FK: How would you describe the evolution of real estate in Egypt during the time you’ve worked in the field?
AE: The industry is still not mature in Egypt overall. There are other markets that have already matured, but we’re still at the beginning. For example, Europe, or maybe Dubai are already established from aspects like regulations, the laws, the finance, the mortgage, all of it.
FK: What about infrastructure?
AE: The infrastructure in Egypt is different to these areas. Looking at Cairo, it had very good infrastructure, but it became old and was never maintained, and now this has become a problem that the government is trying to solve. Now, I think they have started to plan a very good infrastructure, and with this you’re talking about two things. You’re talking about utilities, and you’re talking about the roads and transportation. The roads are now getting a lot better than before, but we still have a lot to do about the transportation, ours is way far back and there’s still a lot to do to reach the new technologies.
FK: What would attract an international brand like Al Futtaim to Egypt?
AE: The economy in Egypt is one of the best in the region. It is going up and it might be one of only two countries that saw their economy go up last year. Any brand is looking for two things – good returns and stability. The stability, we still have some work to do, but in terms of returns, Egypt has some of the best returns.
FK: Aside from the returns and profit, how does a company like Al Futtaim measure its success?
AE: The private industry has a different way of measuring success. Of course, returns are one of them, but also, we look at building the reputation and value of the company, and the name and brand. These are the things you need to look at to see that you’re succeeding. Returns are the end-result of all of that. If you build a good brand and reputation, you’re going to get good returns!
FK: As an MD, how do you measure your own success?
AE: It’s the same there are lots of factors. One of them of course is the financial results. There are other things like customer satisfaction and then there are personal things also like being proud of anything I do – this is part of my success. When you go around our city here, I’m proud of each project, of each corner.
FK: For a younger man or woman in the industry who aspire to become an MD or CEO, what you would advise they prioritise?
AE: I always advise anyone of two things. One, not doing your best. Doing your best is not enough, maybe it’s not enough and this is the problem. When someone is telling me that they’re doing their best, but their best is not enough, this is not good enough. You need to look at what is top of the market, so you’re hoping to be there, not only your best. The second, if you dream of something, be persistent and go after it. Don’t just dream and forget about it, go after it all the time.
FK: Looking at your game plan for being a successful MD, is that going to work for the next generation, or do they need to do things differently?
AE: Definitely, the world is evolving in a very fast way, and I doubt we would be here if I stayed in the past ten years. I started my career in real estate ten years ago. I didn’t know anything about doing things smartly. I need to work smart instead of working hard. Now I know how to look at things and use technology and know exactly what I’m doing. Back then, we used to do things in a difficult way, but now you need less people to do the same work that I had to do ten years ago, and there’s going to be a lot changing in the next ten years.
FK: Technology has changed the way real estate is being designed and delivered. How are you monitoring the evolution of technology in real estate? Do you think the architects behind these technologies are close enough to the wants of consumers?
AE: I always thought of it in a different way. The one doing the technology is more advanced than the consumer. Sometimes they come to you and tell you things that you never thought about, and whenever you hear it you think it’s a good idea. If you waited for the consumer to tell you what you need, you will never advance. For example, we’re doing a smart city now, and part of it is the traffic. If I went to the consumer and asked what they wanted in the traffic, they wouldn’t know. He might want to reduce travel time or a good parking space. But he will never think about the technologies that we are using right now, such as counting the cars in traffic which cars go right and left, and having this all going without any interference, and ran purely by computers. If you waited for the consumer to tell you everything, it will be very little, I’m not saying it’s not going to happen, but the geniuses behind the technology, they must dictate what should be done. Usually the consumer requirements are less than the advancements in technology.
FK: Do you see the advancements in technology will be feasible to work industry-wide in Egypt?
AE: There are two things that always help technology. One thing is the infrastructure of the internet etc. which is expensive in Egypt and not very advanced, and this is a step the government need to take to get us into a better situation.
Another thing is that the cost of technology is high, and this is part of your Capex (capital expenditure), and then you’re going to increase prices, so it has an implication on the sales and all of that. To do that, you need to also have some regulations that make everyone do it, so no one by himself is doing it and then it gets expensive and others aren’t doing while nobody knows that there’s a different product [in the market]. Also, if the government give relief, or access, or some kind of incentive to do this.
FK: I’ve coined a phrase “compound-culture”. I can say compounds were unheard of twenty years ago. Now it seems that in New Cairo, compounds are the norm. Do you think this is sustainable or is there likely to be a need for traditional neighbourhoods again one day?
AE: At a certain point in Egypt, the private sector was a lot better at producing than the public sector. People would love being in a private sector area because they have a higher quality product than the outside, where the streets and the landscaping is not that good. People were looking for the private sector to come up with quality that they can live in, and therefore the compound was created. I mean, you’re in a gated community with quality. Now, I think the government has to improve their quality a lot. If you go to see the New Cairo [government] streets or Zayed, the quality is getting a lot better, so it might come back. In the new cities like Alamein also, the quality you’re seeing now in the [government] streets, there isn’t a big difference between it and the compounds. So, it might come back, but if it doesn’t come back or the maintenance isn’t good, people will always look to the private sector for good maintenance and good quality.
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