Younes Alaoui The Force Behind Pirelli in the Middle East

Pirelli, the Italian tyres brand, has been around for quite a while. Yet, intriguingly, in the past few years, through their famous Pirelli Calendar and their involvement in Formula One, the Pirellli name has become closely associated with elegance and exclusivity. Today, Pirelli has a strong presence in Egypt and the Middle East, with Younes Alaoui, its dynamic managing director, at its helm here since 2013.  eniGma sat down with Alaoui to learn more on the history of the company and its operations.

Born and raised in Morocco, Alaoui moved to Paris at the young age of 16 to complete his education. After receiving a degree in economics and finance, he landed a job in a consulting company where he worked for five years. Next, he joined Lafarge, one of the biggest cement companies in the world.  Starting out based in their Paris headquarters, by the time he left, he was stationed in Malaysia, heading their operations in the whole of Southeast Asia. “At this point, I was almost 40 and wanted to embark on a new adventure. It was then that I got the opportunity to join Pirelli. What immediately came to my mind was the Pirelli Calendar and Pirelli’s sponsorship of Formula One. This shows how strong their branding is, which made the opportunity to join the company very appealing to me,” he recalls. Alaoui had travelled all over the world for his previous jobs, but never had the chance to work in Africa or the Middle East.  So, when he was informed that he would be working from Egypt, he was absolutely thrilled.

Arriving in Egypt in May 2013, when the country was going through much economic and political turmoil, Alaoui’s relocation was far from smooth, yet he was undeterred and determined to make the best out of the situation. Looking back, he recalls, “It felt like a challenge and I feel fortunate to have experienced such a momentous part of history first-hand.” He was well suited to take on the challenge, he asserts. “To be a successful manager, you must have an interest in, and an emotional connection to, the country in which your company operates,” he explains, adding, “What is impressive about Egypt is that the market is operating even in the country’s darkest hour. The company might not have been as profitable as we would have liked, but it didn’t collapse. I am glad we pulled through because Egypt is one of the most important locations for Pirelli.”

According to Alaoui, Pirelli’s history in Egypt shows just how invested the company is in the country. Pirelli’s presence in Egypt started when it decided to partner up with an Egyptian public company in the field of engineering, providing it with cutting-edge technology. Pirelli began as a minor shareholder of the company, and by the year 2000, it had become its majority shareholder.  Since then, Pirelli has been working tirelessly to bring the company up to international standards. Today, its factory produces about one million high quality tyres for trucks, half of which are exported to Europe and the Middle East. “We might not be manufacturing car tyres here yet, but we are working hard on improving service to our customers, which is why we have focused on creating a strong network of truck and car services over the past three years.  We went from 20 points-of-sale to 60, and we plan on adding 7-10 points-of-sale each year to get as close as possible to our end users,” he explains.

Pirelli’s strong presence in the tyre market can be attributed to maintaining the highest standards in terms of geographical position, image, design, setup, and the quality and range of services. Alaoui notes, “Our aim is to fulfil all of our customers’ needs, so we try to see things from their perspective. This means that we don’t want our customers, especially women, abandoned by the side of the road if something goes wrong with their tyres. Our points-of-sale are also designed for our customers’ convenience, with couches, televisions and air conditioners for their comfort. If customers choose to, they can observe the operations performed on their cars via a surveillance system.”

To make things easier for its customers, Pirelli Egypt is also developing a tyre delivery service.  “Egypt is one of the most advanced countries in terms of delivery.  Everything can be delivered right to your doorstep,” exclaims Alaoui.  Building on that, he explains, “We are creating a fully equipped service van to provide products and services to people wherever they may be: at home, at the office or by the side of the road. I would like for Pirelli to be like Starbucks, available everywhere, offering high quality, fast and reliable service.” Alaoui is quick to proudly add, “We are very close to achieving that. We were among the first to create a full-service truck centre and now we have 10 of them. The first was in Hurghada, and the most recent one is in Sharm El Sheikh. We plan on opening 3-4 more centres each year.” Pirelli is also interested in collaborating with other tyre brands to form a syndicate that spreads awareness about tyre safety and how essential it is to saving lives.

Alaoui explains that the car market consists of three main segments: Prestige, with brands like Aston Martin, Maserati and Ferrari; Premium, with brands like BMW, Mercedes and Porsche; and Synergic, with brands like Nissan, Toyota and Honda. He notes that Pirelli tyres were originally made for the top two segments. “Our customers lie mainly in the first two segments, but in Egypt, we have had to focus on all three because very few people are in the top two.  Because our customers are different, we try to diversify our products. This doesn’t mean that the quality is inferior; we just have different tyres for different needs.  We pride ourselves on adjusting the brand to suit customers,” he emphasises.

Pirelli Egypt has become a role model when it comes to the quality and performance of the truck tyre factory. The market inspires innovation, services and strategy. Alaoui hopes to replicate that model for car tyres and to achieve the same level of success.  As he puts it, “Our vision is for Pirelli to leap into people’s minds when they think about tyres. Not just the product, but all services related to it, as well.”

The success of the company in Egypt doesn’t come without challenges, however, especially given the country’s difficult economic situation.  Alaoui explains, “What concerns us is stability and access to foreign currency. Since 70% of raw materials used in our factory are imported, last year, with no access to American dollars, we had to rely on our parent company to purchase supplies on our behalf. We are doing our best to change this by finding local alternatives whenever we can.  This year, our costs have doubled. Prices of raw materials have increased because of the increase in oil prices. Add to that the inflation in Egypt. Even though our costs have increased substantially, we are mindful of increasing the prices of our products. We just want to cover our cost at this point. We have to withstand the storm because it will pass,” he asserts.

Like most Italian brands, Pirelli aims for excellence. Alaoui notes, “We try to be pioneers of innovation, which is how Pirelli ended up creating a fashion brand called PZero. We have a strong presence when it comes to anything high-end, so it was only logical to get into high fashion. The Grands Prix of the Formula One races are all about glamour. We’ve also been the only company to be a Formula One sponsor for six years and have signed on for an additional three.  Additionally, the concept behind our Pirelli calendar is to portray beauty, and it has been going on for 50 years. Every year, we get the best photographer to shoot the greatest models and celebrities, and the calendar’s launch is always a major event. The Pirelli calendar is only given to exclusive people and it’s not sold,” he proudly states.

Clearly, there’s so much more to Pirelli than tyres. Due to its unique strategy, the Pirelli name has become synonymous with glamour, adventure and luxury. But the basic fact underlying the brand is that, whether their tyres are on a truck or a Formula One car, Pirelli makes sure you get to your destination safely and stylishly.

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