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Saltchuk internal consultant finds niche in the United States

Ala’ Al-Kukhun moved his family to Seattle from West Palm Beach, Fla. last month finding more opportunities

By Hilary Reeves

Ala’ Al-Kukhun got his first taste of American culture just five years ago when he moved to Missouri from his home country of Jordan to pursue a master’s degree, a fact made more unbelievable when confronted with his infectious smile and breezy personality – longtime symbols of American cool.

“People always ask me if I experienced culture shock (when I moved straight to the Midwest), and it’s funny, but I never really did,” he laughed. “Only with little things. There’s more space, better infrastructure, more bureaucratic organization. And it was my first time in Krispy Kreme. We have most fast food restaurants (in Jordan), but we don’t have Krispy Kreme.”

Al-Kukhun chose to stay in the United States after graduation to pursue the many opportunities available to work for best-practice companies in his chosen field of accounting. He recently joined Saltchuk as a Senior Internal Consultant. He said Seattle, where he has lived for less than a month, was worth the wait.

Al-Kukhun who was born in Palestine, grew up in the capital city of Jordan, one of five children. Both his parents taught Arabic – his mother as a teacher-turned-principal in the United Nation Refugee Agency’s Jordan camps, and his father as a university professor.

“I wish I could be as poetic (in Arabic) as my mother and father,” he said. “Whenever my uncles would come over, they would have these friendly competitions where they would try to recite a line of poetry that started with the last letter of the previous line recited. They are very well-read.”

Al-Kukhun received his Bachelor’s Degree in Accounting in 2009 before spending the following year working for Ernst and Young, a multinational professional services firm headquartered in London. He left Jordan in the fall of 2010 to attend Missouri State University in Springfield.

“I was accepted to many schools, but I felt it was the best university for the money,” he explained. “People don’t believe me, but I very much enjoyed my stay in little Springfield, Missouri.”

After completing his first year in graduate school, Al-Kukhun returned to Jordan for his wedding. He and his fiancée, Hind, were married in July of 2011; they returned to Missouri together in the fall so he could finish school. Months before Al-Kukhun graduated with a Master’s Degree in Accounting in 2012, he was approached by recruiters.

“I was praying to God not to go anywhere north,” he laughed. “I saw an advertisement where somebody was out scraping his windshield, and after 10 minutes of doing that he realized that he had the wrong car. I always told the recruiters, ‘I’m looking for a new place to call home, and the nicer the weather, the better.’”

Offers rolled in, from Wisconsin to Florida to the Middle East.

“The opportunities I had in the Middle East were in the Gulf area because of the oil industry there,” he explained. “I also had opportunities back in Jordan. But I came to America to get the best education, and I wanted to see that (education) in action here.”

With multiple career trajectories unfolding before us, Al-Kukhun chose a position at Deloitte, another one of the “Big Four” public accounting firms, and moved to Boca Raton, Fla.

“Florida is not like Missouri,” he laughed.

Al-Kukhun and his wife hold their daughter between their shoulders
Ala’ and Hind with their daughter Leen.

Soon after he started at Deloitte, he and his wife welcomed a little girl. They named her Leen, meaning “tender.” He worked at Deloitte for about a year before the lack of work-life balance became unsurmountable “There was too much driving, a lot of hours away from my family,” he said.

Al-Kukhun then joined AGL Resources, parent company of Tropical Shipping, which was acquired by Saltchuk Resources in September.

“Saltchuk was awesome in giving me a choice (of whether to come to Seattle or stay in Florida),” he said. “But the exposure that I’d be getting here in Seattle to the different companies and subsidiaries was an opportunity that I couldn’t pass up.”

After one visit last fall, he decided to make the move to Saltchuk.

“I really like what we do,” he said. “I don’t like to think of it as ‘auditing.’ I like to think of it as consulting, but with independence from management. It’s more that we’re looking for opportunities for improvement. Of course, looking for these opportunities may reveal some weaknesses. Usually people want to better the business and are receptive to our cost-effective recommendations.”

While Al-Kukhun is still working on Tropical projects, he is looking forward to learning how the other companies fit under the Saltchuk umbrella, and said he is growing to love the Northwest.

“We are all tourists in this world, we just have try to leave a good impression. I hope I leave a good one here at Saltchuk and in the Northwest.”