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Thursday, 31 October 2019

My Morning Routine: Nada El Ahwal, corporate development director at IACC Holdings

Nada El Ahwal, corporate development director at IACC Holdings: 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 Nada El Ahwal, corporate development director at IACC Holdings, a privately-owned investment company that focuses on shipping and logistics.

My name is Nada El Ahwal. I’m 30 years old and I’m the corporate development director at IACC Holdings. This is a family business and I’m the third generation to work in it.

IACC Holdings plays a leading role investing in and developing the regional and global supply chain for shipping and logistics. We own and operate five subsidiary companies along the shipping supply chain. My role is to prototype, design and oversee anything new in the group, which could include new companies, new projects, new investments, bringing on board new people, putting new corporate structures in place, and so on. It might sound like a solo job, but I work through our management teams when it comes to nearly everything that we do.

It took hard work to train myself to be a morning person, but I essentially bribed myself with endorphins so I’d be motivated to exercise first thing in the day. Then I committed to a gym trainer to make myself more accountable. Starting my day with a workout really helps me manage my energy. I’m guilty of checking my notifications when I first wake up, but I try not to open or respond to any emails or texts until after I’ve finished my workout. Afterwards, I read Enterprise religiously for the local news, and listen to the FT news briefing podcast to get a rundown of the global news, all of which is an essential part of my morning, along with my first coffee.

Then I dial in to our daily huddle to check in with the management team, who join the call from various offices. We give our updates and discuss any prospective challenges we’ll be facing that day. I find that this really sets the tone for the day in terms of showing me where I need to direct my attention. It’s proven an amazing way of getting everybody aligned and engaged — myself included.

Given the nature of my work, no two days ever look the same. I try to divide my day into 30 minute slots for meetings, updates, emails and even lunch time. I’m notorious for being very punctual; we have a rule at the office that anyone who joins a meeting late will pay EGP 10 for every minute they’re late. Any money collected goes towards our social impact project: Education First.

Shipping is by definition an international industry, so naturally it involves a lot of travel. The increase in online meetings has been a game changer, allowing us to stay on top of things no matter where we are.

I enjoy reading and watching things that expose me to new ideas and tell interesting stories. So I was recently flicking through Netflix and came across the documentary Inside Bill’s Brain, which aims to give an inside view of the mind and motivations of Bill Gates. Then I ended up watching all three episodes in one sitting. He’s such an inspiring and humble man, and I found it fascinating to see how he breaks down big global problems in a bid to find solutions for them — and how often he succeeds. I also recently started the book Shoe Dog, which tells the story of Nike. I was on a long haul flight, and found I couldn’t put it down. The book is definitely worth the hype; it’s truly an inspiring story of resilience.

IACC started 40 years ago as a port operator and stevedore, but it quickly expanded to cover all areas of the maritime supply chain, and beyond that, to transportation at large. For 20 years, we were in a joint venture with the German freight forwarder Kuehne & Nagel. Being a serial entrepreneur, my grandfather also founded Egypt’s first privately-owned cargo airline, in the early ‘80s. This connected Egypt to key European airports and enabled perishable or high value goods to be moved easily.

Today, we’re a holding company that operates Egypt’s sole shipping container line (Transmar), as well as a stevedoring and warehousing company (TCI), an inland trucking company (Transland), a shipping agency (Safina), and our latest project: IACC Logistics, which is a freight forwarder with global reach.

Across all our companies, IACC competes with giants — by which I mean multinationals with a robust support network and a global presence. As a niche operator, our size is a key part of the competitive advantage we can offer. Multinationals, we’ve discovered, love working with small service providers like us, because we take the time to understand their business model, their incentives and their KPIs. We direct all our efforts to helping them expand their presence and improve their business prospects. Other multinationals simply can’t afford to invest that time in understanding their customers and catering to their needs. With this in mind, one of our core company principles is to walk in the shoes of our customers. We hire, promote, train and retain our people based on our principles, and this specifically feeds right into our niche area, so it’s especially important for us to foster that mindset in everyone who works with us.

Many people don’t know that Egypt had a dedicated shipping line that started in the 80s. We ran our own fleet, and we supported trade flow in the Arabian Gulf, all the way down to South Africa. Our headquarters has always been in Cairo, while other shipping lines simply have agencies here. Granted, nationalism doesn’t — and shouldn’t — play a role in business decision-making, but I think it’s a source of pride for the business community to know that this service has existed here for some time.

One big external challenge that the industry faces is the government perception of shipping as an impediment to exporting, when in fact we are also exporters. We offer a global service, bringing home foreign currency that stays here rather than being remitted internationally. Offering incentives for local shipping operators and investors is a great way to promote Egypt’s exporting of goods and services. We also know that there are impressive incentive packages for foreign investors in the logistics space, and we would love for the same sentiment to be extended to Egyptian operators and investors too.

I also love traveling, and I’ll jump on a plane as often as I can to explore as much as possible. I usually set myself a personal goal of traveling to two new cities or countries every year.

Staying organized is a constant work in progress. My team hate it, but I use Outlook’s follow up reminders for nearly every email I send, so that no ball is dropped. Otherwise, I rely on Siri. I ask her to remind me for everything — literally, everything.

In general, I try to free my mental bandwidth to think and process ideas, rather than retaining useless information. So I’m all for using any tool that can remind me to follow up on what needs to be followed up on. And, of course, writing everything down.

I believe that everyone you meet in life has something to teach you, and that there’s always something you can teach them too. One of the things that really stuck with me was something a professor in business school once said: People don’t leave organizations, people leave people. This really sparked a paradigm shift for me, and helped me to not only invest in my own leadership development, but to think about how I could impart as much as possible to my team on how to be leaders who can then inspire others.

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