legal, HR, and administration. I am still working, mostly looking after company finances.
Today Parissa Laboratories is a globally recognised company with one of the best known international hair remover products. The products are available widely in Canada, the US, the UK, some European countries, and some other countries including Korea.
What is your current role and what does your work involve?
I am the CFO of the company, in charge of finance. Because of my background and knowledge of what the company been through, I also help in an advisory capacity to all other areas, especially purchasing and production.
What I find most rewarding is working with my children and my employees who have mostly been with me for many years. It is a very friendly and rewarding work place with approximately 30 people. It feels like a big family with its feuds and love and pain and joy!
What experiences do you feel helped you get to your current position?
My education had a major effect at the beginning of my career. At NPC I was buying processes and was in charge of project management. This position helped in my successful management of Parissa, although in Canada I was on the opposite side of the table selling, whereas in Iran I was buying. I have no doubt knowing what buyers are looking for helped me learn how to become strong at sales.
I have also used skills and knowledge developed during my degree in product and process development. My education at Edinburgh helped me to develop a systematic and logistical frame of mind.
What do you think was the most valuable aspect of your time at Edinburgh in preparation for your career?
Diversity. I learned how to deal with people of all nationalities. This was not just in my career but in my life and as I moved around the world.
What advice would you give to students who are interested in your area of work?
After the Iranian Revolution, when I was no longer able to work in Iran’s oil industry, I thought what now? How is this degree going to help me?
It helped me start my own company and produce amazing products. It allowed me to directly employ many people and give business to many more as sales agents, contractors and more.
Early this month as we were closing down production because of COVID-19, and I thought again – what now? But next morning we started producing much-needed hand sanitizers for our staff, family, and local community.
It is not just the technical stuff that may or may not be relevant in your future, it is the state of mind that is developed.