Where Egypt meets U.S. work culture

Alex Shalaby, Mobinil president and CEO

TEXT OF INTERVIEW

Scott Jagow: This our final segment from Cairo for the Middle East at Work. We end with a success story . . .

Hang on a second, sorry -- that's my phone. Oh, it's someone who doesn't want to pay for a call so they hang up before I answer. That happens a lot here. So let's talk to Alex Shalaby. He's CEO of Mobinil, Egypt's largest mobile phone company. In our latest Conversation from the Corner Office, I asked him how these missed calls have affected his business.

Alex Shalaby: Not very well. Thanks God it's a phenomenon that has diminished. At one point, it used to chew up about 30 percent of network capacity, because you set up a call, you connect to the other end, it starts ringing, and then you disconnect. There's no revenue, of course. Our marketeers were quite clever in introducing on our network a per-second billing, so that has reduced this call-back phenomenon. I mean, the phone was really used as a paging device.

Jagow: In the United States, just about everyone has a cell phone. In a country like Egypt, how do you grow the cell phone business? It's got to be a different approach than you would take in the U.S.

Shalaby: To increase the penetration, you really have to go to the lower levels of the economic spectrum of the population. By introducing solutions, the more friends and family or individuals that are on your network, we offer them attractive propositions.

Jagow: How would you pinpoint the difference between the Egyptian business culture and say the American business culture?

Shalaby: One is more pragmatic and less emotional. I used to tell my AT&T colleagues, when I was based for AT&T in Egypt, this is a very old culture, so for Pete's sakes, don't ask me to come and change Egypt. I mean, we have to adapt to the market here in Egypt. But by the same token, we needed to employ kind of the Western standard in our business.

Jagow: What about your employees? How did you communicate to them what you were trying to do by mixing two business cultures?

Shalaby: I'll tell you -- we have adopted a completely transparent employee promotion system. Now, that was not something that kind of comes natural or is part of the culture per say. But I'm very happy to have instituted it to make it very clear that you are promoted based on your performance and your potential.

Jagow: You look like you're having fun. Are you having fun, as a CEO of this company?

Shalaby: Haha. Sometimes the challenges get you a little bit. But it is a lot of fun, and I'm truly enjoying it.

Jagow: Alex Shalaby, the CEO of Mobinil. Thanks so much for joining us.

Shalaby: Thank you so much, thank you for the opportunity.

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