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Thursday, 11 July 2019

My Morning Routine: Haitham Mohamed, chief executive officer at ORA Developers

Haitham Mohamed, chief executive officer at ORA Developers: 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 Haitham Mohamed (LinkedIn), chief executive officer at ORA Developers, which is a leading real estate developer in different locations — prime, new, and emerging — around the world.

I’m Haitham Mohamed and I’m the chief executive officer at ORA. I started my career in the telecommunication industry, working with Orascom Telecom for 11 years. I was part of the team that started our operations in 17 different countries across Europe, Asia, and the Middle East. In 2011, I made a career shift to real estate, initially working with SODIC, then moving to Amer Group. Finally, I joined ORA, where our aim is to create developments that are designed to be both beautiful and environmentally sustainable.

As CEO, it’s my job to make sure that our day-to-day operations are aligned with our values, which are driven by customer need. A lot of my focus is on technical operations and marketing, as well as hiring everywhere you can imagine. We have our daily sales targets, and of course we also devote a lot of time to product design and market research, determining how we will market our products to customers. It’s a very comprehensive role.

I start my day at 8 am, when I leave for the office. My commute takes me half an hour, and as soon as I arrive I go to Starbucks to grab my coffee and return to the office. A lot of my job revolves around meetings and daily management tasks, as these are crucial to achieving long-term strategic goals. My first meeting of the day is with the marketing team, to hear updates and see what is planned for the coming period. Then I sit with the technical team to review our latest designs and the products being developed. After that, I sit with the business planning and development team, and we look at numbers and budgeting. I also spend at least an hour every day with our sales team to address whatever challenges they are facing.

Currently the market is very tough and we need to have a very clear sense of what our customers need, so we can develop a product that satisfies this need. I will often conduct interviews for new hires, and then my working day usually ends around 7-8 pm. After this I go home and spend the evening with my family: My wife, and our 12-year-old son and 10-year-old daughter.

One of the major focal points in my life is my son’s football training. He plays for Zamalek and has just been awarded the prize of best young player in Egypt in 2019. He’s also currently the top scorer in the Egyptian Youth League. My hobby is watching him play and attending his training sessions. He usually trains three days a week in the early evening, and has a match every Friday. So on Fridays we all wake up at 7 am and go to watch him play, before going for lunch as a family.

I hope my son will be the next Mohamed Salah. When he was 10 and he told me that he wanted to be a football player, I asked him whether he was prepared to make sacrifices. I told him he would be training while his friends were playing Fortnite and going to the beach. To be properly trained, you have to start aged 10. You will have to dedicate a huge part of your life to thinking about your career, from a young age. It’s a lot of responsibility and stress for a young person. He travels to Paris St Germain and Monaco during his vacation periods for trials. So we’re developing a new company in Egypt and I’m developing my boy in the field of football. All my efforts are going into entrepreneurial endeavors.

This year’s Afcon is one of the best things I’ve seen recently. I feel the whole tournament has been amazing, and I’m very impressed with the organization. But I’m not really sure why people are treating Egypt’s loss to South Africa as such a great shock. This is the reality of football: You won’t win every match.

If we want our football to improve, we have to change our approach. Youth are the future, and we are currently not focusing on them the way they are in France, Italy, Spain, and Germany. If you look at the Egyptian team that won Afcon for three consecutive years, you’ll see that these players had been winning tournaments since they were 17 years old. We need to invest in developing the pipeline of good players.

ORA was the brainchild of Naguib Sawiris, who had started working on a business plan he had for new developments in Grenada, Pakistan, and one for Cyprus. He particularly wanted to target unique locations, to do something out-of-the-ordinary and bring something new to the market. We were looking for a new brand, and the best name we found was ORA. It comes from the idea of giving birth, and for us this was a new baby. We launched in Cyprus in 2016, Pakistan in 2017, Grenada in 2018, and Egypt in 2019.

At ORA, we really target the best locations, which automatically become the most expensive places for development. In Cyprus we are part of Ayia Napa Marina, and in Pakistan our location is in one of the most luxurious places in Islamabad. In Grenada, we’ve built one of the most expensive and high-end real estate developments in the world. In Egypt, we selected the last piece of land in Sheikh Zayed, overlooking about 65 acres, to build on. What we try to do is to combine luxury with affordability. We’re offering a new version of luxury, developing something very high-end but affordable.

I believe customers have become more discerning. They understand the market better than they did several years ago, and they have really shifted their focus from the brand to the product. After the devaluation, customer needs really changed. In the past, people were very focused on buying villas, but now they see that if they buy a villa they also need to complete all its finishing, which is often actually more expensive than the villa itself. Then they have to take care of their running costs too. Now they are much more focused on buying apartments, which is one reason why we are committed to offering quality apartments of different sizes, depending on the exact needs of different families. Customers are becoming more sophisticated, and if they don’t find what they’re looking for in a high-end brand, they will look for it in a different brand.

How to find the right land is arguably the most important consideration for anyone working in real estate and development. Land is very expensive nowadays and it has a huge impact on the industry. This is why a lot of developers are looking into co-development agreements, which is exactly what we have done with the government for our project in Sheikh Zayed. Land is becoming more and more scarce, and this means the price of land will keep increasing.

The best piece of business advice I’ve ever been given is simply to listen. You need to listen to the perspectives of anyone with a relevant viewpoint in any given situation — juniors, your sales and marketing teams, your boss, your customers — anyone whose opinion has a bearing on the issue. See the full picture and then make your decision.

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