He’s Libyan, he’s luscious and he’s living the high life. Currently heading up the family’s famed architectural business (and expecting his first child in December); Enigma’s Dagher El Sakr talks big business, small babies and stealing hotel bathrobes with the desperately delightful Dino Soufraki.
Dino Soufraki did not so much move to Cairo as take it by storm overnight. Rowdy, boisterous and larger than life, he instantly became the main feature of every party, gathering or meeting he attended. In fact, when I met him I was quite terrified and remained so for a while. However, gradually, a much gentler and dare I say delicate person appeared underneath that really thunderous exterior. So polite that I’m still having trouble reconciling the two.
Salah El Din Hussein Soufraki, as is stated in his passport (duly verified), was born in 1968 in Tripoli to a Libyan father and a Turkish mother. Brought up in the UK, he was sent to the Oratory boarding school in Berkshire for 12 years, where he says he was the darkest person in a 20-mile radius. This at a time when corporal punishment and weekly beatings were de-rigueur and the term politically correct was reserved for monogamous politicians; which led him to pick up boxing and win several school championships. Upon graduation he moved to Miami where the weather, and no doubt the lifestyle suited him better.
In 1992, having obtained his Architecture degree from the University of Miami (with Honors), he moved back to London to take his first post in his family’s business. Soufraki senior, who founded a contracting firm in Libya in 1961, was now responsible for a thriving development portfolio that stretches across the globe, with bases in London, Italy, Canada, France and Dubai.
Dino tried his hand first at designing a small ambassadorial residence formerly owned by the government of Gabon. That property has since exchanged hands several times, and lists among its previous owners one Ms. Madonna Louise Ciccone; simply known as Madonna. Eight years later, having worked his way up the family corporate ladder in London, Dino moved to Montreal where he took over much larger responsibilities overseeing more family projects. Montreal was followed by Dubai then Istanbul and finally in 2006 Dino moved to Cairo. He is now responsible for all the design work for his family firm’s projects worldwide, with special emphasis on ‘Sun City’ at Soufraki Centre (their flagship project in Cairo). Dino’s father, who looks and sounds more like a scholar than a business tycoon, runs the show. And scattered around London, Montreal, Istanbul (not Constantinople) and Cairo are Dino and his three younger brothers acting as vassals supervising the various fiefdoms.
The family, which also includes four sisters, is very closely knit. However with seven fair-skinned, light-haired and blue/green-eyed siblings, Dino, with his striking Middle Eastern features and dark colours suspects he may have been adopted from somewhere on the outskirts of Calcutta. I promised his family that their secret is safe with me. Only then was a meeting allowed to take place between us in one of Dino’s favourite haunts in London’s West End. Over a plate of veal and penne so good that I had seconds and salad with his favourite ‘white sauce’, I was able to ask Dino the following:
What is your most valuable material possession?
My wife’s latest handbag is probably the one that cost the most, but I think I would have to say my felt tip pen, it cost less then a dollar but I love designing with it.
Glass half empty or half full?
I’ve misplaced my glass. Will let you know when I find it.
Describe yourself in five words.
Happy, fun, sensitive, loyal, and a bit wild.
Name one person dead or alive you’d like to meet.
A flesh and blood character?
Freud. To figure out what the heck is wrong with me.
What is the last thing you really desired but couldn’t have?
My innocence back.
When and how do you envision your retirement?
Six Feet Under. I enjoy what I do too much to retire.
Favourite holiday destination?
Miami or Rio.
What’s the best thing you stole from a hotel?
I have a collection of lovely Four Seasons bathrobes. Want one?
What music would you have played at your funeral?
The theme song from Jaws.
What is the meaning of life?
Life is a book and you are its author; make sure you live a variety of chapters and leave a legacy to be remembered by.
When was your scariest moment?
When Mrs. Randall, the headmistress, who always had a cigarette dangling from the side of her mouth in my UK boarding school came on to me when I was 12.
What’s the best feeling in the world?
When I told on her. But apart from that, the anticipation of waiting for my baby girl to be born.
Best school prank?
I have two. First when we stole a horrible teacher’s car and buried it in the cricket square. You could barely see the top of the windows. He was our cricket instructor. And yes I was a pretty good cricket player (must be the Indian blood!). And when we grabbed Yamamoto, the biggest snitch and tell-tale in our school and tied him to a bed and put him in the middle of the school auditorium, during parents’ day. It was good payback.
What are your future plans?
I really love Egypt, which is hard to believe considering I’ve lived in Miami and London! We have got around 10 projects there, with substantial investments. They are mostly residential, however our flagship project called ‘Sun City’, a part of the Soufraki Centre in Heliopolis has 200,000 square metres of retail space, a 16-screen multiplex cinema, children’s amusements parks, indoor and outdoor cafes and dining, a hypermarket, and a hotel and casino. Adjacent to ‘Sun City’, Soufraki Centre also incorporates a 320 all-suites five-star hotel, hotel residences and modern luxury office buildings. I am in charge of all the design work and we hope to be open to the public in 2010.
Why are you so tanned?
I was just in Sharm El-Sheikh a few days ago, celebrating my first anniversary with my lovely wife Aicha.
What is the best gift you have ever received?
Anything my wife gives me, culminating with my baby girl due December 25th.
Ever had 15 minutes of fame?
I was at a Miami Heat basketball game with Anna Kournikova once and the kiss-cam zoomed in on us and we were supposed to kiss for the cheering crowd. It turned out that her then boyfriend Enrique Iglesias was in LA watching the game on TV and saw us on the kiss-cam and started frantically calling her on the mobile, but we just had a polite kiss on the cheek.
What are your likes and dislikes about Egypt?
Egypt has charm in its chaos, but it is also tiring. The bureaucracy is enough to test any entrepreneurial spirit. But what makes Egypt a fantastic place to live in are the friends I have made here. I lived in Istanbul, the most naturally beautiful city on earth and in Miami where everyone is pretty but in both I had mostly fair-weather friends. Egypt is different, the people here are so warm.
Who is your hero?
My father. I am not sucking up. He really is a person I admire. A visionary and very wise in his way and reasonable in his arguments.
And finally give us three pieces of wisdom that guide your daily life…
Live for your family as one day your own family will live on for you. Love hard, work hard and play hard…die happy.
Regret nothing but learn from your mistakes.