We had been hoping to interview renowned Egyptian investment banker Mohamed S. Younes, a pioneer in his field, for a very long time. We are therefore delighted to showcase his illustrious and inspiring career in this special Men’s Issue. Founder and long-time chairman of Concord International Investments LP, Concord Portfolio Management Co. and Concord International Investments Group LP, Younes has had a distinguished international career in investment banking spanning no less than 48 years. Founded in 1988, the Concord Group manages the wealth of individuals, families, foundations and institutions. It possesses widely recognised expertise in portfolio management, investment strategy, corporate finance and strategic planning. Younes is also a member of several company boards of directors, including Amoun Pharmaceuticals Co. SAE, Bisco Misr and Crown Investments. He is also a member of the Board of the Egyptian Investment Management Association. eniGma’s Editor-in-Chief, Yasmine Shihata, sat down with Younes to learn more about his interesting career and to hear his views on financial markets today. Here are some excerpts from her fascinating interview.
Let’s start with your educational background. Where did you pursue your studies?
I grew up in Egypt and went to Cairo University in 1960, where I studied business administration. After that, I spent a year at The University of Edinburgh in Scotland, and then went on to study for my MBA at Harvard Business School in Boston.
When did you decide on which career path to take?
When I was studying at Cairo University, I applied to study medicine at Duke University. However, at the time, I faced some challenges and was unable to travel due to some government restrictions. I therefore, went on to complete my studies in economics and commerce at Cairo University, after which I started working for a small bank in Egypt, which I thoroughly enjoyed.
Later, I went to the Harvard Business School and by the time I finished my studies, things had changed in Egypt. So, I decided to stay in the US and went into investment banking. I was lucky enough to get a job, one which I stayed in for 20 years, until I started my own investment management company, Concord International, L.P. in New York, which was registered with the US Securities and Exchange Commission.
When you launched Concord in Egypt in 1994, were you the first Egyptian investment group at the time?
In Egypt, yes.
What sort of impact are you looking to make in Egypt through Concord?
When we came to Egypt and set up the company here, it was 100 per cent Egyptian. We decided that we had to operate on the same level as we did back in New York. We made sure to have an outstanding research department, one of the best in Cairo; and we maintained the same business ethics and principles, and built a pristine reputation.
Did you fully move back to Egypt?
Well, I’ve never fully moved back to Egypt, but I have been spending 75 per cent of my time here—there is a lot of going back and forth, but the move was worth it. When I moved here, things were going really well, especially when the market was getting organised, in 1993. We even invited our law firm in New York to come and play an advisory role on Egypt’s new capital market law. It was crucial that the law was developed properly.
Then, I formed the Investment Management Association in Egypt and joined the advisory board of the Cairo Stock Exchange, which was very successful and well-formed.
Would you say that you’ve created an industry in Egypt from scratch?
I joined the Cairo Stock Exchange in 1957, then in 1961, everything was nationalised. Consequently, my generation in Egypt did not gain that much experience. So, in 1993, when the country started reopening the stock market, no one had the required skills. Egypt had to rely on Egyptians coming from abroad, like me, to help out. So yes, we had to create the industry from scratch.
Then twenty years ago, the government decided to create the Egyptian International Fund. They invited us to support the market, which we did, and we also worked on a couple of other funds for the government. This has enabled us to redevelop the business in a substantial way.
How was your experience with moving from New York to Cairo; what were some of the major changes you experienced?
There was a huge difference between New York and Cairo, as you can imagine. In Cairo, you work twice as hard, but not as efficiently—initially. Moreover, the work ethic is different. However, we were lucky to have formed a qualified, bright and motivated team, educated at Cairo University, The American University in Cairo, and Ain Shams University. We decided to hire young credit analysts from commercial banks, and they became security analysts, which was a huge step.
As far as business goes, not only are we proud of the fact that our team is highly motivated, but also of the fact that 80% of our top management is made up of women. Our head of the investment committee in New York is Laura Othman, an Egyptian national, who had headed the Arab Bankers Association for two terms. In Egypt, we have Baheya Ismail, who has been in our private equity department for 15 years.
Has empowering women been a conscious decision on your part or did it just come naturally?
It was simply because they were the best. They were very good, so obviously they got the job. If you look at our management team, you will find that all of them have been with us for more than 15 years. When you find good people, you promote them and encourage them. I’m a firm believer in that. I didn’t build the company alone, it was built by that group.
Has the Covid-19 pandemic impacted the way Concord operates day to day?
Due to the current circumstances, we’re all working from home. We’re on conference and phone calls, but still operating as normally as we can.
Do you think Egypt is likely to benefit from the economic difficulties in the UAE and GCC countries?
Somehow, this effect is mainly applicable to the pharmaceuticals sector, but is relevant to other industries as well. The most dramatic effect is felt in pharmaceuticals due to the low prices in Egypt. For example, I can buy antibiotics in Cairo for tenth of the price at which they are sold in New York – same manufacturer and ingredients.
This brings me to our partnership with the Sovereign Fund of Egypt (TSFE). We have partnered with TSFE in setting up a special diversified healthcare fund with an initial target size of $300 million, which is focused on attracting international, export-oriented healthcare entities. That’s something I’m really proud of doing this year.
Is that what you are focused on these days at Concord?
Yes, we’re managing a few funds and invest in pharmaceuticals, labs, healthcare, and more.
Are there any other industries in Egypt that you’re excited about?
I steer away from conventional wisdom. The increase in population is driving expenditure on food, education, healthcare, and more. I would advise businesses to stay away from exotic developments and new gadgets, and to focus on big industries that will grow no matter what.
What advice would you give entrepreneurs who would like to start their own business or are looking for an industry to invest in?
Again, my advice to young people is this: stay away from conventional wisdom. The potential here is outstanding, so I would encourage them to take the risk and join the market. Bear in mind, first, that there is no lucrative business that doesn’t have any competition— so competition should never scare you. Second, size is not important, quality is. Create a strong base and build on it. Look at the fundamentals, and then carve out your own niche.
What would you say are the top strategies to survive the current downturn in Egypt?
To survive this phase, I would advise businesses to cut down on unnecessary costs, without hurting their capabilities. Don’t sacrifice your engine, which is your people. Pay them well and take care of them, so that they can develop and grow. Your people are your biggest asset, so nurture their talent and support them. Because at the end of the day, they’re the ones really supporting you.