The determined lawyer was one of the most prominent dealmakers in Egypt's international agreements – both private and public. In a talk with Cairoscene, Nermine Tahoun explains what it takes to branch out and rise above giants in a profession marked by tycoons.
“Deciding to be independent and setting up my own company really defined who I am today,” says Nermine Tahoun, the forward-thinking Egyptian lawyer, whose mark was left on many global business agreements – from aviation, to oil and gas, to real estate and the Suez Canal Development area itself.
Having graduated from Cairo University and specialized at the College of Law England and Wales, the determined attorney decided to immerse herself into international law for the private sector, after working with major firms and global clients. "I love my profession and I really wanted to do it; I worked since the early morning hours until midnight to prove to everyone that I am here to work,” says the 36-year-old lawyer, who paved her own way with no connections or contacts, letting her hard work speak for itself.
Working in a gender-based profession, Tahoun says she believes in specialty above all, "That’s what helped me focus as a business lawyer and dealmaker. I believe there is no difference between a man’s and a woman’s mind – it just took clear vision and persistence to prove it to our society,” she says.
Having drafted contracts for various financial transactions across regions such as Dubai, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Ethiopia, Canada, and the USA, the driven professional landed a job as the Public Private Partnership's (PPP) legal advisor at the Ministry of Finance during the term of Dr. Youssef Boutros Ghali, assisting the ministry’s international contracts. “Working with the ministry gave me enormous legal experience at an international level,” says Tahoun, who was in charge of issues that vary from ATM projects, to the developing of insurance law systems, to the restructuring of Egyptian in-flight services, to waste collection, and finally, the Suez Canal Economic Zone project.
But her boldest decision would come in 2010, when her perseverance and passion pushed her to branch out of the prominent firm where she was working for, to enter a market characterised by unbeatable tycoons. “It was the riskiest and most important thing I did, yet, the most significant decision I’ve ever made. I was just 30, but I had clients before I even opened my own office – they were big names, and that's what encouraged me,” she says.
As a business lawyer, Tahoun handled various merges and acquisitions and disputes for clients such as Accor, AJE, Diners Club Egypt, IPROG (Improved Petroleum Recovery), Kartago Airlines, Kharafi International, Network International, Phillip Morris International, and Polaris International Industrial Parks. She represented sellers in the pharmaceutical industry, and handled titanic acquisitions, such as AlBorg Lab by Abraj Capital, and El Oyoun International Hospital.
Despite it being a difficult journey, developing persistence was crucial to running her own law firm, proving herself to both colleagues and clients. "As a woman, you have to ensure them that you will do better than a male lawyer. You have to let them forget that you are young and that you are a woman,” says the attorney, who now handles agreements, Merges and Acquisitions (M&A), and disputes for clients of the calibre of Philip Morris and DHL, in both national and international courts of justice. But more importantly, she acts as an advisor for wind power plants and the Suez Canal Development area, dealing with industrial, real estate, and tourism development in the area.
Looking back, getting her voice heard today is 'a piece of cake'. “I am confident in what I am doing. It takes me three minutes to understand the people around me,” she says. “I deal with my clients in a fair and professional manner, providing them with competitive fees with the same responsiveness and quality services as those of an international law firm. I understand contracts, and I am confident in everything I say – whoever is against me or underestimates my effort, I ignore them and continue my way.”
Find out more about Nermine Tahoun's work on her website.
Photography by @MO4Network's #MO4Productions.
Photographer: Mohamed Hosni.