How The Son Of An Egyptian Construction Entrepreneur Built A Multi-Billion Dollar Fortune
Entrepreneurship sounds like a solution to great wealth for billions of people, but only a few dare to try. But is it really easier for kids of millionaires and billionaires?
Sometimes the children of successful entrepreneurs make the most of their parents wealth since they were raised in an entrepreneurial household. But other times, a large percentage of them squander the entire family fortune and end up worse than the average individual.
This is the success story of Naseef Sawiris, the chairman of Orascom Construction, born into a millionaire family, but went on with his brothers to build their family wealth into a multi-billion dollar conglomerate.
Here’s how he did it:
Early Life And Education
Nassef Onsi Sawiris was born on January 19, 1961, in Cairo, Egypt. He is the youngest of three sons born to Yousiriyya and Onsi Sawiris.
His father, the son of a lawyer founded a construction company in 1950. And by the time Nassef was eight years old, it had become one of Egypt’s largest contractors, building roads and waterways along Egypt’s upper Nile region.
Naseef Sawiris attended high school at the German International School of Cairo and went to college in the U.S. and, in 1982, graduated with a degree in economics from the University of Chicago.
His father’s business was nationalized in 1961 by President Gamal Abdel Nasser and renamed El Nasr Civil Works Company.
Frustrated at being reduced to just an employee at his own company, Onsi, Naseef Sawiris’ father, moved to Libya, where he built a new general contracting company, from scratch.
Journey To Entrepreneurship
After graduating from college, Naseef Sawiris rejoined his father and two older brothers at OCI (Orascom Construction Industries), which by that time had diversified into communications and real estate.
By the end of the decade, the company had split into three separate entities: Orascom Telecom, helmed by the oldest brother Naguib; Orascom Hotels and Development, headed by the middle brother Samih; and Orascom Construction, now led by Nassef.
As CEO, he focused on expanding the business abroad and into a new sector; cement and building materials; a division he sold to Lafarge in 2008 for $12.8 billion.
That same year, he entered the fertilizer business with the purchase of Egyptian Fertilizer Company. Through the expansion of its own operations and acquisitions, Orascom’s fertilizer operation grew to become the world’s third-largest nitrogen-based fertilizer producer.
In January 2013, a consortium of investors led by Microsoft’s co-founder, Bill Gates, invested $1 billion in Orascom Construction Industries to help the Sawiris family transfer the company’s listing from the Cairo Stock Exchange to NYSE Euronext Amsterdam.
Naseef Sawiris said at the time of the announcement that the move was intended to facilitate future sector consolidation, mitigate Egypt country risk and help lower borrowing costs. The company, renamed OCI, started trading in Amsterdam on Jan. 25, 2013.
Two years later, OCI spun off its construction business into a separate company and dual-listed on the Dubai and Cairo stock exchanges.
The opposition of his older brother and business partner to the Islamists during the rule of Mr Morsi brought on his family the wrath of the then government. Naguib had opposed the rule of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and played an active role in its downfall.
His television channel, ONTV, and the political party he founded and still bankrolls, the Free Egyptians, were at the forefront of efforts to mobilise against the elected Islamist president, Mohamed Morsi, who was removed by the military in July 2013 on the back of huge protests against his rule. ONTV was “the dagger, the sword” against the religious agenda of the sect. In March 2013 Nassef — a tycoon in his own right and the chairman of Orascom Construction Industries, a global construction and fertiliser conglomerate —got a fair share of the heat as he was slapped with a tax bill and fines of almost $2bn.
The claim was rooted in a 2007 stock exchange transaction until then recognised by the authorities as tax-exempt. A travel ban was placed on the brother and on their father, Onsi, the former chairman of OCI, who were both out of the country at the time but could have been arrested had they returned.
The Business Today
Nassef Sawiris is the chairman of Orascom Construction Industries (OCI S. A. E.) and the chief executive officer of OCI N.V., one of the world’s largest nitrogen fertilizer producers. It has plants in Texas and Iowa and trades on the Euronext Amsterdam exchange, as indicated by Forbes.
OCI S. A. E., which is an engineering and building firm, trades on the Cairo stock exchange and Nasdaq Dubai. Nassef Sawiris holds stakes in Lafarge Holcim and Adidas. He is a member of the supervisory board of the latter.
For the year 2019, Nassef Sawiris ranks 252nd in the world’s richest list and fourth in Africa. The source of his wealth is construction and chemicals
FORBES reports that between March and July of 2019, the fortune of this billionaire, Nassef Sawiris rose by $1.5 billion to become $7.9 billion as Aston Villa which Nassef co-owns achieved victory to compete in the next edition of the Premier League and a partnership deal between OCI NV and ADNOC was concluded.
The partnership gave rise to the largest producer and exporter of nitrogen fertilizer in the MENA region. The share of OCI NV is 58 per cent, while the rest is held by ADNOC. The annual production is estimated at 5 tons of urea and 1.5 tons of ammonia.
On the other hand, Aston Villa, of which Sawiris is a co-owner along with Wes Edens, won a decisive match in May to take part in the Premier League that kicked off in August.
The Onsi Sawiris Scholars Program provides grants to academically talented students from Egypt to earn bachelor’s degrees from UChicago. The grants cover tuition, travel, living expenses, and enrichment initiatives. The rest of the amount is used to fund a recent non-degree certificate executive education program in El Gourna at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business.
The Sawiris Scholars Program was launched in 2007 with a donation of $26 million from Nassef Sawiris and named in honour of his father. The businessman has been a UChicago trustee since 2013.
To Sum It Up
Whether you’re born rich or poor, you can take whatever you have and build it to something of value. Naseef Sawiris is a true example of not just a person who can sustainably grow generational wealth, but of an entrepreneur who’s tenacity, purpose, perseverance, akin response to opportunities, and drive can build something great out of anything he sets his sight and mind on.
You too can.