Many Alexandrians say that living anywhere else is like being a fish out of water. Hosna Rachid agrees and her eyes simply gleam when she talks about her beloved hometown.
Sitting in her office at Unilever Mashreq’s headquarters in Alexandria, it is easy to see this is where she feels right at home. More than the locality, Rachid is comfortable there professionally, certainly no stranger to the business world.
Hosna Mohamed Rachid, chairperson of Rachid Mashreq Group, grew up in the family business and credits her father for teaching her everything she knows about the company’s operations.
She’s been a member of the board for as long as she can remember, and says her father – prominent Alexandrian businessman and economist Mohamed Rachid – always included her and her siblings in the decision-making process.
“We grew up in this atmosphere: my brother, my sister and myself, she told Daily News Egypt, referring to brother Rachid Mohamed Rachid, Egypt’s incumbent Minister of Trade and Industry for four years running.
“My father was a businessman and we were on the board since we were young. He taught us everything, she explained.
For the second time, Hosna Rachid was named one of the 50 Most Influential Women of the Arab World by Forbes Arabia. Obviously, she paid very close attention to the lessons her father taught them, chief among them the importance of giving back to the community.
“My parents taught me how to care about society and how to contribute to its development, Rachid said, most passionate when she talks about the work of the Mohamed Rachid Association for Social and Cultural Development.
“If you don’t help increase the income of the people in your community, your business will not work, she said.
The work she does for the association is “equal to that of the business and more, which is why the social development activities are housed on the same premises the offices of Rachid Mashreq Group (RMG).
RMG was established in 1978 as a fast moving consumer goods company. Two joint ventures were formed: one with Coca-Cola and another with a German desserts powder products company, Dr Oetker.
“My late father was mainly in the shipping business, until he was nationalized in the 60s, after which he entered into business ventures around the world. In the 70s, when Egypt started having an open economy policy, he decided to establish a new business in Egypt.
“He decided to enter industry, mainly for fast consumer goods. He believed very much in industry because he knew opening factories create a lot of job opportunities for people in the community, said Rachid.
In 1991, RMG entered into a joint venture with Unilever to manufacture, market and distribute the company’s range of culinary, home and personal care products. Unilever is a household name, and you probably have one or more of their products stocked in your kitchen or bathroom cabinets.
RMG also owns DREEM Company – which produces packaged dry foods, bakery ingredients and cake mixes – and Mashreq des Produits Laitiers, which makes cheese products.
Today, RMG’s three joint ventures have a total turnover of more than $300 million and a growth rate of about 10 percent. The group employs around 5,000 people and prides itself for being the “largest, most profitable and fastest growing FMCG companies in the region.
The group forayed into finance in 2003 with Mashreq for Commercial Investment, which has a capital of LE 1.5 million and achieved a turnover of LE 5.2 million in 2007. The newest addition to the RMG family is Mashreq for Business Development, which focuses on export-import, product distribution and exploring new business opportunities
Hosna Rachid began overseeing business operations in 2004, when her brother had to resign from all his posts to take his place among Egypt’s economy-focused reformist Cabinet.
For once, a task was easier done than said.
A graduate of Alexandria University’s Faculty of Commerce, for years Rachid was mainly involved in the social development activities of the family’s organization. Married at 18, she also spent time taking care of her own family, which includes two children. “I did not have a special post, but I was able to learn about every branch of the company and gain invaluable hands-on experience, she explained.
At the time she took the helms of the company, Egypt began witnessing sweeping economic reforms that have spurred growth and attracted foreign direct investment. But the majority of the population is yet to feel the benefits behind the numbers touted by economists and the government.
Change takes time, Rachid said, “It’s improving and we can feel the change. Maybe it is not yet visible, but the changes have created a strong foundation for the future. It’s not just something that happens overnight.
For the FMCG sector, this has meant more foreign companies in the market that have the know-how to further develop the sector. “We have more variety now, more competition, which is better for the consumer. Better prices, better quality, Rachid said.
As the price of foodstuffs soars globally, coupled with the cost of transporting and distributing these products due to higher gas prices, Rachid said they “cannot raise the prices [of products] at the same levels that the cost of raw materials are increasing.
“We are serving the consumers, and the majority cannot afford these prices.
They have to be reasonable so any increase is not at the same level as the increase in raw material. Also, Egyptians are becoming more aware as consumers, she said, compare prices and quality, which is another reason competition benefits the consumer.
As one of 50 most influential women in the region, Rachid said her biggest challenge has not been being a woman as much as it has been to “prove myself or to prove that a woman can be a good leader, representing a successful business.
“I’m proud to be part of a very good team. I always tell them I’m the mother of this company. Whoever needs any help I’m there.
Besides overseeing operations of the array of businesses under the RMG umbrella, she is a member of around 30 different social and business clubs, chambers of commerce and NGOs. Among her many posts is being the chairperson of the Alexandria branch of the Confederation of Egyptian European Business Association (CEEBA) and the Club d’Affaires Franco Egyptian (CAFE).
She is also a founding member of the Middle East Gender Parity Group at the World Economic Forum, which, for the second time, brought her to Sharm El-Sheikh for the WEF on the Middle East this week.
It’s important for women in the region to come together, she said, share experiences, exchange knowledge and opportunities, to “encourage smaller businesswomen to move ahead and grow their businesses. to motivate them to do the things that they like.
Giving back, even simply by sharing knowledge, is the mantra she uses in her daily life.
“I believe in being useful to your community, to society, said Rachid, president of the family’s development association.
The main center for the association is in the Somouha office, which houses a carpet-making workshop, a medical care center, a computer club and children’s library, an art development center, sports facilities and services for people with special needs.
Speaking to Daily News Egypt, Badria, one of the workers in the workshop, took a break from working on the handmade silk carpet. “I’ve been working here for 10 years, she said, “and it has helped me provide for my family. When my daughter was old enough, I brought her to work here after school hours and taught her how to make these beautiful carpets.
A compound in the rural El-Nahda area has an elementary school for children from the 27 surrounding villages, a youth center offering sports and cultural activities as well as a medical center. Most of these children would not have access to education if it wasn’t for the work of the association.
The third component is the Alexandria Art Center, featuring exhibitions and workshops to promote arts in the city. Rach
id’s love for art is obvious from the décor in her office, featuring a number of paintings and sculptures by prominent local artists.
Sitting comfortably in her office on a sunny day in the Mediterranean city, it’s clear that part of Hosna Rachid’s success is surrounding herself with the people and things she loves most.