In today’s world, few Arab business leaders have the vision and the bravery to push themselves and their companies to new heights, and it takes a true visionary to bring innovative concepts that impact societies and drive positive change. As a businessman and the first Egyptian commercial astronaut with Virgin Galactic, Maged Marie is one such visionary with no goal too big for him. He has tapped into the power of modern technology to bring truly ambitious projects to the Middle East. One of his many projects at the moment as the CEO of Magnom Properties, a subsidiary of Rawabi Holding, is the world-class Forbes International Tower in the New Administrative Capital. His larger vision is to rebuild and develop the modern Arab world and to steer it into a greener and more sustainable future. Over the last 20 years, Marie has been passionately working to reach his goals and bring his dreams to reality. eniGma’s founder and CEO Yasmine Shihata sat down with the enigmatic and inspiring entrepreneur, to find out the secrets to his success and his boundless ambition. Here are some exclusive excerpts from their fascinating discussion.
Let’s start by talking about going to space! What made you want to take the step of becoming Egypt’s first commercial astronaut with Virgin Galactic?
I’ve been working on becoming a commercial astronaut for a few months now. I’m number 66 in line to become a commercial astronaut going to space. There are usually six astronauts per trip, so I’m going to be on the 11th trip, and it’s estimated that it will take place in June 2024. Training for that trip will start six months prior.
It’s a unique decision to take. What made you think of going to space?
This has always been one of the dreams that I wanted to turn into reality. I know that many of the younger generations say that they want to become astronauts and go to space when they grow up. But my father had a big hand in my wanting to become an astronaut, because he has always been, and still is, passionate about learning about space and following up on NASA’s projects. Growing up, I was surrounded by that, and it made me love the idea a lot. I now follow everything related to space on social media, and I avidly share and interact with it. Of course, it was a risk for me to take on something like this, especially since I’m funding my trip myself. But I wanted to face my fears and go for it. Even if it fails or if something should happen, I will live with the fact that I tried. It was a very long process to go through to get to where I am now. There were a lot of tests, medical, mental, and even political, that I had to undertake to make sure that I was perfectly fit to take a trip like this. It shows that anything is possible, especially for the youth. It gives them hope that they can achieve anything they want if they put their mind to it, get out of their comfort zone and decide to break barriers.
It seems clear that when you put your mind to something, you will not give up until you make it happen. Tell us more about that.
That’s for sure. Religious faith is the key to my personal identity, I depend mostly on God in everything I do. I believe in God. No matter what I go through, I know I can depend on God for everything to turn out alright in the end. Even if I fail, at the end of the day I never feel down or frustrated. I get back up and try again. I never give up. The support of my wife, Yasmine Eltal, also always gives me a push forward. I couldn’t have asked for a more understanding and supportive partner. Without her it would have been impossible for me to chase my dreams.I am also always motivated by the people around me, and I learn from them. I hope to carry on a legacy and pass it on to the younger generations. A driving factor for me is my desire to spread Arab culture across the world. I want us to be proud that we’re Arabs wherever we go. I know our culture is generally recognised around the world, but I want to spread that more in the business realm.
Throughout your career, which Arab and international entrepreneurs have inspired you?
Othman Ibrahim is one of my role models, as he is one of the most important businessmen in the Arab world who has led his company to be among the Forbes list of the Top 100 Arab Family Businesses. What he has done in Saudi Arabia inspired many international businessmen, including myself. Mohamed Alabbar is also one of my biggest inspirations in the Arab community in his field. Engineer Yasser Zaghloul, who was listed as one of the most powerful CEOs in the MENA region by Forbes, is also another successful visionary. After starting in the UAE, he has taken his companies to new heights globally. On the international scene, Peter Lurssen, Chairman of Lurssen Yachts, the biggest yacht producer in the world, has been an iconic role model for me. He has raised the bar in the global luxury market while conducting the best practices in business. I am proud to be a Lurssen yacht representative in Egypt. I would love for people like these to get more spotlight on social media and in our society in general. We need the new generation to learn more from them and the success they have achieved internationally.
Is that why you wanted to work with renowned architect Adrian Smith, the man who designed Burj Khalifa, on your upcoming project?
Everyone who is passionate about being an architect looks up to Adrian Smith, so working with him is an amazing learning experience. It was a difficult process to reach Adrian Smith and be able to work with him. Architects like him are known to have a stacked schedule, so it was hard to reach an agreement with him. It took a lot of convincing to get to where we are now. But I couldn’t take no for an answer. So, I went and met with him in Chicago. I tried convincing him that the Arab world has always led the world in architecture from the Pyramids of Giza to the projects he designed in the UAE and Saudi Arabia, and we wanted his work to extend to Egypt. I asked him if he wanted to be a part of our vision and to make this happen because I believe that the Arab world would lead the world with architecture again. Mohamed Alabbar was one of the most important people to inspire me to reach Smith. During Adrian Smith’s first trip to Egypt, Zahi Hawass accompanied us to the Pyramids and Adrian and his team were amazed by what they saw, as it was their first time visiting. They also went to the New Administrative Capital and were taken aback by the incredible architecture and development taking place in Egypt. This gave Adrian the push he needed to work with us on our first project, and hopefully, it won’t be our last together. Adrian will be around a lot in Saudi Arabia and Egypt now. Our company is planning a great vision for Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Qatar over the next few years.
Can you tell us a bit about the project you will be working on together?
It’s going to be a tower, mainly an administrative building with a commercial podium that takes up a lot of space. It is set to be one of the most prestigious business addresses in the world in the heart of the New Administrative Capital in Egypt which will attract the international community. We’re also speaking with Adrian about other possible projects that are coming up in the future in Saudi Arabia, and here in Egypt. We’re going to build one of the most sustainable buildings in the world aiming to be Platinum Leed Certified. Of course, it will be one of the tallest buildings in Africa. However, it’s not about the height of the building as much as it is about its design and sustainability. We’re aiming to make this building one of the most sustainable and environmentally conscious in the world. We are working with ASGG carbon lab in Chicago to reach a zero carbon footprint in our building. This means minimising the impact on the environment and protecting the health and safety of our people and our communities. I think sustainability is going to be an important issue around the world. I am so proud of the progress of sustainability in Egypt these days. Seeing COP27 hosted in Sharm El Sheikh this year was incredible and I am looking forward to joining COP28 in 2023 in Dubai with our project.
Your vision seems to be so different from other real estate developers. You don’t go for the obvious choices. This shows in your collaboration with the international French artist and sculptor Richard Orlinski, and the fabulous launch you hosted in Paris. Can you tells us about the Richard Orlinski collaboration?
Richard Orlinski is admired by many people world-wide, and he was excited about the ideas we had and wanted to work with us right away. I wanted to work with Orlinski because I am convinced that while architecture is important, it’s also important to focus on the artistic side of things. My mother is an artist and I was brought up surrounded by art at home. Appreciating art since my younger days has made it part of my DNA. Art adds life to buildings. Without art we can’t see the beauty in things. Richard Orlinski created a collection of colourful animal-inspired resin sculptures that will enliven our building in the New Administrative Capital.
Why was it important for you to announce this collaboration in Paris?
It was logistically harder to host it in Paris rather than in Egypt, but our strategy was to have our event in the Museum Cité de l’Architecture et du Patrimoine, the first architectural museum of Paris. Mind you, the insurance value for this museum was 120 million euros – the highest insurance value in the history of the museum. The Museum is located across of the Eiffel tower in the heart of historical Paris. This collaboration led to many people from France reaching out wanting to work with us. Many celebrities from the Arab world attended and enjoyed the event making it a huge success. We want to share Arab culture internationally.
We heard that you will be launching the Forbes International Tower at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. How did that come about?
About three months ago, we signed an agreement with Forbes to bring Forbes’ official international trademark to Egypt and GCC countries and to start working on our projects. It’s going to be the first project in collaboration with Forbes in the world, outside of the United States. This was one of the biggest and most difficult negotiations I’ve undertaken in my life, for sure. It’s going to be public news soon. We will have a signing ceremony with Forbes in Davos, Switzerland during the World Economic Forum. I think this is something everyone in the Arab world can be proud of. We are very proud of it.
One of your core values is Corporate Social Responsibility and we congratulate you on the partnership with UNICEF. Can you tell us more about this partnership?
Partnering with UNICEF brings forward our vision of empowering girls, bridging the digital divide and providing a wide range of skills and development opportunities to the youth. We are committed to investing in relevant initiatives that have the potential to impact the lives of young people from underprivileged communities. Furthermore, we signed with Baheya Cancer Foundation to support the treatments needed by women diagnosed with breast cancer. We have also built a Youth Empowerment Program (YEP!) at Magnom Properties, which supports fresh graduate students for three months by helping them gain the skill sets they need in their field of study.
On another note, you seem to have a passion for travelling, has travel always been a driving force for you?
My father used to work at Aramco in Saudi Arabia, and a big part of his job was travelling. I visited many places with him, and as a result, I was exposed to different cultures early on in my life. That motivated me to travel and explore more. I have taken the best of the cultures I’ve come across, and I try to pass that on to my children. I recently took my kids to a museum event in France.Even though I knew they may have been a little too young for it, I wanted to expose them to art early on in their life. My daughter, who is only eight years old, went on to create her own business on Facebook selling bracelets for twenty pounds apiece. I felt so proud of her. That’s exactly what I wanted her to learn. These travels across the world help us discover new features for our innovative projects. On one of my last trips with my team to Finland, for example, we visited a site that is located 200 meters below the ground to experience their high speed elevator and its safety features.
Where do you see yourself going forward?
I always want to be the best I can be in my companies, with the help of my team. I want to ensure that our developments are built for the long term, shaping generations to come, and adhering to quality, reliability, and timely delivery. We want to transform our community and be a part of the changing world with our specialised expertise in all realms of development. There’s always competition in this field, but that’s what makes it interesting. Constantly having a challenge is what drives us to do our best; especially with the support and help of my partners. They were and still are my biggest support, as well as the team we built in place.Photography by: Khaled Fadda