Until 1972 the Egyptian market boasted no fire extinguisher that could pass International standards. That year, however, a young Egyptian industrialist and businessman, Nader Riad, established Bavaria Egypt, a pioneering firm that was a joint venture with the German company of the same name, and changed all that. Over the years, his company produced world-class fire extinguishers, and sold them in Egypt, the Middle East and Africa. In 1999, Bavaria Egypt acquired the mother company in Germany.
Chaired by Dr Riad, Bavaria also played a vibrant social responsibility role, establishing a school, launching ‘street libraries’ in Downtown Cairo, and assisting Syrian refugees in Egypt. Bavaria supports hospitals and infrastructure works in a number of developing countries. In 2003, former German President Johannes Rau awarded Dr Riad the Officer’s Cross Order of Merit, First Class, for his key role in reinforcing German-Egyptian economic ties.
Dr Riad gave Watani a candid talk, expounding on his family, work, achievements, and views on national issues.
“I was born in Dumyat (Damietta, which lies on the Nile Delta’s eastern branch as it flows into the Mediterranean), the third of four siblings,” Dr Riad said. “My father studied in Austria where he specialised in railway steam engines then returned home to work with the Ministry of Public Works. That was in 1937 when Egyptian homes had access to electricity only at night. My father was very proud that he was the one to connect power to homes every evening. He was a very wise man, famous as “the peace maker” to whom everyone came to resolve conflicts.
My mother came from the village of Kafr Daoud in Menoufiya in the south Delta; Daoud, her great grandfather, was a teacher to none other than Khedive Ismail who ruled Egypt in 1863 – 1878. She went to an American mission school.
Although I look up to a number of role models: Einstein for his scientific passion; poet Ahmed Shawqy for profundity; poet Mahmoud Sami al-Baroudi for passionate expression; and Napoleon for shrewd management; my father remains for me the greatest of all.
“I went to school in Cairo and was a hardworking achiever. When in secondary school I fell seriously ill, and my father sent me to Germany for treatment, where I spent more than 13 months. My father had to sell a manor he owned to be able to afford the cost of my treatment; I still feel indebted to him and to my siblings for that.
“On my sickbed in Germany I studied for the Egyptian secondary school certificate, but the Egyptian Embassy would not let me sit for examination. This drove me to enrol in the German school system; I passed my exams and went on to study engine mechanics in university. Meanwhile, I trained with Lufthansa and Bavaria which produced fire fighting equipment. During my training with Bavaria, the company received a large order of 158,000 water-operation fire extinguishers for the German army. During production, the company faced a major problem: the extinguisher had been designed to include a small part that carried the hazard of rusting when in contact with water. The only available answer was to replace it with a stainless steel part, which would have cost the company an extra DEM128,000. When I learned of the problem I went to the workshop and made a cylindrical cap in a special way that could dispense with the ‘problematic part’. My idea worked and was adopted; it saved the company DEM110,000 and I became an instant hero with Bavaria.
“Germany was a beautiful place to be in, and I was a success there. But I yearned to be home,” a wistful Dr Riad confided.
Family: generous in spirit
“In the 1960s President Gamal Abdel-Nasser gave the green light for students studying abroad to return to Egypt and continue their studies in Egyptian universities. I rushed home and enrolled in Cairo University, graduating with a degree in Aeronautical Engineering. I was eager to work in the manufacture of planes and rockets but, following my graduation, I was appointed to the Refrigerator Department of the Military Industrial Complex. I was very disappointed. Upon my father’s advice, I went back to Germany and did higher studies.”
Back home in Egypt following higher studies, the young aspiring industrialist decided to get married and form a family. Today he says: “I first met the woman who became my wife as she worked with a multinational bank. She came from a prominent Coptic family in Dairut (a city in Assiut, some 350km south of Cairo); we married in 1977.
“She is a peaceful, pragmatic person, with an opinion of her own; she is firm yet tender. We have three children who all work with me. Amir, the eldest, studied Business Administration and had been with Bavaria for 11 years, rising to Vice Chairman of the company. My daughter Maggie studied Economics, and my younger daughter Sandra studied Mass Communication and now has input into the company through the important task of assessing public trends and tastes.
“I have been blessed with a family of insightful, enthusiastic members who are generous in spirit. I cherish their opinion whether or not I agree with it.”
Bavaria all the way
“Tell us about your journey with Bavaria,” Watani asked.
“In 1971 after the new investment law was ratified by President Anwar al-Sadat, I signed with Bavaria Germany a contract of industrial cooperation in Egypt. Bavaria Egypt was born in 1972 as the first company under the Investment Law. We started with three workers; now we have 900 persons working with the company. We produce more than 40 products all of which enjoy local and international accreditation. We sell to the Egyptian and international markets.
“In order to meet the challenge of establishing a successful, exemplary business, we had to instil honourable principles. Major among these are that: ‘unclean’ hands can never yield a ‘clean’ product; discipline is the base for entry into the industrial world, a worker has to qualify for a task before he is assigned to it, and that pride in one’s work alone leads to professional maturity. We rooted the concept that the worker is at the forefront of the quality system.”
Bavaria Egypt embraced the needs of its employees. The company encouraged sports, building courts and bringing in trainers. “A compulsory money saving system was set up,” Dr Riad said, “since human development starts when the individual feels he or she can be a financial entity in its own right.
“We also have a monthly publication, Bavaria Community, which works to connect all the Bavaria family in Egypt.” His pride was evident as he said: “It has truly united us all.”
Over the years, Dr Riad said, the company was able to make tangible progress. “In 1999, we acquired the mother company in Germany when it faltered and was tendered for sale by the bank.”
Five mandatory principles
Dr Riad has to his name 128 patents, among them a one-step operating fire extinguisher, whereas all fire extinguishers in the world operate through two or more steps.
“I see that a successful industrialist must abide by five principles: professional pride; loyalty to the customer; paying the State its dues; never compromising on quality, and this is why I have put myself personally in charge of complaints and feedback from customers; respect of and loyalty to the worker as human capital and creator of success.”
As a seasoned industrialist and businessman, Watani asked Dr Riad how he viewed the current economic situation in Egypt. “The current economic reform and the leap we aspire for are definitely a great challenge for the government and State; they require rallying all national efforts and economic tools,” he said.
“Ever since President Sisi came to power, he has upheld and promoted ‘work’ as a value and the sole path towards achieving ambitions,” Dr Riad said. “This translated into a priority list of national work that is being handled according to specific time frames. The mega infrastructure projects and road network confirm that the State has adopted a perspective that aspires to fulfil the requirements of a modern State. Future generations of Egyptians will reap the fruit by witnessing raised standards of living.
“The Egyptian economy achieved a growth rate of 5.4 per cent in the fourth quarter of 2018. Our foreign currency reserve has leaped to USD44 billion after it had dropped to 15 billion in 2013, in the aftermath of the 2011 Arab Spring.
“The result of all this hard work is that global financial institutions have moved Egypt’s credit rating up to B; and in its last report “Doing Business 2019”, the World Bank announced that Egypt had advanced eight places. The report also said that Egypt had applied the largest reform in the region.”
Dr Riad said he was very proud of Egypt who, beside endeavours on the economic front; partnerships with world powers; adoption of advanced technologies; and generous outlays on infrastructure mega projects; has readily responded to regional needs. He cited as example Egypt’s passing on her expertise on working to eliminate the liver virus hepatitis C to African countries.
A matter of competitiveness
Can Egyptian industry compete internationally? Watani asked.
“A number of industries in Egypt stand on equal footing with international rivals,” Dr Riad said. “Even though they are not many, they can work as an engine that pulls other quality industries into global competitiveness. It is no secret that such success would spill over into the State budget and the Egyptian street. Increased exports would provide foreign currency, attract investment, create job opportunities, and pay taxes.” The State, however, he said, should claim its dues at the end of this successful economic cycle, rather than before its completion as is the current case. “The State,” he explained, “should adopt a strategy that focuses on building cross border competitiveness for Egyptian industries. It should start with reasonable prices for power, bank loans, and insurance and freight.”
Egypt’s success story with Germany
Dr Riad talked to Watani about what he described as Egypt’s partnership with Germany, describing it as a “success story”. This is especially true, he said, in case of the power generation spearheaded by a giant project executed by Siemens AG, which has increased Egypt’s power output by 40 per cent.“ This will cover the entire industrial consumption of 40 million Egyptians, saving Egypt USD1 billion worth of power that would have been provided in old traditional ways,” Dr Riad explained.
“The Egyptian 6 million Euro contract with Siemens is the largest ever in the history of that firm,” Dr Riad told Watani. This gave President Sisi an edge in negotiating with Siemens, a fact acknowledged by Siemens CEO Joe Kaeser himself who also paid tribute to his two Egyptian partners: Orascom Construction and Seweidy Cables.
“The gas turbines division of Siemens was founded in Berlin in 1892; it was the main supplier for the electric tramway in Germany before Siemens ownership was moved to AEG in 1904. In the 1970s, Siemens took over AEG and flourished, supplying more than 60 countries with gas turbines. However in 2015, with 3700 employees working for Siemens AG, the firm suffered a threatening downturn in view of decreasing demand on gas turbines. The Egyptian deal thus came as a kiss of life for Siemens.
Take a book, leave a book
Dr Riad has to his name a pioneer social responsibility initiative: in 2017 he launched in Downtown Cairo the Street Library project. “The reading culture and book market took a severe hit when the famous second-hand book hub, the Azbakiya Wall in Downtown Cairo, was removed a few years ago; and the Family Library and Reading for All Festival [which had been launched and sponsored in the 1980s by Suzanne Mubarak, wife of Egypt’s former president Hosny Mubarak] were discontinued after the Arab Spring,” he said. “I thought of the millions of books that lie in homes and offices till they eventually end up as waste.
So the street library project was born, launched under the slogan ‘Take a book, leave a book’. We started with booths in three spots in Downtown Cairo in coordination with the Cairo Governorate. Each booth featured 160 books of various interests, which readers could exchange and re-exchange with books of their own for any number of times.”
Nader Riad, the man
It was time to move on to who the man Nader Riad was. In reply to Watani questions, Dr Riad said that, for him, mental prowess and enthusiasm represented the magic elixir of life, with ambition firing a life journey. “Reading has remained my all-time hobby,” he said. “Add to it these days mental mathematics and meditation. When I was younger, I used to practise boxing, horseback-riding and ice skating.
“I am very keen on maintaining a clear vision and identity to be able to develop, and I strive to transfer this to all around me. I teach my children to maintain independent, critical thought and to always find their happiness in seeking the truth.
“Women are a gift from Heaven; they make life beautiful.
“I never really believed in luck; it may furnish you with opportunity, but then it is up to you to work hard to attain success.
“I learned that every person has a mission, and those who find their calling make a good life.
“I strongly believe that you should strive to discover yourself. You might or might not find your true self, in all cases the self-search journey itself will make you happy.
“Team work and spirit are at the base of success. Change too is a necessity and an end; change should remain a strategic objective for any industrial institution, given that what is good today may never fulfil the requirements of tomorrow. Any project should reinvent itself at least once every decade.
“I select my aides from among the best qualified professionals who enjoy leadership skills and a capacity to develop.
“Some say the road to success is paved with failures. But in the industrial world we believe that the road to success is paved with hard work. Success is team work; it cannot be attributed to an individual but to the all who make up the team, each in his or her field.”
Your principles, your life
What is your advice to young entrepreneurs? Watani asked.
“Identify your principles and you will find your life; impose on yourself the do’s and don’ts. Work for tomorrow so that you do not feel tired today. A bit of impulsiveness with a lot of rationalism is often the perfect combination for success. Do not pull back on your energy, you still have your health on your side. You are like a good boat, even if it is small, hard hits will endow it with strength and power,” Dr Riad eagerly answered.
At the end of the long, warm hearted meeting, the Coptic businessman and founder of Bavaria Egypt was keen to tell us of his relationship with our Editor-in-Chief Youssef Sidhom. “Our friendship,” he said, “goes decades back when we both sat on the Coptic Orthodox Melli (Laity) Council. I also knew him as a first class leader heading the non-profit organisation EgyCopts which aims to develop the professional skills of young people, of which we are both members. Mr Sidhom’s character calls for instant respect and esteem. But this is no surprise, Youssef Sidhom is the extension of his father the businessman and founder of Watani Mr Antoun Sidhom (1915 – 1995). The late Mr Sidhom earned the respect and veneration of all who knew him thanks to his hard, serious work in Watani which has throughout its 60-year journey been the epitome of objectivity and truthfulness. But this great quality has naturally come at a price: not everyone is happy with Watani, but those who are, are those whose outlook and approbation matter.
27 March 2019