Overlooking an investment portfolio that contains a number of successful businesses, Shahira Zeid could easily be mistaken for a workaholic.
She, however, is not.
“I just learned to work eight to 10 hours a day, she said, comfortably revealing her ‘secret.’
Zeid is the vice chairman and CEO of MZ Investments, a private equity group with direct investments in more than 49 companies that span the fields of tourism, hotels, marine services, oil, transport, freight forwarding and agriculture.
She sits on the board of most of these companies, some of which are overseas.
“I learned from my father [Magdy Zeid], she said of her management skills that allow her to supervise numerous high profile businesses at the same time. “Sitting with him everyday at the office taught me a lot of things. He has a lot of experience. He’s my mentor and teacher.
Citing her father’s involvement in numerous businesses, she said that by default she is involved in as many businesses.
“We have to diversify. To grow you have to diversify. We are not focused on one sector . Part of our success is diversification, she said sipping on her decaffeinated coffee – it’s the fifth cup of the day, she said jokingly.
“Whether it’s in hotels, in petroleum, or insurance, I believe it’s an investment.
“Technicalities of the field don’t matter as much as studying the project that you have. You see, it s due diligence. It’s a business regardless of the sector. It’s numbers, she added.
The latest success story from the MZ portfolio is the Maridive & Oil Services initial public offering. The company was covered 31.2 times at the IPO.
The offer consisted of a public offering of shares in Egypt and a private placement of shares to Egyptian and international institutional investors, the company said in a statement last April.
“I’m very proud. This is the crowning of the work of three families. I’m proud to be one of the founders and major shareholders, Zeid said, her eyes glistening with joy.
“It was the first time, something from this sector ventured into the stock market.
Maridive was founded in 1978 and is owned by three families: Zeid, Eleish and Nadim. With operations in 20 countries, it is ranked 17th in the world in this line of business and number one in the Middle East.
Maridive constructs and installs equipment for underwater oil and gas projects. Up until the IPO and the associate advertising campaign, Maridive was a name known only to industry players and unfamiliar to the public.
“We’ve raised the Egyptian flag all over. I’m very proud to say that our captains and crew are all Egyptian. We are proud to say that we are one of the biggest companies in the world. We are number 17, and we are aiming to be the first, she added.
Sitting at the Maridive office in Maadi, a month after the IPO, Zeid’s excitement about the company is unmatched – even when she talks about tourism, probably her favorite sector, and the company she started from scratch, HighLife Tours.
“I like tourism and hotels. When I decided to start a tourism company, it was because of our involvement in the hotel business and tourism sector, she said.
Zeid is member of the board of several tourism related companies including Sakkara Tourism Investment, J.W. Marriott Hotels and Marriott European Holdings.
“I believe that tourism is the most important thing for Egypt, for the Egyptian economy. It is a major source of income for this country and Egypt has so much to offer in this field, she said.
Tourism could be the answer to unemployment, she explained. Cooperation between the private sector and the government, she added, could help in training cadres for the sector and consequently help Egypt advance in the field.
It is no surprise then that education is one of the main objectives leading her social agenda.
Within the next few years, she would like to see the whole education system change in Egypt.
“I would like to see the illiteracy rate drop. And I believe that education is the core of any society.
And in spite of her hopes for education to reach all people, there’s a gender perspective to this goal. “I would really like to see more Egyptian women educated, she said.
In fact, the advancement of women in the Egyptian society is her top goal.
When asked about the one thing she would like to see happen in the next few years, she said, “More women in key roles: in government, banks and the private sector.
Zeid is a member of the Egypt International Economic Forum, where she heads the Women s Strategy Committee, and the Suzanne Mubarak Women For Peace Movement, among other NGOs that span social work and business.
Acknowledging the difficulties facing women in certain fields, she also pointed to the strides they made over the years. “Women’s image has improved . It’s not what it used to be.
“It’s nature. Men naturally feel superior to women. This is something we can’t change. They have to learn to accept that women are becoming as strong as men, as superior as men and as successful and capable as they are.
“I believe women take better decisions than men. They focus more.
It’s more difficult in certain sectors, she says but women need to keep proving themselves. She wants her daughter to do just that. When she graduates from university, Zeid said, she wants her to start working away from the family business – to gain the experience and because, “it’s tougher.
This month, the Women Forum is organizing a series of events focusing on women s success stories – a testament to Zeid’s beliefs in women’s achievements and capabilities.
Zeid ventured into business in 1988, five years after her graduation from the American University in Cairo and after her son had turned four. “I focused on the kids for the first couple of years . For me, raising the kids was very important. If you are not successful at home, you can’t be successful in business. Sometimes your children need you at the beginning more than anything else, she said.
Years of hard work haven’t gone unnoticed. She was recently named by Forbes Arabia one of 50 Most Influential Women in the Arab World.
“Part of my success is that I raised my kids very well. Then I started my own career.