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Thursday, 16 May 2019

My Morning Routine: Hassan Massoud, principal equity lead, Egypt & Southern Mediterranean at the EBRD

My Morning Routine looks each week at how a successful member of the community starts their day — and then throws in a couple of random business questions just for fun. Speaking to us this week is Hassan Massoud, principal equity lead for Egypt and the Southern Mediterranean at the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development (EBRD).

I’m Hassan Massoud. As the principal equity lead, I originate, assess, and execute potential equity investment opportunities for the EBRD in Egypt and across the Southern Mediterranean region, which includes Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan, Morocco, and Tunisia. Our wide investment mandate covers everything from initial public offerings (IPOs) to private equity co-investments to quasi-equity and mezzanine structures. We work flexibly across the capital structure, but what sets EBRD apart is its breadth of industrial expertise. I have the luxury of calling on industrial expertise on everything from building naphtha crackers to non-performing loan buyouts. Once, I was searching the internal website for a colleague whose name starts with “Nu…” and discovered that EBRD has a number of nuclear safety experts — just in case.

The EBRD was established in 1991 after the fall of the Berlin wall to foster “market-oriented economies and the promotion of private and entrepreneurial initiative.” This remains our guiding principle and we’ve since expanded from east and central Europe to central Asia and the southern and eastern Mediterranean region, investing almost EUR 135 bn across 38 economies.

In the region, we’ve invested growth equity in Ibn Sina, an Egyptian pharma distributor, helping bring the company to its current leading market position and taking it to IPO with the founders — and taken an equity stake to expand Jordan’s Queen Alia airport. We have also done a number of co-investments with private equity firms, taken a stake in Bank Audi, and are actively looking to do more.

It’s difficult to tell you what kinds of investments we’re looking at today without breaching 17 different non-disclosure agreements, but here’s a brief idea: A consolidation in midstream food and agriculture with a regional private equity player; a number of large-scale project finance greenfields; providing minority growth capital to a tech-driven business; and a large-cap buyout in the consumer space. We’re also seriously studying the companies in the Egyptian government’s privatization program.

There is only one real cornerstone to my morning routine: As soon as I wake up, I try to drink more than a liter of freshly squeezed (but unsweetened) lemon water. There’s lots of scientific and quasi-scientific stuff online about why this unorthodox activity is a great way to start your day, but empirically, I assure you that it has the alerting effects of a strong cup of coffee, but via a much gentler and organic push. In the chunk of time it takes me to drink a liter of water, I read Enterprise and scroll through my Twitter feed (the American day is just ending then, so American Twitter is particularly lively).

I don’t know how to meditate or do yoga, so I don’t do that.

The car ride to the office is for audiobooks, podcasts, or random interviews on YouTube. It feels good to warm up by thinking about something completely unrelated to the rest of my day. Breakfast doesn’t really feature because anything that I can cook for myself pales in comparison to a hearty early lunch. Sometimes, I will stop at my parents’ on the way to the office for a proper breakfast of eggs, Alexandrian sogok, and impassioned arguments about politics.

I’ve started taking a more conscious approach to my digital diet. I don’t own a TV and try to keep my phone facedown to avoid notifications as much as possible. Twitter consistently feels like the best use of time on my phone. My feed is a collection of topics I’ve accrued from previous professional associations – private equity in Africa, startups and tech products – or pet causes I’ve picked up over the years like Kenyan and South African politics, Trump White House drama, or the increasingly strange cult around Bitcoin #HODL’ers.

What have I read and loved recently? I can’t resist giving you a quick list:Parting The Desert is a great book about the making of Suez Canal, the OG of 19th century project finance investments. The canal was conceived and executed by a French entrepreneur, majority owned by the Egyptian government, publicly listed in France, and fiercely opposed by the British government — one of the most fascinating stories of 19th century politics and finance.

Robert Sapolsky’s A Primate’s Memoir is a highly entertaining account of his time studying baboons in Kenya in the 1970s. The book is part travelogue, part observations of the social life of baboons, part intro to the intersection of the study of hormones and sociology.

Fi Al She’r Al Gaheli, is Taha Hussein at his peak intellectual combativeness. This pretends to be a book about poetry but is actually a hard-hitting critical take on how early Islamic politics abused both language and poetry.

And in Sanay’eyet Masr, Omar Taher takes a quick tour of the untold stories of the industrialists and craftsmen and women who built the industries and trades that shaped Egypt’s 20th century, like Anis Ebeid and El Deif Ahmed.

Almost all of my work activities are related directly to one transaction or another, so to stay organized, I start with a simple list of transactions. I then filter that into two lists: Things I Owe Others (be it decisions, feedback, documents, analyses, introductions, models, etc) and Things Others Owe Me. While this systems fits almost everything and keeps things moving, its primary and ongoing failure is grocery shopping, which never seems to fall on either list. I use Elmenus at least as much as most people use WhatsApp.

What’s the best piece of business advice I’ve ever been given and by whom? Most business advice is only meaningful in the context of its giver’s biases, but here’s a cute excerpt from Stephen Colbert’s speech to my graduating class at Knox College that really stuck with me: “When I was starting out in Chicago, doing improvisational theatre, there was only one rule I was taught about improv. That was, ‘yes-and.’ And yes-anding means that when you go onstage to improvise a scene with no script, you have to accept what the other improviser initiates on stage. They say you're doctors—you're doctors. And then, you add to that: We're doctors and we're trapped in an ice cave. And then hopefully they ‘yes-and’ you back. You have to be aware of what the other performer is offering you, so that you can agree and add to it. And through these agreements, you can improvise a scene or a one-act play. Neither of you are really in control. It's more of a mutual discovery. So say ‘yes.’ And if you're lucky, you'll find people who will say ‘yes’ back.”

Enterprise is a daily publication of Enterprise Ventures LLC, an Egyptian limited liability company (commercial register 83594), and a subsidiary of Inktank Communications. Summaries are intended for guidance only and are provided on an as-is basis; kindly refer to the source article in its original language prior to undertaking any action. Neither Enterprise Ventures nor its staff assume any responsibility or liability for the accuracy of the information contained in this publication, whether in the form of summaries or analysis. © 2022 Enterprise Ventures LLC.

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