Naguib Sawiris is a billionaire scion of possibly the most prominent business family in all of Egypt, and a serious contender globally, especially in telecom. And he’s adding to his family’s legacy by daring to go where no other companies will.
For example, he entered post-invasion Iraq with a $5-million bid to offer cellphone services, and, just four years later, he sold network for more than $1 billion.
Naguib, who is the executive chairman for Orascom Telecom Holdings, has performed similar deeds in other highly volatile markets, such as Pakistan, North Korea, and the impovershed Bangladesh.
And yet his greatest challenge will be Canada.
According to the Globe and Mail, whom Naguib spoke with recently, he was in Toronto to pay a visit to the offices of upstart wireless provider Wind Mobile, which he backs financially.
His involvement with Wind has already ignited controversy by challenging Canada’s restrictions on foreign ownership in the telecom sector. In a decision late last year, Industry Minister Tony Clement overturned a ruling by the federal telecommunications regulator that barred Wind from the Canadian market because of its foreign funding.
The landmark judgment allowed Wind to start offering cellphone service in Canada. If Mr. Sawiris’s plans work out as he hopes, Wind will become a fourth pillar in the national wireless market, challenging the incumbents BCE Inc., Telus Corp. and Rogers Communications Inc. As government debates the ownership restrictions, Canada’s telecom sector, which until Wind’s appearance had largely been closed to international investors, now seems ripe for an injection of more foreign capital.
But The Globe says that Wind Mobile is “just another pawn” in Naguib’s “global chess game.” His belief is that telecommunications around the globe will eventually be dominated by a select few giant firms. Naguib is already in merger talks with a Russian carrier called VimpelCom Ltd., which would effectively create a “sprawling telecom titan” worth about $25-billion—so his vision of an age of huge global providers seems very real, and possibly very near.
Naguib’s expansive telecom empire already serves well over 100 million subscribers, which is a staggering five times more wireless customers than the combined total of Bell, Telus and Rogers—companies which Naguib boldly labels “a joke,” stating that he would never invest in them because he says they’re “too big” and “too slow.”
“I have been offered by two of them to buy me out at a very significant profit,” Naguib told The Globe. “But that means I’m a broker, not an industrialist. It’s against my saga, against my history. I’m not the kind of guy who goes out for the money. It’s about success. And this, I would consider it as a bribe.”
But what Naguib will invest in his direct competitors, Moblicity and Public Mobile. In fact, he wants to buy them out completely, suggesting they have no hope of survival and Wind will “be the consolidator of all the smaller players here.”
Naguib has experienced turbulence elsewhere—such as a mystifying $600-million tax penalty in Algeria—but in Canada, the regulatory system and the established providers are not making Orascom’s mission easy. Rogers and Bell have both lowered prices and launched newservices only in the markets that directly overshadow Wind. Naguib is annoyed, but not daunted. His mission will move forward.