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Thursday, 19 September 2019

My Morning Routine: Aly El Shalakany, Senior Partner at Shalakany

Aly El Shalakany, Senior Partner at Shalakany: 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 Aly El Shalakany, Senior Partner at Shalakany, one of Egypt’s largest and oldest corporate law firms.

I’m Aly El Shalakany, Senior Partner at Shalakany, Chairman of the Cairo Angels and President of the Middle East Angel Investment Network (MAIN). I’m married to my wonderful life partner and best friend Vanessa Lehmann, soon to be Frau Dr. Lehmann.

I’m a corporate lawyer specialized in finance, M&A, and projects with a particular sector focus on energy and infrastructure. I’m also a very active angel investor who invests in, mentors and coaches early stage startups and scaleups. And I’m on the board of several companies.

Mornings are important for setting my frame of mind for the rest of the day. I usually wake up around 6:30 am, crawl out of bed, brush my teeth, and then go for a run or go rowing on the Nile for about an hour. I used to find it impossible to even think about exercising in the morning, but now I find it so refreshing, and it really impacts my mood and energy levels for the entire day. When I’m back from my workout, I get showered and dressed, have breakfast and coffee with my wife and then walk to work. Due to the nature of my job, I usually can’t make it home for dinner, so our main meal and quality time together is over breakfast, which is fantastic.

Unless I have an early morning appointment, the very first thing I do is go through my emails and update my to-do list. I’m one of those annoying people who have zero emails in their inbox, with everything filed away neatly. Once that’s done, it’s time to read my favorite business publication, which is Enterprise of course.

I try to keep the more intellectually demanding work that requires strong focus for early in the day, and then schedule calls and meetings for later. I have lunch every day at 2 pm and, unless I’m with a client, I almost always eat with my lunch crew at our wonderful cafeteria at work. I think getting a mental break and a healthy lunch is crucial for me to go the distance in the second part of my day, so I find it hard to understand how some people skip this meal or just snack through it.

It’s impossible for me to pick a favorite movie or TV series. I recently saw “The Wife,” starring Glenn Close, and it was a gut-wrenching reminder of how women suffer because so many men are intimidated by strong women.

I read so much news and non-fiction for work that, in my leisure time, I try to stick to fiction. I made a promise to my wife to learn German and I’ve been true to my word, so I’ve only been reading detective novels — or Krimis — in German for the past few months. So weit, so gut.

Shalakany is one of the oldest law firms in Egypt and the Middle East, set up by my great-grandfather over a hundred years ago. Our real take-off point was in the 1970s, when the Egyptian economy opened up under Sadat and started welcoming investment and private sector participation. Our firm seized this chance, scaling up quickly to provide top-quality legal services to local and foreign investors setting up and running businesses in Egypt. This was challenging, and we had to build up the talent base from scratch, but we really believed in what we were doing, and stuck to it, and we haven’t looked back since.

Our strategy is to focus on providing effective legal solutions for complex transactions and disputes for our corporate clients, who are mostly multinationals or premium regional and local businesses. We’ll do the more commoditized legal work, but only if it’s something that our client needs to complement what we’re really good at, which is the work that requires in-depth knowledge and skill.

A recent example is the Veon Global Telecom Holding tax settlement and transaction. This took over three years, and we had our M&A, capital markets, disputes, tax and insolvency partners all working in parallel. Half the firm worked weekends at some point on this transaction alone, but in the end, we got the job done. We’re very proud of this kind of work, because we can really flex our muscles — and in our business, that’s the very best way to showcase what your firm is all about.

There’s so much that people don’t understand about the corporate legal sector. The image they often have from TV shows like “Suits” is very charming, but in reality, there’s a lot less drama and a lot more hard work. It’s also very surprising that people often think that all lawyers are ready to turn their hand to any legal problem. It’s an honor to be in a position of trust, so I don’t take it badly, but it does get tiring after a while. After all, you don’t ask a surgeon for advice every time you have a backache, do you?

Legal technology will be a game changer for the industry. I read a lot and attend many conferences about what the law firm of the future will look like. The legal market is already being disrupted by tech, and this will be more acute in the coming decade. Lawyers like to think that the industry is immune from this development, but it couldn’t be further from the truth. In 20 years, our business operations will, in many respects, be unrecognizable.

I strongly believe in the work-life balance, and try to spend as much time as possible with family and friends. My wife and I try to carve out enough quality time to do fun things together, like experiencing new food, shows, theater, and as much traveling as we can. We’re both big believers in the importance of family, and prioritize spending time with our parents and siblings. This mindset applies to our friends too, and we really try our best to invest in those relationships.

I also love sports, and do a mix of things three to four times a week. And I’m a massive Arsenal fan — which has been really tough over the past 10-15 years — but they’re my team and I will never abandon them, no matter how miserable they may make me on most weekends.

I’ve had many inspiring mentors in my life and throughout my career. Many of my co-investors and the founders I work with in my angel investing keep me sharp and are sources of inspiration and learning. But if I had to single out one important life lesson above all others, I would start with what I learned from my parents. My mother and father both taught me that if you want to be successful, you have to earn it the hard way through application and hard work. You can’t blame others if something doesn’t go your way. The hunger and desire to improve instilled in me has served me well in my life and in business.

For anyone looking for inspiration on time management, I recommend a talk by Randy Pausch, which is really more about the philosophy of staying organized. I personally am very organized — sometimes to a fault, because being spontaneous and carefree is also important in life (but I digress.) Structure and organization come naturally to me, but I’m also a big fan of technology and use lots of applications on my phone, desktop and laptop to ensure I stay on top of things.

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