An attorney with a passion for international travel, Nels Ackerson was the ideal candidate to lead an intricate cross-cultural charge: Establishment of Egypt’s first American law office—Sidley & Austin & Naguib—in 1982.
Equally important to the legal landmark, however, were the personal experiences and impressions Ackerson gained through three years in the Middle East.
“Living and working in Egypt was completely unlike anything I’ve done before,” he says. “There’s so much to understand about a culture that goes back 4,000 years. Sites such as the Temple of Karnak ruins display signs of a civilization impossible to imagine in terms of intellect and sophistication.”
Visiting rural villages offered insights to the country as well. “The level of near-destitute poverty of many village people was overwhelming,” Ackerson recalls. “But the character of those who wanted to rise above it was amazing. Egypt is a poor country, but its people are very noble.”
Ackerson also seized the opportunity to act as an ambassador of sorts. “Many Egyptians have had great admiration for Americans in the past, but, in recent years, that’s shifted toward fear and misunderstanding. Too often, Egyptians have found that the Americans in their presence didn’t represent the high ideals they expected. Too many Americans enter the country with arrogant or superior attitudes, and they ignore Egyptian culture and traditions.”
Ackerson’s returned to Egypt several times, always reuniting with colleagues and friends. “I’ve seen enough examples in career paths and policy changes to know that my presence there has made a difference,” he says. “Going through such a rigorous, intense, and rewarding experience to create something unique left me with very strong connections.”