Bridgehead to the Middle East

What began as a small lighting technology company is today a service provider with large-scale projects in the Arab world. The head of the company is a woman

Carola Schild © Le-vi Elektrovertrieb GmbH

Roughly two-and-a-half million Muslims make the pilgrimage to Mecca each year. With its massive inner courtyard, the Holy Mosque is the largest of its kind in the world and can accommodate up to 900,000 people. For the city of Mecca, the annual stream of pilgrims presents multiple logistical challenges, with safety being the highest priority. One might think there’s no connection here to Berlin, but one Berliner is actually contributing to making sure the great Hajj pilgrimage takes place as safely as possible.

Carola Schild is managing director of Berlin-based Le-vi Elektrovertrieb GmbH. The name makes it sound like a small company selling electrical switches and plugs; and, in fact, the company got its start twenty years ago in the lighting technology business. However, that all changed a few years later: “After 9/11, everything started revolving around security”, says Schild, “so we changed a large part of our business to focus on security and access control systems”. Although the Holy Mosque in Mecca is indeed one of her showcase projects, 56-year-old Schild is proud of all her ventures, especially in Saudi Arabia, the Emirates, Qatar and Morocco.

“In the past several years, we started to focus additionally on North Africa. We’ve developed very close contacts to that region”, she notes.

Schild doesn’t share the view that it’s difficult for a woman to do business in conservative Muslim countries like Saudi Arabia: “My business trips are very normal”, says Schild, who is a Christian, “however, I do try to adapt to certain customs”. She didn’t attend any cultural seminars to prepare herself to do business in the Middle East, instead choosing to trust her intuition. And she must have done something right, because in the Saudi city of Jeddah – one of the country’s business metropolises – she has been hired by both private and public clients to plan and install security and lighting technology.

When Schild travels to the Middle East, she functions as more than just a businesswoman; she is also a mediator of cultures. Word has clearly gotten out about her excellent contacts, and Schild herself refers to her company as a “bridgehead to the Middle East”. Indeed, when she travels to the Muslim world, she acts as a kind of diplomat for Germany business, and her company represents several well-known German manufacturers that have no branches on the Arabian Peninsula. Schild also advises other companies that have little knowledge of the region and lack the experience of working with Arab business partners.

In the early years of her career, Schild worked for the Rosenthal porcelain manufactory in Paris, a job that “never let go of its grip on me”, she says. In fact, her interest in Middle Eastern art grew alongside her expanding German-Arab network. She now intends to open a gallery in Charlottenburg focusing primarily on artists from the region and functioning as a forum for gatherings and exchange. “The world is constantly on the move”, says Schild, “and anyone who stays put is left behind”. That goes for Germany just as much as for Saudi Arabia. (mse)

Michael Sellge
Kluge Köpfe 2017