Their mantra is to build homes and sell happiness! With the beautiful facilities, the unique designs and breath-taking landscapes, what they do could not be described but a work of art. DMG’s CEO Ayman Ismail, gave us his time and introduced us to the dream they brought to reality.
What do we need to know about Ayman Ismail?
-I studied in Egypt and then I did an executive MBA in Harvard. I started my professional career in P&G in 1987, worked in Egypt for around 5 years, and then moved to Switzerland for another 5 years. I moved to Brussels and then to the US, where I spent most of my career life. I mostly worked in Marketing, General Management and New Business Development. I launched two projects considered to be the biggest in the history of P&G, Swiffer and Crest Light Strips. Then I decided to come back to Egypt. I left Proctor and joined Pepsico as the president for North Africa and the chairman for Egypt. Then I became Senior Vice President for South Asia, Middle East and Africa. After that, I decided to leave corporate life and join family business. So I joined DMG and became the chairman of the company. I have been here for more than six years now.
What made you decide to leave your job and Join DMG?
-The time was right! This business started to be sizeable and it needed structuring and restructuring in order to capture all potentials, that’s one angle. From another angle, corporate life has its pros and cons. I enjoyed it for more than 20 years, but the time was finally right for me to leave it. There are a lot of flows in corporate life and the higher you go, the more you’d be put in situations that pressure your values. And I am very uncompromising when it comes to my values. I was really excited to bring what I have learned here to DMG. Part of my passion is to transfer my experience in corporate life to local businesses.
In your opinion, what separates DMG from its competition?
-DMG is in different fields: real estate, engineering, food processing and restaurants. In each field we have a different set of competition, but we are not the kind of company that strives to beat competition. That’s not our objective. Our purpose is to build an industry, satisfy our customers and provide the best products. In many cases, we serve our so-called competitors! In landscape, we do a lot of work for Emaar and Hyde Park -arguably competitors, when it comes to real estate. The thing is that when I first came to this business, I noticed that nobody studied real estate. There were no courses for this industry. Also data availability and reliability was very slim. So we had several meetings with many of our competitors (who are top players in the real state sector) and out of this came a few projects. One of them is the Real Estate Academy, which we established with the American University and the national university of Singapore. It is our fourth year now, and over 25 people graduated from this Academy. Most of them are employees for our competitors. At the end of the day; I believe if the industry is healthy, then our business will be healthy. Our mission isn’t to be in a leadership position, but to build a strong foundation without letting go of our roots. We want to build Landmarks, and that’s what we are trying to do in our projects. We have a clear vision. We don’t just build homes! We need to work all together to reconstruct lands in order to offer people a better life. The more competition we are in, the more we will start to innovate.
This is how you compete, but how is the exterior competition?
-Most of the markets we are competing in are very fragmented. In real estate for instance, the biggest player in the market won’t exceed 1-2 % shares. Therefore, the competition is not that severe like with other projects or products (Coca Cola and Pepsi for instance) where 97-98% of the total market is split between 2 or 3 key players. So it’s a different kind of competition. It has the ability to either build or destroy the market. We have companies like Sodic, Talaat Mostafa, Emaar and Amer Group. Those bring a lot of good things to the market. On the other side, you find people who are in the real estate business but never studied real estate. They don’t know the rules of the industry, and sometimes they do things that are not quite right.
How much do you think the recent political and social troubles in the region affected the real estate business?
-Real estate in Egypt has proven to be a very strong industry. Over the last few years, we went through many crises; from the financial crisis in 2008 to the two revolutions in Egypt. Through all of these crises, the real estate business was able to show its ability to grow and not to be dramatically affected by the situation. To me this was not a surprise, because the fundamentals of the industry are very strong. We have a demand much higher than supply (we are talking 15-30% according to category), and you know that this demand is a real demand (not some kind of speculation like what happened in Dubai before their crisis). We were pushed to believe that growing our population is a bad thing. Actually it is a good thing. It is an asset! We don’t need to import people (we just need to educate our people) and we have the land. If you have people and land, expand and you’ll be very rich; but we are actually thinking of a positive thing in a negative way.
I am a big believer that if we believed something has an effect, it will affect; but if we don’t, it won’t. For instance, 2011 was a year of stabilization for us, because we worked as if there was no crisis. We took a decision at that time; political discussions are not allowed, we will operate normally, and we won’t believe that there is a crisis. We adjusted our objectives and operated and it paid off. Now the level of complaining is far less than outside, because complaining is not allowed here in DMG. At the end, we have a lot of potential and we believe that we deserve to be one of the best.
Then where is the problem in Egypt?
-The problem in Egypt is that we never have a career vision, and we don’t know where we’re going. We work day by day, and this doesn’t work for a big nation like Egypt. Consequently, we lost a lot of things. We lost our heritage. We’re far behind in terms of education. We didn’t expand in our land. And it’s blur how Egypt should become in future. The silver lining here is that great efforts are taken to get back to the right track. I am part of a team working on a vision for Egypt in years 2030/2050. We need that in order to reach what we’ve always aspired. We deserve to be one of the biggest nations; not only in the region, but in the whole world. Our land is very rich. We have the Suez Canal, the desert, the Mediterranean Sea…and we have all what it takes to succeed! We only need to work hard for it and I believe we can do!
How was your experience with City Escape this year? And what did it bring to DMG?
-City Escape is always a good place to get a real good look at the evolution in the industry over the year. They are very well thought and put together and they bring a lot of knowledge and lots of insights to what’s going on.
Of all your projects, which one do you consider your favorite?
-Each one of our projects has its own charm. Mountain View-Hyde Park brings a new notion. It primarily creates the concept of living in greenery without crossing the street, which is a unique idea. Mountain View Sahel is architecturally distinctive with it Greek design. Sokhna has a tropical ambiance to it. Basically, each one has its own allure.
How can you describe your short but really effective journey with DMG?
-Very exciting, lots of learning, and it brought to me more confidence in this big country that has a lot of potentials.
Mountain View is like the American Dream in Egypt, what did you aim to accomplish when you started this project?
-Amr my brother would be the best person to talk about this project because he’s the developer and creator of such idea. As I told you, what we do is sell happiness and deliver homes. We want our customers to be happy wherever they live. The key foundation of Mountain View is to come with a design that is superior to anything else next to it. It does not depend of the architectural superiority; its superiority is in the ability to offer a better, happier life.
What do you mean by “happier life”?
-You’re happy when you’re healthy, when you have a better community, when you’re interacting with your neighbors. You’ll probably find in most of our projects that there are no boundaries between neighbors. The doors of the front yards are never closed. We don’t permit residents to close their front yards, and we take care of the landscaping ourselves to increase the interaction between people. We focus on healthy activities, healthy food, and we are trying to bring a distinctive, healthy style of living.
How far have you reached such goal?
-This is what we are pursuing and our designs allow that to happen! You can visit Mountain View 1 and you will see how neighbors interact with each other; they have breakfast together every week, and we facilitate that. We are still taking baby steps. There are so many things we are working on right now to bring this kind of atmosphere and happy life, and that will probably come about the next few years. The other thing that Amr Ismail achieved brilliantly is that every compound has one unique theme. You won’t find different architectural style in one compound. Most of our projects in Cairo are built in the American style, and again we’ve done a lot of research and found that it’s what people like. We hold a lot of bazaars, we do garage sales, we’re trying to bring the old days of Heliopolis and Korba back. We are very careful about the community, and we try to be selective in whoever resides in our projects.
So you take it into consideration to have a certain category of buyers?
Of course, we have a list of mandatory questions that we ask and through them we are introduced to the background of prospect buyers.
What do you do if someone didn’t match your criteria?
-In many cases, we don’t sell. Up until now, we are not open for investors. We only allow people we know to invest, and we insist on doing the re-sell process ourselves. I think we are ahead of anybody else when it comes to that. Even through our marketing activities, we focus on a specific type of people; educated executives… This is the type of community that you will find in Mountain View; and if you look in our customer list, over eighty percent would fit in such profile. Even if 10% do not fit, they will comply. What we are working on right now is how to enhance that through the way we are internally managing the compound. We are learning, making mistakes, changing; and we have a clear goal of what we want the project to look like.
What is the concept of the I-villa and who is the mind behind it?
– We came up with that because competition was tough and land prices were really high. Also the affordability of customers was not catching up with the high prices; which created a tough void. The innovation of the I-villa is actually one of the things that separate us. One of our customers was saying that he worked abroad for many years and he collected around 1 million pounds and he couldn’t find a villa within that price! That was a very insightful statement that was not making sense. We decided that we had to figure out how to bring about a villa which is a-million-pounds worth. We brought people from different disciplines to analyze a couple of things; the reason behind such high prices and the definition of a villa? Land price was one of the key components of the reason why cost became very high for a villa. As to what people want when it comes to villas, we reached certain features: having a pool, separate entrance, etc… We, then, took the mission of providing a villa with all those features with such competitive price. The team did a brilliant work. The idea was basically putting four villas together on the same piece of land. So instead of burdening one villa with the cost of land; the amount was distributed on four duplex villas with 4 separate entrances, 4 private gardens and pools. That’s how we were able to decrease the prices.
What about your mission statement?
As I told you, we work on land evolution and creating a happy life. The other important angle we are doing is C.S.R (Corporate Social Responsibility). We have a goodwill objective. It’s not just about donating money. It goes beyond that. We encourage every single employee to do something good to society. We used to give Mother’s day as a day off. Now we spend half of the day at an elderly shelter or something of the sort. We want every employee to be involved. At the beginning we faced a lot of resistance, but now they are very happy and committed to the idea; and they feel rewarded. It makes our employees happy; and happy employees work better and become committed and loyal to the work place. We all want to do something good but sometimes work gets in the way. So what we provide are activities through the company to collect donations. Such donations ultimately go to a worthy cause. Our last cause was providing water to poor places. We also collaborate with Food Bank, Resala, Masr Elkhier…
What’s DMG’s next step?
-We are continuing in our path. We want to grow. Our aim is to be one of the leaders, not THE LEADER. We don’t care to be number two or number five, this is not our objective. We want to grow without losing the roots of this company’s fundamentals.