With a background in business development and marketing, Baker Al-Qudsi is proud to invest his time and life in the city he calls home, Milwaukee.
The son of Palestinian immigrants who taught him to persevere and succeed despite obstacles and hardships, Al-Qudsi has used his experience to live the change he wants to see take place in the world, and his beloved faith community.
Q&A with Baker Al-Qudsi
Wisconsin Muslim Journal: What experiences or people were most influential on your youth?
Baker Al-Qudsi: There were many individuals that certainly have left life-long impressions on me, though I’m going to pick three people that I believe were most influential to me during my youth and have helped shape my personality today. My father and both grandfathers.
My father Sulayman is my most influential academic and leader. He has a PhD in Economics and has educated thousands of students, written many research papers, and advised countless organizations and prominent figures. I spent as much time as I could observing him in work and leisure. Lover of the outdoors and road trips, he knows where to go and how to have a good time. I used to listen to him while he was proof-reading his research articles out-loud. I observed how he communicated with others. He used leadership communication skills that resonated with me – professional, eloquent, intelligent, humble and with common sense. I would observe how he could take difficult situations and turn them into positive outcomes. I would also periodically tag along when he lectured students in Universities. These influential experiences taught me effective public speaking, communication, professionalism, and etiquette.
My grandfather Shabaan had charisma. He had character. He was a great storyteller with a personality that felt larger than life. His sense of humor was monumental. Shabaan had a natural gravitational pull for people. He had the ability to walk into a room and draw people to him by just being. I used to watch people he had never met flock to him, listen to his incredible stories, and wipe tears of laugher away from their bright red faces. His jokes were inappropriate, yet so appropriate. He would say anything, to anyone, at any time – yes, even during Hajj. Ladies loved him, men wanted to be him – They don’t make them like that anymore.
My grandfather Abdul Qader was a sweetheart of a man. He had the softest heart and the kindest soul. When you look into his bright blue eyes, you would see kindness, purity and love. He had many life stories that he would share. Most of them unfortunately, like most Palestinian stories, did not have the happiest of endings. When I would ask him why or how, he would answer with “this is what happened Jido and now Palestine is besieged” as his bright blue eyes filled with tears. He listened more than he spoke, and often was overwhelmed with tears of emotion for his family and what was lost in Palestine. He always saw the positive in the world, his situation and the people around him. He did not complain. He went with what life gave him and made the best out of his situation. Abed was a glass-half-full person and taught me to not be upset at one’s situation.
My father and both grandfathers did not have easy lives. There was the Palestinian occupation, which resulted in their becoming refugees, uprooted several times where they endured great injustices throughout their lives. Against all odds, they still found ways to persevere and succeed from despair. Collectively they taught me many influential business and marketing attributes. Professionalism, business etiquette, communication, humor, common sense, public speaking, humility, pursuit of success, a love for all people and a positive outlook on life.
Wisconsin Muslim Journal: Can you talk a little about your family background and your connection to Milwaukee?
Baker Al-Qudsi: My father’s side of the family is from Al Quds (Jerusalem) and mothers side is from Yaffa. I was born in Kuwait but grew up in California. In 2004, my father was in the process of relocating to Calgary Canada for a new position. My Uncle Marwan (mother’s brother) at the time was the Dean of Business at the University of Wisconsin Parkside. It made sense for me to move to Milwaukee and study Business and Marketing. Although I do not have family in Milwaukee anymore, the city has grown on me. Over the years, I dreamt about moving back to California, though I continue to dig my roots in Milwaukee. I have built and continue to build, a network in Milwaukee and surrounding areas and that keeps me planted.
Wisconsin Muslim Journal: How have you seen the Milwaukee Muslim community change over the years?
Baker Al-Qudsi: Change is a matter of perspective. There are some things that have not changed and some that have. The things that have not changed are mostly social mindsets. Maybe the larger community is not discussing these things openly to avoid tension. Whatever the underlying issue is, we need to work on ways to overcome. It will start by acknowledging that there are issues, and having the willingness to change and evolve, followed by educating each other. If we want to witness a true change in our community, then we must participate in it. Change is not something that will be given to us. Change is a decision that individuals make, then they consciously take actions to educate themselves. If enough individuals in a community make the decision to change, that is when I believe we will witness true progress. I have seen new community resources, important businesses and outreach organizations make a true impact in the Milwaukee community. These organizations are a breath of fresh air. The common fundamentals shared between them is that they all started with a unique vision, they set out to solve a “problem” in the Muslim community, are all focused on their objectives, they are well-planned, and are specialized.
Wisconsin Muslim Journal: What is the most common problem Muslim people face in Milwaukee?
Baker Al-Qudsi: I do not believe there is “one” common problem, but I would say social engagement could solve more issues if the community was more engaged. Internally, we tend to just yell about the problems we read about on the internet into loudspeakers to a sleepy audience, with no actual solution or roadmap to resolve the problem. Instead of complaining and being reactive, we could consider proactive topics to discuss with the community that can improve our social awareness, encourage social engagement for causes that are not only our own, or begin strategic steps to solve re-occurring issues. Externally, we need to get involved in the communities that we live, work, play, and pray in. I am guilty of being too busy myself, but we need to be more involved in city meetings, festivals, and volunteering when needed to make our positive voices heard.
Wisconsin Muslim Journal: What elements of Milwaukee’s location have offered people success?
Baker Al-Qudsi: Geographically, Milwaukee is a prime Midwest location for business and entrepreneurial endeavors. We are 75 miles from Chicago, which is a major commercial hub. Many of Chicago’s investors are heavily funding developments in Milwaukee, and for good reason. Milwaukee is a little-big city. People can reach just about any side of Milwaukee in about twenty minutes. Try doing that in Illinois.
Wisconsin Muslim Journal: What is your hope for the future of the Muslim community in Milwaukee, and for the city itself?
Baker Al-Qudsi: My hope for the Muslim community is that we continue to provide resources for our youth to help them develop great ideas, create visions, and provide tools to reach their goals. I do not think that we have a business or entrepreneurship program in the Muslim community, though I believe it is necessary. Muslims generally have entrepreneurship aspirations and it would be valuable to develop a program that can provide tools for how to start a business, what is required to register, tax knowledge, marketing insight, and such. We can invite folks who work with different organizations to come, present to our youth, provide mentorship, give advice, tell their life-story, and answer questions. This is how we can ignite ideas, create drive, and share knowledge.
Wisconsin Muslim Journal: How has your faith influenced your business and career path?
Baker Al-Qudsi: There are many parallels between my faith and my career in Business and Marketing. My faith preaches transparency, etiquette, honesty, reliability, innovation, hard-work, positivity, professionalism and compassion to name a few. A quote from my faith that I try to live by – “Perfect your work” (Itqan Al 3amal – in Arabic). To me this means that I do not look for shortcuts. I give my best effort, provide the best service, treat all people with love and respect, and work-hard. I attempt to integrate those fundamentals into my work every day. I am not perfect, however, and there are many days when a few of those fundamentals slip-by, but fulfilling that mission is always my goal.
Wisconsin Muslim Journal: Can you talk about your work for Hayat and the Muslim community?
Baker Al-Qudsi: My work with Hayat Pharmacy is incredibly rewarding. I oversee Marketing and Business development for Hayat. I feel a sense of fulfillment that I have not experienced in any of the other organizations that I previously worked for. It truly is rewarding to provide patient care to all communities in southeastern Wisconsin. Hayat Pharmacy is a pharmacy for all people. We can adapt our services to any community that needs our help like the Muslim community, for example. We make sure to be respectful to religions, cultures, etiquettes, manners, and wishes of the patients. We speak over 23 languages, so we can accommodate those who can only express themselves in their mother tongue, or do not have the best English skills and a translator. We take pride in helping patients maneuver through the “red tape” of healthcare, providing solutions for high drug prices, or offering answers regarding the medication that the patient is taking.
Wisconsin Muslim Journal: What advice would you offer a Muslim youth interested in pursuing a career in marketing?
Baker Al-Qudsi: The most important aspect of being an effective business leader is to read. Educate yourself in the industry that you aspire to or are working in. Business and marketing is not a desk job. If you do not enjoy always working, networking, constantly speaking to people, building relationships and common ground, traveling or being able to spontaneously speak to a large group professionally and answer random questions, this profession may not be for you. Do not try be a jack of all trades and a master of none. Specialize in the industry that you are looking to get into. Being specialized means that you have become an expert in that segment. People trust and want to work with specialists. Be first or be better. You are either the first in the market to do something and the pressure is on to let everyone know that you are doing it, or you find a way to be better than the person who beat you to the idea. Being better could mean more efficient, faster, or cheaper service. Ask questions. There is no shame in admitting that you do not understand something. Be unique. Stand out in a sea of normal. Find a way to set yourself apart from your competition. Set goals and meet them. Make sure that you set realistic deadlines to achieve certain benchmarks that will take you to your goal. And, always be working.
Wisconsin Muslim Journal