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Thursday, 3 June 2021

My Morning/WFH Routine: Nils Bachtler, CEO of Orascom Financial Holding

Nils Bachtler, CEO of Orascom Financial Holding (OFH): 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 Nils Bachteler, CEO of Orascom Financial Holding (LinkedIn). Edited excerpts from our conversation:

My name is Nils Bachtler, I’m a corporate guy with an entrepreneurial spirit. I'm always looking for new openings and how companies I'm involved with can do things a little differently and eventually become market leaders. I'm a relatively quiet person and If I’m not working I’m spending time with my family.

Professionally, I’m the CEO of Orascom Financial Holding (OFH) which is a holding company established in January 2021 after we decided to demerge from Orascom Investment Holding and have a specialized entity focused on financial services. Right now, as the first CEO of OFH, I'm responsible for setting up new ventures, business development, managing the team and dealing with regulatory issues.

The entire process of setting up the company took place during the pandemic. That meant a lot of the communication with the Financial Regulatory Authority (FRA), legal teams, the investment bank and lawyers abroad was done via Zoom and email. Having few physical meetings was actually part of the challenge of getting such a big transaction completed. And on a personal level, you also had to deal with a lot of people close to you getting sick. My entire family (my wife and two kids) contracted covid in September so I had to go into isolation at home for three weeks while still running everything from a distance. Having said that, I think the pandemic has proven that we used to waste a lot of time in meetings. Looking back I think our productivity and efficiency actually increased.

We’ve technically been back to the office since September with a flexible work schedule. Almost everyone is here everyday though, so I'd say we’re 98% in the office. We’re not having big in-person meetings, that's all still on Zoom and Teams. The OFH team currently consists of about 7-8 people, which is still a very small team relative to the size of the entity and our balance sheet, but we’re trying to stay that way for now. Having a small team can be very efficient. It's comforting to know that things can be done away from the office and I'm very happy about it. A hybrid model is likely to stick with us in the future.

OFH is a listed entity operating like a startup. Although we’re highly regulated as an entity we want to employ the creativity and agility that a startup enjoys. We currently have two major investments in listed financial services companies and our own digital payments company. One part of my day is following up, strategizing and helping those companies reach their targets. The other part involves a lot of research, looking for new opportunities and how we can expand our portfolio of assets.

We’re targeting becoming the leading fintech player in the market, so we’re setting up new startups in the fintech space and have already announced the launch of a digital payments company in partnership with Excel where we have more of a hands-on approach in terms of building a business, hiring teams, setting strategy and developing product roadmaps.

Getting into financial services and fintech specifically, was a pre-pandemic decision that covid-19 accelerated. Seeing how the market was reacting and how regulators responded to the changes unleashed by the pandemic encouraged us to speed up the process. But I think the appetite was there from the very beginning because of the size of Egypt’s population and its demographics. Egypt has been a very attractive market, regardless of the pandemic.

My day usually starts at 6 am: I spend the first 30 minutes having coffee while going through emails and reading the news, which is just about everything including Enterprise. I work out five days a week from 7-8 am and try to make it into the office by 9:30 am at the latest. I spend the first hour and a half getting things done on my own, catching up on more email and planning my day. I like to set aside at least 20 minutes to plan my day with a to-do list. Starting 11 am I get into the daily grind of meetings, calls and ad hoc issues that need my attention. I usually leave the office between 6 and 7 pm so I have enough time to spend an hour or two with my two kids before they go to bed. At least twice a week I like to attend their swimming or football practice. Once they’re asleep I have about an hour and a half to wind down in front of the TV or spend time talking to my wife.

Weekends are entirely dedicated to the family, if there’s no work. My involvement with companies based in Europe sometimes means I need to take meetings on Fridays but usually it never takes up more than two-three hours of my day.

Lately I've been trying to read more business books. Blue Ocean Strategy is a good one that gives you guidelines on how to think and maneuver through business challenges. Bn USD Whale by Bradley Hope and Tom Wright is another interesting one. As for TV series I prefer to watch things that you can switch off to: Game of Thrones, Suits and Seinfeld are some personal favorites.

The best piece of advice I was given, at the very start of my career, has been “have patience.” By nature I'm a very impatient person, not rushing things especially in my work and life is something very important I need to better incorporate into my life.

I'm looking forward to soon resume spending my days without a mask and travelling. I'm half German, half Egyptian and my family lives in Germany at the moment. So travelling and reconnecting with my second home would be the priority on the personal side.

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