Egyptian businessperson and billionaire Onsi Sawiris passed away, on Tuesday, at the age of 91.
He left behind one of the largest family empires in Egypt and the Middle East’s business community.
Born in Sohag governorate in 1930, Sawiris’ dreams transcended distances to Cairo, before crossing Egypt’s borders into Arab countries until his companies became global.
Sawiris tells, in a documentary film during a festive tribute to the Coptic Orthodox Cultural Center, how his life changed when he started working in contracting. He also outlined how he rebuilt his business again from scratch after the nationalisation of his company following the 1952 revolution.
He began his journey in Sohag, where he obtained his school leaving certificate, and then joined the Faculty of Agriculture at Cairo University, at the request of his father.
Sawiris noted, “My father was a lawyer, and he was able to buy 50 acres with his savings, and my two brothers were also lawyers, and my father wanted me to learn agriculture, so that I could oversee the land, but after two years I realised that this did not suit me.”
“I was certain that the land belongs to the one who cultivates it and not to the owner. The Sa’ida are connected to the land,” he added, ‘And I felt that it was the farmer, not the agricultural engineer, who had more right to the land, as the land belonged to those who cultivated it, and the farmers had more experience than me, and were more informed than what I learned at university. I started looking for another activity.”
Sawiris graduated from the Faculty of Agriculture in 1950, and after only two years, he began working in contracting, obtaining his first commercial registry in 1952.
His first experience in this sector was through dealing with subcontractors and workers in a building that his father established.
He went on to found his own company, which turned out to be the turning point in his life.
Despite his company’s nationalisation after the 1952 revolution, life smiled at the rising businessman during the time that followed, a period which led to his expansion and growth, and in 1961, he managed to turn the tables.
After the nationalisation, the “Onsi and Lami” company became the Al-Nasr Civil Works Company.
Sawiris, himself travelled to Libya for work, leaving behind his wife Yusriya Loza, and his three children, Naguib, Samih, and Nassef.
He only returned to his homeland again after 12 years, specifically during the era of then President Anwar Sadat.
The beginning of the open policy, instigated by Sadat, was a new era for the economy and for companies. Sawiris began studying the future of joint-stock companies, and how he could increase his activity and expand his business.
In 1975, he founded Orascom General Contracting and Trading, which later became Orascom Construction Industries, and was a stepping stone towards “family glory”.
Sawiris’ three sons completed their education abroad, before each making their way in an investment field. This was until both Naguib and Nassef took their own places among the list of billionaires in the Arab world, and the most prominent businessmen in the Middle East.