Tharwat Bassily, PhD, an Egyptian businessman, Chairman and CEO of Amoun Holdings, and owner of CTV (Coptic TV) channel, passed away today.
Dr Bassily, who was born into a Coptic family that hailed from Upper Egypt, was a prominent member of the Coptic community; he was Undersecretary of the Coptic Orthodox Melli (Laity) Council, and founder of CTV (Coptic TV) in 2007.
A pharmacist by profession, Dr Bassily founded Amoun Pharmaceutical Company S.A.E. in the early 1990s. The company rose to be one of the leading drug makers in Egypt, and was acquired in 2006 by a consortium of international investors (CVCI Private Equity fund “acquired by Rohatyn Group”, Capital International Private Equity L.P. and Concord International).
Dr Bassily a philanthropist who sponsored a large volume of charity work.
He was a well-loved, respected man, honoured by all who knew him.
He leaves behind a wife, Isis Fawzy Shenouda; two businessmen sons: Ilia who is also a member of the House of Representatives, and George; and two daughters: Nevine and Mona, both are married to men in the business field.
On 31 October 2010, Dr Bassily gave Watani’s Mary Mansour an interview in which he talked candidly of his life, outlook, and achievements. In tribute to the great man, we repost it here:
Tharwat Bassily talks to Watani
What does the pharmaceutical industry and the visual media have in common? Not much, obviously; unless you’re talking of the Egyptian businessman Tharwat Bassily.
In a journey that thrived on successes, Bassily firmly established himself in the two fields so wide apart; he established Amoun Pharmaceutical Company a leading Egyptian drug manufacturer and the first privately owned in the field, as well as the Coptic TV (CTV) satellite channel. At a time of jarring religious conflicts and debates, Bassily’s CTV gained a reputation for being a dynamic channel which offers Copts highly interesting material that caters to their needs and answers their queries. Above all, it steers right away from extremist notions and promotes social peace.
Watani talked to Mr Bassily on his recipe for success.
What took you into the field of pharmacy?
I always looked up to pharmacy as a profession, but what encouraged me to embark on this road was the high score I achieved in my Thanawiya Amma certificate [the Egyptian secondary school certificate which qualifies students for university]. I ranked first in chemistry across Egypt that year.
As for the drug industry, I never planned on it in the first place. It was the manner in which my work in the pharmaceutical field proceeded and developed that put me on that road. I can say it was really God’s will.
You were the first to call for breaking the monopoly on medicine imports. How did you succeed in doing that?
In 1976, President Anwar al-Sadat announced his ‘open door’ economic policy as opposed to the socialist, public sector policy that had been dominant in Egypt since the early 1960s. I presented a proposition to the Chamber of Commerce suggesting that it allows the import of medicines without currency transfer, meaning the Egyptian government was not required to supply the hard currency for the importation, it was the importer’s responsibility to do so. The Chamber of Commerce accepted my suggestion.
How much did you contribute to breaking the public sector monopoly on manufacturing medicine?
Aided by God’s support, in 1978 I was the first to obtain a licence to establish a private plant for the manufacture of medicine in Egypt, despite the great difficulty at the time. This opened the door for other private medicine manufacturers; the monopoly was broken.
You also took the lead in starting medicine storehouses. How did it shape up?
After 30 years of nationalising medicine warehouses in Egypt, and following prolonged struggles with the law, I was the first to obtain a licence for medicine storehouses. The market was thus rid of the monopoly on wholesale medicine trade.
What difficulties did you face while setting up the Amoun Pharmaceutical Company?
I can’t say there were difficulties, rather a great number of procedures. To begin with, manufacturing medicine was not allowed for the private sector, so it took me a few years and a lot of effort to convince the relevant authorities that in developed countries such as the United States and European countries, medicine manufacturing was a private sector industry. I also had to prove to them that only some communist countries monopolised the medicine industry. At last, in 1981, the first private pharmaceutical company in Egypt was authorised, followed by several others. Let me point out that the produce of the private pharmaceutical companies in Egypt covers more than 70 per cent of local medicine consumption, so had the private sector not entered the field, the Egyptian market’s requirement for medicine, which amounts to more than EGP14 billion, would have remained unfulfilled.
Your choice to name your company Amoun expresses your devotion to Egypt. So what inspired the name?
When we started our company we contemplated how we could reflect our Egyptian identity to the whole world? We figured that Tutankhamun was known to almost all the world, so we resorted to Amoun as a shorter form, but one that guarantees the same meaning.
Considering the current rate of inflation, is it possible to produce lower cost medicines that are affordable by all, especially for chronic diseases?
Complaints about the high end user prices of medicines are worldwide, even in developed countries. In the United States the end user price of a specific drug for diabetes is USD6.5 per tablet and, of course, everyone complains. When Egypt started producing the same drug, the Health Ministry set a price the equivalent of USD0.5 per tablet. But, understandably, people in Egypt still complain because even that is too much to pay for the majority of patients. Yet the medicine industry in Egypt has served Egyptians well by producing 92 per cent of their total medicine consumption locally. I announce this ratio with pride.
Are there measures that control the price of medicines?
Any company can reduce the end user price of its medicines at any time and by any value. But it is a very long and complicated process to raise the price of any medicine. It takes years to complete discussions with the Health Ministry and to present production and cost documents, as well as studies of the prices of all possible alternatives around the world to the medicine in question, before the ministry approves even a trifling rise in price. The process is so arduous, and more often than not ends with the ministry’s rejection of the raise, that it sometimes ends in discontinuing the production of the drug if its production costs exceed its end user price.
How creative is the pharmaceutical domain?
The drug industry is very active in the field of research. It takes years of research, hundreds of millions of dollars and huge facilities to discover only part of a new treatment.
The art of ‘making’ medicines is a scientific line, while the art of ‘making’ people is an utterly fine human road. Can both roads cross?
The most economically inclined business project cannot prosper if its human components are not absolutely just. For any project to succeed the human factor must prevail while dealing with people.
Was establishing CTV a dream come true? Tell us how it happened?
The idea of establishing a satellite channel was far from my mind, but a bishop, whom I cherish and respect, along with a group of friends, kept encouraging me to start a television channel that would carry Copts’ opinions and ambitions in the world. I was absolutely against the idea, since the media was not my field of expertise and I didn’t want to fail, maybe because I can’t stand the idea of failure. But later negotiations with media experts proved that it was possible to establish a satellite channel just so long as the will, the expertise and the funds were available. So that was how CTV started, and I thank God that it was well received. At CTV, today we’re still trying to develop, targeting our audience’s satisfaction.
Why did you choose to name it ‘Coptic TV’?
It was his Holiness Pope Shenouda III who selected the name for the channel from among the other names that we had suggested, since Coptic TV was the most to the point.
What is CTV’s policy? Is it pastoral or educational? What is its broadcasting and programming policy?
You can consider CTV a mixture of the pastoral and the educational. As for its broadcasting policy, CTV aims at presenting the Christian faith and the Coptic Church’s doctrine, without touching on other faiths or their comparison with Christianity, which is our red line. Dogmatic differences between different Christian sects are another red line that we do not cross at CTV. The general inclination of CTV is to advocate national unity without crossing the red lines.
We cover Egypt, both Americas and Australia, so we consider that CTV has reached most Copts around the world. We broadcast some 60 shows, each tackling a different topic of interest.
What are the modern available technologies, equipment and studios, needed to produce different shows?
After moving to its new seven-storey headquarters, CTV is benefiting from a lot of new facilities and technologies. It has two fully-equipped high-tech studios, which only have three like them across Egypt. These state-of-the-art studios offer the staff a great opportunity to innovate and develop the shows on which they are working.
We are working on presenting live shows, and we already have a website.
In your opinion, how can we practically overcome the general disillusion which is so spread among Egypt’s young?
Any human being should always strive for a better reality and improvement on his or her situation. If CTV succeeds in projecting an improved image, we can say that it has succeeded in its mission.
How do you evaluate your two main achievements on the pharmaceutical and the media fronts?
I hope to keep on developing and improving in both fields. In the pharmaceutical field, I dream that medicine reaches all the sick and needy. As for CTV, I hope its mission reaches more and more viewers, fulfilling their aspirations and altering misconceptions. I consider this to be a first class human mission.
Finally, can you tell us who Tharwat Bassily is?
No one can see himself as others see him. But if you mean my inner self, I can tell you that what fulfils me most is being close to God. As for the world’s daily concerns and issues, I believe very much in the Bible verse: “All things work together for the good of those who love God.”
5 December 2017