The prominent Egyptian entrepreneur, Shady Samir, has been breaking new ground in the business world for over two decades. Presiding over Select Group and Smart Vision Egypt, with several companies under their helm, Samir is an influential business figure in Egypt and the MENA region. eniGma’s Ezz Al-Turkey sat down with the successful entrepreneur to discuss his journey and how he continues to thrive in the cut-throat world of business.
Can you tell us a bit about your educational background and early career?
I graduated as an engineer from the School of Architecture back in 1999. Then I did an MBA at Cambridge University and I also earned other diplomas from Cambridge as well as online.
My first job was as an engineer. But I started my private business at 16; it was registered in my mother’s name since I was still a teenager. I worked in almost everything, including the restaurant industry, agriculture and traveling to pick up shipments. While I didn’t have a specific goal as a kid, I knew at a young age that I didn’t want a corporate job, so I picked up a little of everything from different jobs.
After I graduated, I was really excited and happy when people called me by my title, “engineer.” However, when I interviewed for my first real job at an architecture firm, they told me you’re not really an engineer. I was surprised because I was already teaching at a university at the time. I worked at my first job for a year but when I asked my boss for a day off to go to Syria with some friends to attend an event there, he refused. One of my friends’ dads was introducing a technology company he owned there and I went anyway. As it is, my friend’s dad asked me to go work for them. I told him I’m an engineer, why would I work in technology and software? But when I got back to Cairo, my boss relocated me to Toshka because I had taken that day off. The working hours at Toshka are from 8am to 12pm and if you go out at noon, you can melt. I only lasted two weeks before I handed in my resignation letter. Then I told my friend’s dad that I would work for him.
You worked with Oracle Consulting for a while, can you tell us about your experience there?
While I didn’t have the technical knowhow I had the management knowhow. After a year, I became one of Oracle Consulting’s top achievers so they moved me to international operations which led me to be in charge all across the Middle East. I would travel on Saturday to a country and on Monday would go to a different country and on Thursday I’d return to Cairo. I lived like this for a long period until one day in Syria I opened my door to find my wife in front of me, announcing that she was pregnant. Because becoming a father has always been a dream of mine, I returned to Egypt and resigned from that position.
What Led to EMC2 Corp?
I got an opportunity to work at Visa where I learned all about the different banks since Visa operates mainly with banks. Again, I was really good at this position; one day, on April 26, 2006, to be exact, I was at a regular work dinner which led to a big milestone in my life. At that dinner I met Mohamed Amin for the first time. We started chatting and he went on to say that he had just started EMC2 Corp, an information technology and services company and that he had come to Egypt from Canada to manage it. He asked me if I would be interested in resigning from my then current position and becoming his partner. I didn’t know anything about their company and I didn’t think I was stable financially. But I made the leap and we ended up launching on June 30, 2006. This company became the biggest data storage company in the region!
When did you finally venture into starting your own company?
I opened my own company in the same year and I made the first few million pounds in my life. But I was so nervous, especially since I was just 27 years old. So, I took my earnings and created Smart Vision because I was afraid something would happen that would lead me to return to corporate life. I kept creating other companies in 2007 and 2008 and so on. I would invest in a certain company then when it would break even, I would return the money to my investment pool and invest again in other companies. Alongside that, I was working on the companies that I chose to keep going and thankfully, they were successful.
We also created a car company related to gas operations. It is located on the ring road area; our first distribution was launched back in March and our second one will launch in November. We will be launching cars, such as microbuses.
What are some of the important career lessons you learnt along the way?
I was sitting with a well-known American figure and he was yelling at his son in law, basically telling him, “as long as you’re working with the aim to make money, you’ll spend the rest of your life working just to make money.” When I looked puzzled by this, he looked at me and said, “You shouldn’t focus your energy on money but rather on the model that will lead you to succeed and make money continuously, every day.” From that moment my whole way of thinking changed and I decided I wanted to create applications and things related to humans. Hopefully by the end of this year, you’ll hear some good news!
How do you manage to achieve balance in your work?
I work more on high level strategies. I have trained great people by having them shadow me to be able to handle the details. That way I don’t have to worry about the day-to-day things and focus on evaluating new businesses. This has given me the room to do more things. You train yourself to be stretched thin and multitask. The problem arises when you hand over a task to someone and expect them to do it, along with a hundred other tasks, the way you have become accustomed to. You need to adjust yourself to the fact that not everyone’s the same. My biggest asset is that I can leave the company for two months with no doubt that the people in charge can indeed handle it.
What do you want to achieve in the next 5-10 years?
It’s easy to say achieving something that is more valuable than money, especially because I am at a point in my life where I am financially stable. But I really do believe that I thrive off teaching others the shortcuts to creating a better and more successful career. Because I haven’t really tried anything besides helping people with their ideas, as well as fatherhood, I am not sure if there’s a third thing that I might shine in. But I would love to teach something on ethics. Ethics is something that is major to me. I have left deals because of my core beliefs. Success in business is all about creating win-win situations. When your client is certain that you will never abuse their trust, they will never leave you. This philosophy even applies to personal relationships.
I really wanted to retire but it doesn’t look like it will happen soon. I want to guide others into entering the field of business. I really like teaching others how to lead in their field without making their number one target to make money. I seek out passionate people like me. And of course, I want to see my son be the most successful person. The problem is, if you’re growing up now, you’re being raised in a world where business is the norm. I hope that doesn’t take away from his passion and drive for competitiveness.