With a life-long passion for racing and motor engineering, Ahmed El Bakry, the Egyptian Founder and CEO of Refined Marques, has made a name for himself across the globe designing the most luxurious cars as well as sourcing and purchasing classical and supercars for special clients. Refined Marques offers its loyal clients an exclusive range of cars and once in a lifetime experiences. eniGma’s Founder & CEO Yasmine Shihata caught up with the intriguing El Bakry to learn more about how he started his exciting and unique business, the story behind his connection with Cannes, and his exciting plans for the future.
Tell us about how you ended up moving with your family to Cannes. It’s quite unusual for an Egyptian family to decide to settle in Cannes!
My mom had an old-school French education, having studied at the Sacre Coeur school in Cairo. Since the French learning system was one of the best, she wanted me to have that as well at a time when French embassies were promoting the French Riviera to attract people from the Middle East and North Africa. In 1979 when I was around five years old, my parents visited Cannes and bought a house there. From then on that house became our summer destination. Later I went to different boarding schools in France and Switzerland, then to Webster University in London, where I double majored in International Business and Finance and minored in Economics and Computer Science. While I was in university, I was racing at Silverstone. I went on to get my Master’s degree from Harvard and then came back to Cannes.
What made you get into cars after you finished your studies?
With my finance background, I first tried to work in banking. However, the office job did not suit my active disposition. At the time, I was still racing and I was really into cars. I decided to leave the bank and to start experimenting with designing electric cars. I started with my own car, a Ferrari. I did the modifications with the factory I worked with during my racing days. At first I was criticised, and was told I was being “too much.” Then, to everyone’s surprise, the son of King Fahd Al Saud of Saudi Arabia, Abd El Aziz Bin Fahd, was passing by one day and he bought the car on the spot. One sale after another, I realised I had found a market niche for people who wanted to drive a car that no one else had.
Are the changes you do to your cars just external cosmetic changes or could they cover the power engines as well?
We do both types of changes, and always in conjunction with the original car factory, so we do not lose the warranties. We take a client’s requests to the factory and tailor the car to their needs down to the smallest detail, like for example tailoring the skeleton of the seat to the client’s own body. We have also diversified our services, extending them to cars like Mercedes or Bentley, which clients can buy without waiting for two to three years.
How long does it take you to customise a car?
It depends. We can get the non-customised cars faster from the factory or do the customisation in the factory as the car is being built. Contrary to people’s beliefs, cars usually do not take long to build. It is the preparation of raw materials to produce them that takes time. If you are talking about a produced line that would be modified, a car can take up to a maximum of eight weeks. If you are talking about a car that we will manufacture, it can take up to two years to finish.
Do you have any Egyptian clients?
It is quite rare to have clients from Egypt because the designed cars would cost them four times the original price due to the import tax. However, to my surprise, Mr. Bassel Somakeya, the founder of Cottonil, and Mr. Mahmoud Lasheen, the chairman of Speed Medical, called us for specific cars and designs. Although the shipping price is expensive, we currently have an agency that allows clients to pay 60% instead of 300 or 400% of the original price of the invoice, as long as you have the EURO certificate from the factory.
It is quite interesting that you travel a lot to meet your clients at great destinations and make money out of it.
Yes, and rarely do any of my clients meet me at the showroom. We usually meet in non-routine areas, like having dinner on a boat, or in a car ride to an interesting destination, because no one wants to reveal what they’re buying. Questions like “How much is to be paid?” and “When will it be coming?” are left unanswered, until he is in the car he requested. If you put those limited edition and special cars in a showroom, they will never sell, because that way you burn them.
Now that you are at the point that clients reach out to you, how do you see the future of the business?
Many car-collector clients are also businessmen interested in yachts. So, I decided to diversify into purchasing and selling yachts. Since a lot of clients came with different requests, we started with 2530 meters yachts and then went up to 5060 metres. I can now say publicly that we currently have one of the most exclusive yachts in the world for sale. It is made by Larsen and is extremely unique. However, unlike cars, we do not customise yachts. What I do is bring the CEO of the yacht manufacturer, like Larson for instance, together with the client. We arrange the purchase and resale of yachts. Generally speaking, our clients are huge businessmen from well-known institutions, so we have connections everywhere. As a result, we continue to diversify our services to cater to their needs.
When a car is customised, does it not lose any of its value?
On the contrary, it is actually a good investment. It is like when you buy a piece of art: it only increases in price and can never become undervalued, unless it is damaged. You can pay 20 to 40 million dollars for these cars and sell them for 60 to 100 million dollars. Ferrari and McLaren are great references for this kind of investment.
For potential customers in Egypt in particular, what is the most important thing they need to know about this kind of purchase?
With Bassel Somakeya and Mahmoud Lasheen being the few Egyptian clients I have worked with, I can tell you that the secret lies in a relationship built on trust. You need to have trust in the person you are dealing with, in order to transfer the money to get the job done. You don’t have the security of going to the showroom and physically contacting me if something does not go according to plan. For example, Mohamed Lasheen’s car is the most expensive car to ever have landed in Egypt. However, we never met in person until almost two years after I had sold him his car. And it is not necessarily about buying the most expensive cars. Even when they buy an S Class or a normal car, it is a pleasure to have Egyptian clients I can do business and build a relationship with.