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Thursday, 1 April 2021

Pakinam Kafafi, CEO of Taqa Arabia

Pakinam Kafafi, CEO of Taqa Arabia: Each week, my Morning / WFH Routine looks 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 Pakinam Kafafi (LinkedIn), CEO of Taqa Arabia. Edited excerpts from our conversation:

My name is Pakinam Kafafi, I’m the CEO of Taqa Arabia and a happy mother of two amazing children. I’ve been CEO of Taqa Arabia since 2013 and I’m a full-time mom to my children Laila and Omar.

Taqa Arabia is a one-stop energy solutions provider. We’re one of the leading energy solutions and utility companies based in Egypt with three different divisions that fall under Taqa Arabia’s purview. We have Taqa Gas, which is responsible for natural gas distribution, Master Gas-branded CNG stations, and conversion centers for vehicles. Taqa Power is in the business of both fossil fuel and renewable energy generation and distribution. Taqa Oil Marketing develops and manages Taqa-branded fuel stations and storage terminals. And then there’s Taqa Water, which is responsible for all water treatment activities, and brings Taqa full-circle to becoming a “one-stop shop” provider for energy and utility services.

I wake up at 6:30am and get my children ready for school. I make sure their lunch boxes are packed and we talk for 15 minutes to get them nice and energized for the day ahead. If they’re working online I help them sign in in the morning, especially with Omar, who’s still seven years old and needs some assistance getting settled. Then I have my precious cup of coffee followed by a shower and some me time. I usually call my mom to check in on her then I read emails, starting with Enterprise. I’ve been closely following Enterprise’s energy and utility stories, including those in Hardhat. I’m also really excited about all the new start-ups focused on environmental sustainability.

I usually leave home by 9am, but my daily schedule varies. I'm either in meetings, visiting sites or at the office. If I'm working from home a lot of communications are over Teams, but I try to be physically present at our sites as much as I can. While I appreciate the efficiency of Zoom meetings, I personally still love face to face interactions and I don’t feel right staying at home while a lot of our employees are still on the ground. The pandemic has taught me that there is no right or wrong way to do things though and maybe a mix between both might be the best way forward.

I usually head home by 7pm — if I don't have a rare business dinner — and spend some quality time with my children until they go to bed. That means helping them with homework, taking them to tennis practice or just talking about their day. I like to read with them for a bit before they go to bed at 9 pm — and I'm proud to say that I now know a whole lot of kids' stories.

Once the kids go to bed, it's me time. I'm a very sociable person and I make sure to see my friends at least twice a week. Before the pandemic we used to go out all the time and during the height of things we would just talk on the phone and check in on how things are going with everyone. I then usually catch something to watch on Netflix between 11pm-12 am before going to bed.

I’ve been watching New Amsterdam recently and I love it. It follows the story of doctors at a New York hospital. I used to like thrillers and action movies, but now I'm drawn to watching something light or meaningful. I was also recently watching The Crown and Emily in Paris. Sometimes you just need to eliminate the stress in your system.

Being the CEO of a company like Taqa Arabia is not an easy task. With the help of 3.4k employees and professional management team, we’re responsible for delivering daily energy needs to 1.3 mn residential, industrial and commercial clients in 48 cities across Egypt. My responsibilities as CEO of Taqa include setting a strategy for the company that aligns with our shareholder goals, to sustain and grow the business and to make sure everything is running smoothly. That means I need to focus on keeping in close contact with all of our managing directors on how we can best reach our KPIs and milestones.

The pandemic was challenging but we were able to overcome the uncertainty by being flexible. There was a lot of uncertainty at first and a lot we couldn’t predict, which was especially troubling as an energy provider. We saw our client volumes going down and it became increasingly difficult to connect new households to our natural gas network. Match that with fixed prices and delayed payments and things became even more difficult for us. We decided to focus our efforts on what was already working for us, which were our gas operations. We concentrated on compressed natural gas and ended up increasing our CNG stations from just seven at the start of the pandemic to 21 by the end of the year. Industrial power connections were also a line of work that we were able to move forward with despite the lockdowns. By the end of 2020 we had achieved 19% y-o-y EBITDA growth.

As a utilities company it was difficult for us to go WFH. We have a committee in place that assesses the covid safety situation every two to three weeks. Our on the ground operations, which couldn't be halted, continued to function pretty close to how they normally would. We did split our employees into smaller teams, though, to lower redundancy and the risk of transmission. Our 800 office employees were put on a rotation system that would fluctuate based on the most recent case counts in the country. If cases were high we’d do a 50-50 split between in person work and WFH. Whenever it looks like things are cooling down we’d increase that number to 75% office work, 25% WFH. I think our biggest achievement to date is that we kept all our employees safe and healthy, without interrupting our client services.

We learned a lot about ourselves during this period. I think crises bring people together. We wouldn't have been able to maneuver and adjust to the new challenges without our team. We’ve been through a financial crisis and two revolutions in a little over the past decade so we’ve almost become accustomed to the interruptions. Of course the pandemic is different, but we’ve learned strength and flexibility from those experiences.

Challenges really propel me to do better. I really believe that what doesn't kill you makes you stronger. My whole life I’ve excelled the most when I had a challenge or crisis in front of me. There will always be challenges in life and the more you are aware of that fact the better suited you are to face them.

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