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Thursday, 27 June 2019

My Morning Routine: Omar El Fata, CEO of AMECO

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 Omar El Fata (LinkedIn), CEO of AMECO, the oldest and largest single-use syringe manufacturer in the Middle East.

My name is Omar El Fata. I’m 29 years-old and I’m the CEO of the Arab Medical Equipment Company (AMECO).

Many people have a fixed idea of what it means to be a CEO, imagining someone who sits in a lavish office all day, delegating. Fortunately, my short experience in this area has been quite different. Time spent in the office is scarce, as I am always on the move. My job is to make sure the company has enough liquidity and resources to maintain smooth operations and sustain growth. This entails many meetings with bankers, suppliers, distributors and, most importantly, the company’s workers.

One of the main costs in manufacturing a syringe is the plastic,which fluctuates based on oil prices. So we need to pay close attention to current world events and strategize to maintain an efficient supply chain. In 2007, we started producing our own needles, to be able to control the quality fully. Every syringe is sold with a needle, and if you produce a high-quality syringe with a low-quality needle, then you are selling a painful product. That’s why we decided to produce our own needles, which is a very delicate component. All our products are CE marked (they conform to health and safety standards for products sold within the EEA). With the CE mark we are allowed to export our products to any EU nation without needing to register. So maintaining these standards is a very important part of our business model. More generally, it’s crucial that we keep a close eye on the sector for any interesting developments — the healthcare sector is becoming increasingly dynamic.

I start my day with a big breakfast, a freshly brewed double espresso and Bloomberg’s morning show. This is usually followed by feeding my dogs and my three-legged cat, who shower me with much-needed morning positivity in return. Before driving to work, I spend about 45 minutes going through emails and catching up on everything Egypt-related with Enterprise.

Working in an industrial zone doesn’t come with the social perks of working in, say, Zamalek, so I end up spending a lot of time with my workers, listening to everything from how to run a process more efficiently to complaints about the traffic on their commute to work. I enjoy it because it keeps me grounded and gives me very different insights into everyday struggles as well as opportunities for people in Egypt. As we work with companies operating in many different time zones, I usually end up working until the evening, but I always try and make it home before 10pm.

I’m a recent Game of Thrones convert, and a big fan of Black Mirror. Two books I’ve really enjoyed recently are The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle and Enlightenment Now by Steven Pinker.

When AMECO started in 1984, painful and expensive glass syringes were used all over the world, and it was my late grandfather who established the company as the first plastic disposable syringe manufacturing plant in the Middle East and Africa. The same shift happened in the bottling industry (a move from glass to plastic), and it was a challenge because the public perception of plastic at the time was negative. The truth is, using medical grade plastic to manufacture syringes was more replicable, cheaper, and more hygienic than using glass. Perhaps most importantly, the needle is much less painful and the process of using it less intimidating with plastic syringes.

Many people don’t have a sense of just how much know-how and investment goes into producing any medical devices. We have sold bns of syringes in our 35-year history, and it isn’t an easy task to scale your production whilst maintaining your standards of safety for each and every syringe you sell. It’s possible to buy syringes for less than the baksheesh you would give to your local “sayes” when he helps you park your car, but the difference between syringe brands (which can be as little as a few piasters) can also be the difference between a syringe that delivers safely and a syringe that could contaminate the medication.

I always tell our employees to think twice if they are tempted to cut any corners, as one day it could be them lying in a hospital bed.

We have been working to develop new equipment that I hope will be at the forefront of change in the industry. Syringe reuse and accidental needlestick injuries are among the most common causes of the spread of blood-borne diseases — notably the spread of hepatitis and HIV. Egypt has the highest prevalence of hepatitis C in the world, and this is mainly because of the reuse of syringes. So we’re trying to address this problem by teaming up with an Italian healthcare technology company to develop a new kind of syringe, called Retrago. After a single injection, the Retrago syringe automatically retracts the exposed needle and prevents the syringe from being reused. We launched Retrago during the WHO Assembly in Geneva last month, and it was subsequently recognized as a top 20 global health innovation by UNAIDS.

Having free time during the week always makes me feel like there is something work-related that I should be doing, so I reserve my free time for the weekend when I know no one else is working. Fridays are for much-needed family time, and recently I’ve also started hiking, which I find a great way to recharge in preparation for the upcoming week.

How do I stay organized? I use OneNote for my notes and Outlook’s calendar to keep track of my appointments. Without these things, I would be hopeless.

‘Nothing good came from a 9-5’ is the best business advice I’ve ever received. The message I take from this maxim is not to get trapped in the mundane 9-5 cycle, but to work and think outside of conventional corporate structures whenever possible.

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