Egypt, new dimensions, new frontiers

Mr. Hani El Sharkawy, President of ESIG
Egypt -

El Sharkawy International Group Ltd.

Interview with:

Mr. Hani El Sharkawy,

Cairo, April 25th, 2000
Could you give our readers an overview of how El Sharkawy International Group (ESIG) started out as an import-export company here in Egypt?

We started out in 1968 importing zippers into Egypt, and became specialised in this unique field. We became the number one, not only in Egypt, but in the whole of the Middle East for this field. We achieved this in collaboration with a German firm called Navel, and with them we developed manufacturing equipment for the same industry. We have now established seven factories in the Middle East.

However, we have many other diverse interests. We have security interests and have worked with the Polaroid company on identification systems for about fifteen years. We developed ID cards for the Egyptian military and the Ministry of the Interior. From this we branched out into office equipment and worked with 3M and Canon, and we have worked for 15 years in this field. From this point we diversified out into editing which was, and continues to be, an enjoyable experience. We did this as a joint venture with some large, French publishing companies to provide services for the Egyptian Ministry of Education.

From here we started to specialise in education, and this is now our main concern. We specialise in editing equipment as well as other modern technology, in so far as it relates to education. We introduced the concept of computers into Egyptian schools in 1986, again in collaboration with the Ministry of Education and various French companies. We have installed almost 80,000 computers in different schools to date. We have also introduced new editing technology, such as CDs, into the educational sector.

We went on to specialise further, providing material for blind people, and we are the only company here in Egypt to provide this service. We have developed equipment to allow blind students to utilise computer technology and access the internet. This was a very pleasurable experience indeed, as we witnessed, for example, an eight year-old blind student use our technology with considerable ease.

Now we are expanding out from the educational field into special needs. We enjoy working in this field a great deal, providing services related to guide dogs for the blind, which is very rewarding. We truly enjoy giving disabled people the opportunities that others might take for granted. Recently we presented the Egyptian Minister for Education with the concept of putting blind students with other fully sighted students in order to facilitate their integration into society, and he was very impressed with this work. We are now developing a huge 'Virtual Schooling' project called the National Egyptian Education Project, in collaboration with many different editors from around the world. People will be able to access internet information on their educational needs, and their examinations through a call centre. This will mean that even without text books, students can access vital information. We presented the project to His Excellency the Minister for Education yesterday morning, and it promises to be a huge international collaboration.

Something akin to a conferencing facility, perhaps?

Yes, certainly. We also have multimedia and security interests, involvement in infrastructure development, and we provide innovative solutions to parking and traffic problems. We are interested in continuous training, the oil industry, telecommunications and information technology.

Your company has been active in several fields. How did you decide to become involved in e-commerce, for example? Do you have a diversification strategy?

In our company, we have the ability to smell out an opportunity some years in advance. By being well read, by travelling, and with a thorough knowledge of our own country, we can predict potential future interests. Education forms a stable base for our activities as it is a continuous concern the world over, and national education budgets across the globe are big, and increasing in size.

Security came from our experiences in the 1970's working with the military, which was very interesting indeed. Infrastructure work is an obligation really, as there is need for investment in huge infrastructure projects here in Egypt today, and work in this sector can lead to opportunities in other fields. Our story demonstrates this relationship very clearly.

We combine several interests in our company, and we have several subsidiary companies as well. These companies are very diverse; one provides technical and legal translation services (English, German, Arabic and Russian) whilst another specialises in Internet technologies, and we have a graphic design subsidiary as well.

Our holding company is British and we also have a branch in Paris. Soon we will have offices in Belgium and Dubai as well. We aim to be diverse enough to benefit continuously from being at the peak of one business cycle or another. We are always interested in developing new opportunities.
Could you tell us a little about the financial performance of your company?

Our turnover within Egypt is not far from 60 million Egyptian pounds. We have about 120 employees in Egypt and an exceptional legal and financial executive board. Profits vary from activity to activity. The problem with gauging the success of our business is the time factor. Results depend very much on the period of time studied, but that is the nature of our business. You always need to be ready for different opportunities. For example we were becoming involved in e-commerce four years ago now, and now that is now paying off very well.

Has this been a good year financially?

In general 1999 was a good year, but not as good as 1997or 1998. We know that the new decade will be better. When you emerge from restricted to free markets, there will always be problems. We have set a very high standard, and sometimes it is difficult to maintain this consistently.

What business opportunities are you looking to develop for ESIG?

I would like to branch out into the legal field, as I have much personal experience here, and Egypt needs a great deal of expertise in this field. For example we do not yet have the legal experience to deal with dumping problems here in Egypt. There is a lot of legal work to be done in the field of tariffs and trade and this interests me a great deal.

I have two sons who are in business with me. I hope they will innovate, both for the company and for the country. I am counting on them to bring in new ideas. They know a great deal about engineering, and how to market the company too. They know a great deal about the legal / financial interface and this is what really matters. The future looks good.

I understand you are also looking at developing new division in the aeronautic and maritime sectors?

We are involved in many consultations at the moment, and we are making preparations for diversification into many new areas.

You have mentioned strong links with the French markets. What other markets are you also involved with?

Europe generally, but especially Germany. In the seventies we had very close links with the United States and Japan. Now we are heavily involved in Europe, but we are looking to renew our old ties with the United States and Japan.

Are you looking to pierce other potential export markets?

We are really looking to refresh our previous relationships with Japan and the US in the coming five years.

If I were a German business man, for example, how could you help me set up a business or a joint venture here in Egypt?

We help people understand how investment works in Egypt. How, for example, to go about getting insured here. We can localise business plans and do market studies for you, and we can negotiate with the government on your behalf. We can provide arbitration services, if necessary. We have a sincere and long term commitment to our clients.

ESIG has the market know-how and the connections to facilitate business for other companies, but how do you go about marketing your own company?

We have many friends across the world, a network built that we have built up over time. We develop relations with the commercial sectors of various embassies, and we try to tackle these kind of issues in trade shows and with our communications plan.

As the founding father of ESIG, what do you regard as your greatest achievement?

My greatest achievement has been weathering the worst of economic times here in Egypt. I am also very proud of my human resources. We use failure as a stimulant for future success. We learn from our mistakes and strive to be at the top of our profession.

Where do you envisage ESIG will be in 10 years time?

I look forwards very much to the new talent that my two sons will bring into the company and I envisage considerable diversification in the future.

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© World INvestment NEws, 2000.
This is the electronic edition of the special country report on Egypt published in Forbes Global Magazine.
August 7th 2000 Issue.
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