Our cover star this month, Abdallah Sallam, is the enigmatic and intriguing personality behind Minka, an innovative real estate company that is poised to change the real estate landscape in Egypt. A member of the prominent Sallam family, known for its vast business empire, that includes such household names like Olympic Electric, BTECH, Ideal, KidZania, Koldaire, Tank and CIC – Abdallah Sallam, a mechanical engineer by education and a visionary at heart, chose to strike out building a career revolving around innovation. Like other Sallam family members of his generation, he started his practical work experience in the family business, before moving to Canada for a few years, only to return to his beloved Egypt with passion and determination to continue the family’s legacy shifting to real estate with a vision to realize the real potential of this crucial industry. eniGma’s Ezz Al-Turkey sat down with Sallam to learn more about his passion for real estate, how he hopes to make his mark in this challenging field, and his ambitions for the future.
What influence did your family have on your career?
My family had an undeniably huge impact on me, starting with my name! I was named after my late grandfather, who planted the first seed of our now prominent family business empire. He started from scratch back in the 1930’s and worked his way up through thick and thin. The honor of bearing his name, has always set forth the pressure to follow in his footsteps. His sons, my dad and my uncles, successfully did that and grew the business to be the success it is today. To us, the third generation, we are indebted to their accomplishment. It is now our time and turn to build on the legacy and carry the torch that was ignited by my grandfather and carried to its prestigious stance by the second generation. One of the lessons I have learned from my late grandfather is that we are born to help people and try to make the world a better place, not just for us, but more importantly, for others. He led by example and taught me to strive to have an impact on the world – and that has become the core of everything I do in my work. It’s more than just real estate to me; it’s the real essence of life!
What inspired you to start Minka as a new real estate developer?
When I first joined the family business at the beginning of my career, I deliberately moved around from one company to the other and from industry to another. I’ve always had a curiosity to explore new things and create value along the way. Real estate was an industry that triggered my curiosity early enough when I got involved with NAMAA, the family’s commercial real estate arm for the past 20 years. I never considered to pursue real estate full time until I moved to Canada for a few years and realized the potential and innovation that the Egyptian market needs. I did not want to pursue a full-time job while in Canada as I knew I wanted to return to Egypt and fulfill my vision here. Yet I experimented with real estate investing, flipping and education during my stay in Canada which initiated the idea of starting Minka for when I return to Egypt. I wanted to transfer a lot of the inspiration and innovation I experienced in the Canadian market to Egypt, and this is exactly what I did. The moment I returned to Egypt, I prepared a plan to start a new forward thinking and innovative real estate development company, convinced the family, put together a small team and Minka was born.
Tell us more about how your Canadian experience influenced you?
There is so much to learn from Canada, I always use the popular quote by singer David Hewson ‘Bono’ and later repeated by American President Barack Obama: “The World Needs More Canada.” But to be more specific in relation to real estate and business, Canada sparked a very simple vision for me that dictated what we stand for at Minka. Experiencing Canadians’ love of nature and their appreciation of life and their pursuit to lead simple, meaningful and joyful lives was a huge inspiration for our mission at Minka: “to strive to make Egyptians happier and Egypt a better place by developing meaningful and innovative properties for the privileged and help provide safe and sustainable dwellings for the underprivileged.” Ironically, Canada showed me the potential that Egypt has and the need for an innovative developer in the market. It’s not an easy task but we are determined to do it by staying consistent to our mission and relevant to the changing world.
How do you maintain consistency and relevance?
These two notions often collide and yet are very important for a successful business. You have to be consistent in your message and promise; you have to know your product offering very well and be consistent in delivering it. And yet, you have to be relevant to the changing trends, habits and needs of the market and the growing generations. It’s very tricky not to lose relevance and end up with a trapped customer because you’re trying to be consistent. Real estate in Egypt has been very consistent for many years, but it’s losing relevance with modern day trends and new generations’ aspirations. The new generation has different needs and they’re a different kind of client. I think the simple answer to your question is innovation.
How do you apply innovation in Minka?
Before I answer that question, I have to define innovation. I always make sure that people understand that innovation is not the same as invention, despite the words being used interchangeably many times; there is a huge difference between them. Innovation is all about improving existing products and services by doing them better, and by solving problems in a different manner. You don’t need to invent something new to be innovative; you just need to do things differently with the intention of solving people’s problems. This is exactly what we do at Minka and our real estate approach. One of the consistent norms in the Egyptian real estate market is semi-finished homes rather than fully finished and ready to live in homes. Despite the justifications for that norm, I believe that semi-finished homes are a huge obstacle to the maturity and momentum of the industry. Semi-finished homes cater to price sensitivity, but on the other hand create a huge backlog of un-utilized properties, a huge amount of locked resources and huge frustrations to homeowners at delivery. This is just an example of a major customer pain point that we try to innovate and deliver on. We do so with many other issues regarding the efficiency of homes, the way customers buy and even the way we build homes to maximize the benefit and solve problems and frustrations along the way. We are not re-inventing the wheel, but we’re keen to come up with products that people will love, as I always quote Steve Jobs, “people do not know what they want until they see it.”
What sets you apart from other developers?
I am a true believer in collective value. That is, I believe every developer has something unique to add to the market and to Egypt. Funny enough, knowing and believing in that, makes us a bit different. Our quick successes in the market were only possible because we have collaborated with other successful companies including other developers. Yet again, I believe what sets us apart technically is our attention to detail and our commitment to offer properties that are ready to live in and use. Another thing that I’m always keen to keep in Minka’s culture is to preserve a mindset of a startup no matter how big we are, this makes us always hungry for innovation and moving things forward.
What do you think sets Egypt apart in the real estate industry?
The thing that sets Egypt apart in real estate and in everything else is its people. For real estate, the massive Egyptian population and its continuous growth translates to an ever growing market and unstoppable demand, especially when it comes to the people’s most wanted product, a home! Moreover, Egyptians are ambitious people and are always looking to make a better living and pave the way for an even better one for their children. I also think that the upcoming generations of young Egyptians are way more ambitious, progressive and talented than ever and will drive the Egyptian economy and community to new strides in the coming years. All this makes the Egyptian real estate scene much more ripe, promising and attractive than a lot of other markets in the region. Not only that, but a hyperactive and courageous government that is re-building Egypt from the ground up at a pace and standard unprecedented to all living Egyptians. The efforts and accomplishments of the Egyptian government in the country’s infrastructure, namely the impressive network of roads, highways, bridges and tunnels across the nation is opening the way for new real estate development and growth that will help this industry thrive for decades to come.
Tell us a bit about Kinda, your latest project…
Starting with the name Kinda, which is morphed out of “Canada,” “Kindness” and “Kinship,” delivers exactly what we strive for: building a Canadian inspired community. Despite hiring the best architects in the world to design an aesthetically beautiful architecture, Kinda is more focused on aspects of livability that make life more enjoyable and simple. The details and design put forth are very meaningful and simply beautiful. We’ve invested so much in designing the infrastructure and choosing the materials, landscape and services at Kinda to make sure that “Kinadians” (residents of Kinda) experience a new standard of living. Our landscape design and selection is breathtaking, our homes are beautiful and efficient, and everything is designed to harness the nature around us and promote a positive lifestyle. At Kinda there will be a community mayor, a family doctor, a library, bicycles and electric scooters for commuting, and much more. All this, mixed with the notions of sustainability and community at the core, as well as a location like no other. Kinda will be a very special project and a beautiful place to live in.
What projects do you plan to take on next?
Despite our excitement about Kinda, we strive not to repeat our projects at Minka. We do so to preserve our culture of innovation and to make sure that each project we develop stays unique and serves a specific purpose and need. So beyond Kinda, and The HOFT (our other very innovative development), we are hard at work to present to the market a new innovative development in the near future. Without disclosing any details for now, we promise future developments that solve more problems, make life better and build on the potential of Egypt and aspirations of our clients. We are still scratching the surface.
Photography: Khaled Fadda
Styling: Hoda Wahby
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