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Ihssane Mounir, 42, holds what is probably the most demanding sales job at Boeing.

As senior vice president of sales for northeast Asia, he heads up Boeing sales to China, Japan, Korea and Taiwan.

He sees his wife and four school-age kids about one week a month — the rest of the time he’s traveling.

For Mounir, it’s been a remarkable ascent. At the age of 17, he arrived alone in the U.S. from his birthplace of Morocco. He didn’t speak English.

But he had sufficiently impressive high-school results that Wichita State University had given him a conditional acceptance to study aerospace engineering.

Already fluent in Arabic, French and Spanish, Mounir headed straight to a language school in Wichita, Kan., to learn English.

After meeting the language requirement, he earned bachelor’s and master’s of engineering degrees. He went on to lecture and do award-winning aerospace research at the university.

Mounir joined Boeing in 1997 as a senior aerodynamics engineer. Later he moved from the technical to the business side of the company, selling Boeing jets in Africa, Latin America, Europe and Russia.

When given his current posting in 2011, he’d never been to China and spoke no Chinese.

But he was now a top Boeing executive, with all the advantages that brings.

By comparison to his solitary arrival in the U.S. as a teenager without any support, said Mounir, finding his feet in Beijing was “a walk in the park.”

— Dominic Gates