At the top of their game, leading their companies to bright futures,
these corporate power players are shaping Egyptian industry in various
fields. Exclusively for Enigma, they share their challenges and
success stories to give us an inside peek at the workings of some of
the country’s most dynamic companies.
BANKING ON ACHIEVEMENTS
As Vice Chairman and Managing Director of Commercial International Bank, Sahar El-Sallab
has broken the glass ceiling to become one of the most powerful business women in the Arab world. Amy Mowafi speaks to an inspirational Egyptian mother of two who has taken the banking world by storm…
If one were to search back through the personnel records at Commercial International Bank (CIB), pull out a 1983 file on a young pretty Egyptian woman by the name of Sahar El-
Sallab, one would find the following handwritten comment by her name, “One day, this woman will run the bank.” And sure enough, 25 years later, El-Sallab is the bank’s Vice
Chairman, Managing Director and a board member. It’s the stuff of which feel-good movies are made. To add fuel to the professional phenomenon, when Forbes unveils its list of the 50 Most Powerful Arab Business Women later this month, El-Sallab’s name will take
pride of place, right up there in the top five. Which, to quote Forbes, makes her a woman who is “single-handedly responsible for advancing her organization by promoting innovative, cutting-edge ideas and paving the way for future generations of women in Arab countries.” But then El-Sallab has always been “paving the way”, one step ahead of the
game and ahead of her peers. While still a student at the American University of Beirut, she was one of those enviable girls who did it all, and did it well. “I was very active,” she says. But that is a gross understatement. Top of her class (naturally) she was also the treasurer of the university’s business department and president of countless student organisations.
Figuring it was never too early to start working her way up the corporate ladder, she also took on a number of part-time jobs. And the whole time she was just a teenager. When she catapulted out of university, she was a mere 20 years of age. With war raging in Beirut, she headed back to her homeland of Egypt. She was immediately snapped up by Citibank, where she was unafraid to get her hands dirty starting right at the bottom, filing and photocopying, viewing it as the chance to “technically learn how to do anything and everything in the company.” Citibank would prove to be, in her own words, “a great school for anyone who wants a career in banking.” Of course, El-Sallab made more use of that school than most, and was soon chosen to become part of a select team to receive international training in credit operations. She excelled and immediately landed her first promotion, working as an assistant in Citibank’s credit department. “It wasn’t the
biggest position, but I was very excited to have the opportunity,” she says with signature modesty. One opportunity begat another, and she was soon fielding calls from banking institutions across the country desperate to have her on their team. The most lucrative offer came from the prestigious Chase Manhattan-National Bank of Egypt (now known as CIB). Barely in her mid-20s, the bank offered to entrust her with the creation of an entire
credit department – with all the necessary administration and policy infrastructures
and systems. “Being so young it was a huge challenge,” she says, “but there was no way I could refuse!” And then, one fateful day, as in all great success stories, Chase Manhattan’s MD wandered into El-Sallab’s office and asked her to call home for her passport. He was about to pack her off to London where she would get thrown head first into City life. El-Sallab was then offered the once in a lifetime opportunity to train at the credit office of Chase-London. So there she was, in one of the most exciting cities in the world, two-year-old baby in hand (El-Sallab had somehow already managed to fit in marriage
and childbirth by then), training all day and studying all night. “I spent every last penny I was earning in London on a babysitter,” she says. “It was the only way I could do it.” Her time in London was followed by a stint in the Big Apple and by the time she landed back in Egypt she was moved a little…make that a lot…further up the ladder. “I became one of the people who were really at the top of the institution at that stage,” she says smiling. And she’s gone from strength to strength ever since, landing awards such as the Best Economic Arab Woman of the Year in 2006 by the Arab League and the award for Best Five Business Women in the World by the Global Summit of Women. When we meet, she’s fresh from a meeting of the American Chamber of Commerce (for whom she’s a board member). As she strides out of the conference hall and into the lobby of the Semiramis InterContinental, fur
coat perched on her shoulders, assistant in tow, all eyes are on her. This is a woman who commands attention and exudes the calm confidence that comes with true power. AmCham members throng towards her, eager for a word, an opinion or just the opportunity to offer up their praise. Her phone, trusted to her assistant, rings constantly. She directs us to a quiet space for our interview and immediately softens from corporate dynamo to mother-of-two mode as she dishes out her maternal advice. “Even in the workplace you have to make men believe it’s all their idea,” she says laughing. “You have to pretend like each day is a date. Every morning I get ready for a date with my clients and my wonderful team.” She insists that I must one day meet her eldest son, who is currently studying in America
and who has, over the years, become her “friend and mentor,” and she lavishes praise on her engineer husband, “the most understanding man a woman could hope for.” She reminds me never to sacrifice femininity in the pursuit of success and points out how the inherent female ability to list and multi-task can afford women countless successes if applied properly. “A man will always admire a woman who speaks her mind and speaks
sense,” she says.But above all, she repeatedly highlights the importance of giving back to
one’s country. In fact El-Sallab is a pivotal member of countless local NGOs and charity organisations including the Egyptian Red Crescent, the National Council for Childhood and Motherhood and the Integrated Care Society’s Investment Committee, under the auspices of H.E. Mrs. Suzanne Mubarak. And yet, even today, with the world seemingly at her feet, this inspirational woman, who has crashed through a thousand glass ceilings, says, “My ambition will never end.” And with that she gets up to leave. Her clients, colleagues and countless admirers await.
REFRESHING ACCOMPLISHMENTSCURT FERGUSON’S
When Travis Randall got the chance to sit down with Curt Ferguson, the President of North and West Africa
Business Unit for Coca-Cola, he found a businessman with his eye on the ball and a great story to tell.
verybody loves Coca-Cola. Even if you don’t want to like Coke on some anti-big business moral ground or just because you think it’s making you fat, you still find yourself loving Coca-Cola. Because after all it tastes great. It’s classic and you have probably have a fond memory of it, like an old family friend. Curt Ferguson is a lot like the product he sells. He’s very easy to like. Part of the reason everyone likes Coke is because, as Ferguson says, “everybody has a Coke story.” Mine took place in a village deep in the Caucuses where women still pulled water from a well in copper pots. There were no cars. There was one store. It had soap, unfiltered Russian cigarettes…and Coke. It tasted great to me.”
Fergusons Coke story in ‘business’ also has a long history. For 25 years his career with Coca- Cola has taken him around the world, sharing others’ Coke stories, creating many and finding personal and professional success in one of the world’s largest and most established companies. Before joining the Coca-Cola Company, he worked for Procter
& Gamble and jokes that “Nobody has a P&G story.” As he grabs a Diet Coke out of a nearby cooler and offers me one he continues, “I’ve never heard someone say ‘I remember the first time I bought Pampers.’” Ferguson has spent 20 of his 25 years with Coke overseas. His international experience began with company start ups in Cambodia and Vietnam; tough places to do business at the time. “I went from a place where it rains three times a day (Vietnam) to a place where it rains three times a year,” he says with a gregarious smile. After his first stint in Egypt from 1998 to 2001 he moved to the Ivory Coast, but as the saying goes, ‘Once you’ve drunk from the Nile, you always come back’ and so he did. Ferguson chose to return for a second post in Egypt and set up Coke’s North and West Africa division office there. He’s also managed to raise three kids along his international trail to success, “and now they call Egypt home. My daughter is the toughest as she has two older brothers. She goes out to the Pyramids to ride her horses a few times a week,” adding playfully “life’s tough for a 12-year-old.” Although it has nothing to do with the man behind the iconic company, I had to ask the question that constantly burns at the back of everyone’s mind. Is Coke really the same everywhere? “Everyone asks that question,” he replies, “and yes it is. I think it’s the environment you drink it in that changes the taste.” It highlights the mystery of things as omnipresent as Coke. In a company this big you begin to wonder, just how do they do it? The answer, according to him, is the “franchise model”; where someone else does the hard work of producing it and distributing it, while leaving his team to do the “sexy stuff ”.
“We work on the image, marketing and designing the cans,” he says. “We’re the people who decide to put Nancy Agram in our commercials.It’s fun.” As president of a division with 27 countries, around 350 million consumers and 654,000 customers there’s a lot of local knowledge needed to keep reinventing themselves for the next generation in so many different cultures. “The bottler usually has a lot of local knowledge. They can help us get into the market. You get there faster that way. Without them we’d probably still be waiting
for Atlanta to find Egypt on the map.” His modesty at passing the praise to partners is genuine, but he’s doing something right. For the second year in a row he has brought home the coveted Council Award, for anybody who exceeds their volume in profit targets. It’s a rare and impressive achievement. “We gave all our local partners a Coke cooler (fridge),” he explains. “I was just in Gambia and met Ms. Kante,” he shares with a touch of pride, “She has a shop there and I saw pictures on the cooler of her kids (you’re not supposed
to put anything on them). I asked her why and she said ‘because this cooler put my
three kids through school.’ In a lot of our countries we don’t just deliver Coke, we
deliver hope. We’ve built a school for girls in Upper Egypt and the first waste water treatment plant in Egypt. We’re really proud of that.” Giving back is a natural response because Egypt has been good to Ferguson and to Coke. The Egyptian government cut Coke’s taxes and gave them a privileged spot in the free zone, which means a value added product for Egypt and better revenues for his company. But you don’t get this far by just crunching numbers and Ferguson also has a great way with people. He put down roots in Egypt and gets involved outside work – twice on the board of the AmCham and as Chairman of Cairo American College. “That was before I got cable, which was more entertaining than those board meetings. My only regret is that this time around in Egypt I have less time for the friends I’ve made, due to all the travelling I do. When I was just the head of Egypt, I was always just a shisha away from my friends, and I even learned to show up at 10:30 for an 8:30 dinner party!” One of the things he loves most about Egypt he says, is that “no one is a stranger to Egyptians.” No one is a stranger to Ferguson either or his company. Except maybe the North Vietnamese woman in one of his Coke stories,
who asked why the foreigner was trying to give her brown water when he offered her a Coke. One thing is certain, his stories, like his road to success and Coca-Cola itself, are always original.
Ahmed Marwan, founder and head of SIGMA Capital tells it like it is. When
Travis Randall sat down with him, he got the scoop, some hot market tips and
Marwan’s secret to success.
He says exactly what he thinks and means whatever he says. It’s an honesty both
refreshing and stubborn. He’s so honest that when we tried to get him to strike an unnatural pose for the pictures he protested saying, “I don’t do that.” What he does do,
he does very well and with Marwan, what you see is what you get. No tricks. No illusions.
Ahmed Marwan runs SIGMA Capital with a no nonsense policy and a focus on service and quality. “Contrary to popular belief we don’t do nuclear physics,” he tells me, taking a long
drag of his cigarette. But since financial sector lingo conjures up little more than images of busy trading floors and lots of shouting, I ask for a layman’s explanation. In short they do three things. “Firstly, securities brokerage, which is when an individual is investing in the stock market,” he explains. “SIGMA presents a strategy but the final investment decision lies with the client. Second, assets management, which is exactly the same except the final decision is made by SIGMA based on criteria set up with the client. Lastly, we offer investment banking and financial advisory. This is when SIGMA works with a business that wants to raise money for an expansion or the acquisition of another business or if they want to sell holding in their business.” There’s something intense and powerfully alluring about this kind of high stake wheeling and dealing, and right now is a good time to be in Egypt. “Egypt is hot, like the iPod and the Nintendo Wii,” he tells me; and he
should know better than most. With all the doom and gloom in the international
market and fear of a global recession across, he remains calm,
steady and self-assured. In part because even in 2006 when the market
took a serious hit, Egypt ended up with growth. His view is that with a
growing, thriving economy, there’s no reason to lose hope. One of the
main effects, he does admit, “is sentiment. If global sentiment is negative,
it will wear off on people. If you get exposed to it, you’re going to start to
feel a bit antsy, that’s all.” His hot tips for booming sectors include telecom
and real estate feeder industries of all kinds. “When you buy property,
someone has to supply steel, ceramics and paint. Someone has to live
there, so you need blankets, dishes, TVs, chairs and pillows, etc. Roads to
new developments mean cars, traffic and then retailing and consuming.”
It’s all part of the big money game he plays day in and day out.
Marwan has always known he wanted to do finance but did a double major
in philosophy because “it helps you understand the way people think and
how society is structured”; a useful skill in his line of work. And giving the
customer what they want is part of his company’s culture. Their motto is
‘committed’ and he hopes it’s something that comes through from their
client interface down to the way they shine the floor. “I will stick my neck
out there to say that any SIGMA client gets better service here than he
does at our larger competitors.” After all, better service is part of his ‘just
do it right’ philosophy, which ensures that when a client calls someone
answers and the client has fast and more comprehensive access to information.
He’s also proud to report that“The first time a customer could place an order or see streaming online stock quotes was on the SIGMA Capital website. The way we look at it, the client interface person is only as good as the infrastructure that backs them up.” And his high-tech infrastructure lets SIGMA provide the same service to everyone. Marwan’s honest, down to earth realism comes out in all his statements. And he recognises that, “Ultimately in this business, you have to accept that some days you’re going to shine and some days others are going to shine more than you.” Perhaps his forward thinking and cool head about market shifts is an understanding of the bigger picture; the inevitable change and passage from one period to a next. His own family story would certainly instil that kind
of sense at a deep level. His late grandfather was President Nasser, which certainly leaves
him with the weight of a “legacy to adhereto.” As he explains, “because of my family
history, I’m in the spotlight and more vulnerable to speculation. On the other hand just by doing nothing I get a certain courtesy and respect.” What it has meant for his own life is a great deference and patriotism to Egypt. “In our family God comes first, then Egypt, then everything else.” Yet from an early age Marwan decided to blaze his own trail and chose not to take advantage of his roots and go into the family business. As he saw it, “What would I offer as a fresh graduate coming in and pretending I knew what I was doing?” So instead he set forth starting his own career in finance as one of the first partners at EFG Hermes. There he spent the first six years of his career. Then at the young age of 28 he took the bold move to set up his own investment bank; SIGMA Capital. After all, taking the easy option has never been Marwan’s style. Instead he has enviable persistence, determination and an ability to work hard to achieve his goals; even when the odds are stacked against him. And thatkind of mindset coupled with his financial expertise, means that Marwan
will be a player to contend with for a long time to come. What do you see as your main role at SIGMA? I ensure that my team are empowered and have the necessary tools to deliver quality service to our clients. As they are the ones who meet clients on a regular basis, my job is to make sure they work in a good environment. What rules do you adhere by in business?Do the right thing, all day, every day. If you don’t know how to do something,
just say so. There will always be someone else who does, or someone who knows someone who does. Does work take over your life or do you have other hobbies as well? I’m not as balanced as I’d like to be yet. Honestly, I watched the African Cup final from my desk at the office. I’m very bad. I know I should work out and eat a certain way, not smoke, etc. But I’m going to get better in 2008 and set better priorities for myself and my family. Maybe even visitthe seaside more. But I do love my work, and I think we all have fun here.
What factors have contributed most to your success? Hard work and determination. Nothing extraordinary. MOHANAD ADLY
Mohanad Adly is the fresh face and sharp mind behind Egypt’s biggest supermarket
chain. Travis Randall caught up with Adly to find out more about the businessman putting
high quality food on your table.Mohanad Adly is the fresh face and sharp mind behind Egypt’s biggest supermarket his was all just an accident. He never planned to be here. In fact, he didn’t want to be here. “I was a Political Science major and planned to work for
the UN, but a friend of mine asked me to apply to the Mansour Group as a favour, since he
needed to come up with some CV’s!” Mohanad Adly reluctantly sent it and, much to his dismay, was called in for an interview. “My friend assured me they wouldn’t pick me anyway.” A great vote of confidence, but after the second call back he was offered a
job. “I took it as something to do while I waited to hear back from the UN. That was 11 years ago and the rest is history.” Despite falling intoit, the accident that brought Adly to the Mansour Group was pure fate. “I love it here and don’t see myself doing anything else.”
Adly initially cut his teeth in the Mansour Group’s tobacco business. Under one of many business interests of the Mansour Group, he started out with Philip Morris and moved on
to Metro when a vacancy in marketing and purchasing opened up. Soon after he got promoted to Managing Director. Perhaps his educational preparation for a life of international diplomacy was just the sort of training needed to manage the 4,000
employees, who serve the 55,000 customers who pass through Metro Supermarkets every day. The key, he says, is his employees. Because the chain appeals mostly to the A and B class, service is central. He readily admits they don’t compete in terms of price, but knows they “set themselves apart with quality and service.” As if on cue, the door to the office opens and some of Metro’s hot deli items are brought in on neatly arranged plates with fresh juice, and he says with a smile, “You see, it’s the Egyptian hospitality.” Beyond the logistics of serving so many and maintaining their unbeatable reputation for freshness and quality, there’s a cultural and mental hurdle to overcome as well. The Metro boom has brought the one-stop-shop tothe consciousness of the Egyptian market. And this concept is a relatively new one in Egypt. Just ten years ago you’d have to go to the khodary for
vegetables, the fakahany for fruits and the gazzar for meat, and many still make the same zigzag route home everyday. “When Metro came along in 1998 people started to feel the benefits of getting everything they needed in one place.” As for the competition from the mammoth hypermarkets that have recently descended upon Egypt’s suburbs, Adly is not worried. “The biggest competitive edge we have with the hypermarket is that we’re
still the store around the corner,” he says with a sense of pride, “Grocery shopping is not an outing that you easily take the whole family on, for a full day outside Cairo.” Metro’s personal touch and the commitment to service depend on the staff under Adly’s management, but he confesses it’s all too big “to run a one man show”. As he explains, “You have to delegate a lot of the time and rely on empowering and motivating your staff.
Metro’s success is down to their people. We put a lot of effort and invest a lot into them.” Not surprisingly, he also feels his own success has been bolstered by the team that supports him; from the operations manager who popped in during our interview to the young man stocking the shelves. “I consult them frequently,” he says. “This isn’t a
one man show because each one of us is an expert in his or her field. Sometimes I provide the guidelines, but the decision comes from them. I try to empower my staff and
make sure they are comfortable to make decisions.” When he first got on board with Metro the task was simple enough – make a profit (which they weren’t doing at the time). Adly
passed that first benchmark at full stride and is moving with Metro towards new horizons. Last year saw the launch of Kheir Zaman, a discount supermarket which will expand their target audience to Egypt’s whole population. Geographically they are also growing. With 45 Egyptian stores from Cairo to Mansoura and eight more on the way, they are looking to expand regionally. “We’ve studied the Sudanese market and are looking into Libya,” he says, “They’re both virgin territory and places we can capture a big market share.” Then as if picturing all the work he knows will come with regional expansion, he adds, “It’s hectic
enough as it is. A 24-hour store means a 24-hour job, and the only time I don’t think about work is when I’m sleeping.” This year Metro is set to reach 1 billion LE in sales. The secret? Hard work. “Retail is in the detail, so it forces you to become a workaholic. I learned everything I know about business from my boss Yousef Mansour. “He gets up early to start work and I stay very late, but we are both very committed.” Therein lies the main drawback to this kind of success. “If I could change one thing it would be to have more time with my family. They are precious and I hope this coming year I will get more time with them. I really look up to my late father who just passed away last year and
I hope to spend even more time with my kids than I did with my father.” Whether it’s in the boardroom or in the Metro bakery, Adly has his hands full with a booming business that puts food on everyone’s table. With his history of continued success and a bright future, expect to see great things from this dynamic businessman.
Travis Randall headed to the Smart Village to talk to Vodafone Egypt’s Head of Content, Internet and Data Services. Jonathan Bill has a big title and a big job to put the power of the Internet in the palm of Egypt’s hands.
His light tan and lack of concern over our lateness showed he’d relaxed at least some
of his British sensibilities and adapted well to his new surroundings. There’s no doubt
Jonathan Bill, Vodafone’s multimedia guru, has acclimatised well, but this Brit abroad
has more business on his mind than sea side bronzing. Since his arrival, Vodafone has launched 3G and mobile web use is growing exponentially. Bill’s relatively new status on the Egypt scene doesn’t seem to be slowing down progress. He’s tapped into local knowledge and knows the ropes in this business very well. With a background in advertising, he got some time in the ring at a dot com start-up during the late 90s hay day. Four years into the boom and a few during the “recorrection” saw him end up at Reuters as director of business development before Vodafone UK headhunted him as Director of Internet and then as Head of Content. And it was his mix of entrepreneurial vision and Internet business savvy that prompted Richard Daly, CEO of Vodafone Egypt, to bring
Bill on board. “You put international experience and local knowledge together and it’s a powerful formula that makes Vodafone a big success.”“As an Englishman, the weather really was a nice draw to Egypt,” he says with a convincing smile, “But it’s a very
interesting culture and the opportunity to come and play on the Internet here is reminiscent of the Internet at its inception back in Europe.” The “uncharted territory”
means opportunity for Vodafone and more room for him Bill to make a real difference. In developed markets you’re butting heads with the likes of Google, Microsoft and Yahoo, but “Vodafone in Egypt has a rather privileged position as a significant market mover.” Of the
13 million customers, more than 10% are using Internet on a monthly basis. “In 12
months we’ve seen a growth of 400-500%.” That kind of staggering growth is made possible by the capabilities of the phones and he investment in 3G, so the user can get
there faster and at a reasonable price. “Now you can browse all day for about 1 LE,” he
points out. And although Vodafone is big on mobile Internet, they’ve also
made a big purchase of Raya Telecom to grow fixed DSL service in the
near future. “Facebook in Cairo and Alexandria is a great example of convergent
Internet experience between fixed and mobile Internet. I can be
at the North Coast and change my status or upload photos with my phone
and friends can look at them on the fixed Internet at home.”
There are a few models to make the Internet good business, he tells me.
“You either get traffic to the site or sell it to advertisers or you sell stuff on
the site itself. In the Middle East the Internet hasn’t developed a local language.”
And that is true simply in terms of Arabic language, which is why
Bill and his team have been working on relevant new content. Now that
they’ve made a premium priced product affordable to the whole population,
“People want Arabic language, because most can’t access the Internet
otherwise. During the African Cup of Nations we offered up to date information
so users could relive the goals while at a coffee shop, bar or anywhere else.” The answer for mass success, this foreigner knows, is to keep things local. Only a small portion of the population will use the big international sites in English, so Bill has the task of creating content to show what the Internet can do. “In the UK, I was trying to get costumers who grew up with broadband to use the Internet, to access it on their phone. Now the vast majority don’t have that benchmark and they can go straight to their phones.” Since most
Egyptians can’t afford PCs at home yet almost all of them now seem to have mobile phones, there’s nothing stopping a large portion of the population from using phones as their main access to Internet. “What I like about the Internet is it finds its own answers. We get the capability out there so people can use it,” says Bill. Along with being his
business, Bill also sees the Internet as a powerful tool for development. “It can kick start the economy and make a country more efficient. I genuinely believe some of these bits of technology can be really empowering. And it’s nice to have that additional side to job satisfaction.” So when Bill tells you he’s having fun, “playing” and developing Internet
mobile use in Egypt, you believe him. And considering he works at Vodafone – which international personnel surveys show is at the top of the corporate list in terms of passion and enthusiasm – it seems he’s not alone.