Lina Hundaileh: The Willy Wonka of Jordan

Lina 3By Peako Jenkins

When Lina Hundaileh decided to open a chocolate factory, she didn’t have the first idea about running a manufacturing facility or producing sweets. But she did have one important thing going for her—she was a chocoholic. “Not only I am chocoholic, but my skin color is also chocolatey so being called ‘The Chocolate Lady’ is the perfect moniker,” Hundaileh laughs.

But all jokes aside, this Jordanian chocolatier is also fiercely determined, visionary, and self-confident, character traits she believes are essential for any entrepreneur to lead a startup to success.

With an engineering degree from Jordan University in nutrition and food technology, Hundaileh began her career working as the Assistant Regional Director of a Germany company that supplied universities and technical schools with scientific equipment. In 1988, the company closed its Amman office, and Hundaileh was faced with two options: look for a different job or start her own business. Looking for decent and secure employment as a woman in Jordan was not an easy task, so she decided to work for herself and follow her passion for chocolate.

“Quitting is not part of the culture of an entrepreneur. To be successful, you have to have passion, be able to adapt to change, and be a continuous learner. The competition is fierce. It’s not enough simply to survive; you have to excel and stay ahead of my competition through innovation and a hunger for learning.”

When she shared her idea, most people laughed and said it couldn’t be done. Her competitors were giant multinational companies such as Nestle, Galaxy, and Cadbury. Despite the obstacles, Hundaileh did not view failure as an option. She set about calling the embassies of several European countries to see if they could recommend any chocolate companies that might be interested in a joint venture. She wrote letters to every chocolate manufacturer she could find until finally receiving a response from a Cypriot company. Before speaking with them, she found a book on chocolate manufacturing and read it to convince them she knew what she was talking about.

“I went to Cyprus with only one option in my mind—I saw only success at the end of the road, I didn’t see Lina 1failure. It wasn’t in my vocabulary. I went to that meeting with absolute passion that I’d impress them and succeed in my venture.”

Hundaileh won the firm over with her business pitch and obvious determination, and they agreed to move forward with a deal. In need of $350,000 to make the dream a reality, she turned to the three F’s—family, friends, and “the fools who believed in her”—to raise the required capital. She also got a loan from the Investment Development Bank. In homage to the name by which Amman, Jordan’s capital city, was formerly known, Hundaileh named her new venture the Philadelphia Chocolate Factory. Production started in 1992 with three types of chocolate.

Along the way, the undeterred chocolate-lover experienced fierce competition from well-established confectionery multinationals. She also had to overcome the perception of many Jordanians that locally-produced chocolates were inferior to imported ones.

Lina 4“The question was how to compete—how to find a place in the fiercely competitive market among these giants. I am a dwarf, a small company. Actually, not even small—I was smaller than a small company, and I had to fight to get the Jordanian people to realize that we were selling a high-quality product. I had to convince the buyers at the supermarkets to give us space on their shelves,” Hundaileh recalls.

But she relished the challenge and found ways to increase her market share by appealing to new clientele.

“We started producing low-calorie, diabetic, and ‘healthier’ chocolate with vitamins and minerals, chocolate lollipops for children, and chocolate for cooking and special occasions. We targeted supermarkets and participated in exhibitions to discover non-traditional markets for export, and we got feedback from our customers. I feel my competitive advantage is service. I listen to my customers.”

Her perseverance paid off. Chocolate production grew to 2.5 tons encompassing 40 varieties of chocolate per day. On the heels of the success of her first factory, Hundaileh opened up a second facility, a franchise of a US chocolate company, and a gummy bear factory. Today the Philadelphia Chocolate Factory exports more than 60% of its production outside Jordan.

Hundaileh recognizes her employees as a critical success factor of her growth: “I have workers who have been with me since I started the business. I have empathy and think of them as partners in the business. I go out to the factory and speak to them to think with me about how we can save on the costs. They are part of the decision-making process,” she explains.

A firm believer that every entrepreneur is motivated to inspire others because business owners need to see the potential for success, Hundaileh takes part in numerous civil society initiatives to mentor entrepreneurs, help business owners grow their enterprises, create a better enabling environment for small business in Jordan, and increase women’s economic participation. She is especially interested in helping micro-, small-, and medium-sized enterprises in marginalized governorates outside of Amman and serves on the board of INJAZ, the Young Entrepreneurs Association, Jordan Exporters Association, Sahab Industrialist Association, and the Jordan Enterprise Development Corporation.

Hundaileh gives back because she feels her country has given her support in the past, and she wants to do her part to make Jordan attractive for investment. But she also wants to share her learnings and help other entrepreneurs succeed.

“If you don’t have patience, you might quit too soon and then you’ll never know whether or not you could have been a success. Quitting is not part of the culture of an entrepreneur. It’s not a part of our daily terminology. To be successful, you have to have passion, be able to adapt to change, and be a continuous learner. The competition is fierce. It’s not enough simply to survive; you have to excel and stay ahead of my competition through innovation and a hunger for learning.”

Lina Hundaileh’s startup tips:
  • Leave your comfort zone. Don’t take a no for an answer. Dream big, face your fears.
  • Be a continuous learner. It will make you a leader in the market and enable you to face unforeseen negative surprises that come your way.
  • Be optimistic and stay positive. It will keep you motivated to succeed.
  • When seeking investors, look for someone in your business. If an investor is not in the business, he doesn’t put himself in your shoes. It all becomes theoretical for him. And when it’s theoretical…it’s very difficult to change his opinion. This means, instead of concentrating on your company’s growth, you have to spend a lot of time and energy whenever you have a new item or decide to enter a new market convincing people that this is a good thing to do for the business.

Peako Jenkins is an Assistant Program Officer for the Middle East and North Africa at the Center for International Private Enterprise (CIPE) in Washington DC. CIPE’s goal is strengthening democracy around the globe through private enterprise and market-oriented reform.


3 thoughts on “Lina Hundaileh: The Willy Wonka of Jordan

  1. It was an honor for me and other women entrepreneurs in Kosovo (During the 1st International Conference on WE, October 2010, Pristina, Organized by Women Business Association SHE-ERA) to meet and listen a journey towards success of the Lina Hundaileh, which is an inspiration and motivation to other women in business … Thank you Lina.

  2. Lina is a very inspiring woman and has helped inspire many entrepreneurs in Jordan with her support and words of wisdom at every corner. Her passion is indeed contagious and I wish for every entrepreneur to know her to appreciate the effort it takes to succeed and to actually succeed.

    Thank you Lina!!

  3. Thank you Lina and to all the She inspires her because you are really an inspiration and your startup’s tips are very welcome to my entrepreneur journey.

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