Interview with Sudanese Engineer Ismail I. El Sayed

Interviewer: Mohamed Elfaki

Edited by: Gilan Choubachy, Mona Timor Shehata

Publisher: Amira Haytham

 “I have a very positive outlook for the future of Sudan. It has a huge unemployed youth work-force and massive unexplored natural resources. I see this as an opportunity rather than a problem…”

Ismail El Sayed

HR Revolution Middle East Magazine: Could you tell us about yourself and your job?

Eng. Ismail I. El Sayed: I am Ismail El Sayed, a Sudanese businessman. I have a BSc in Mechanical engineering from the University of Khartoum and an MBA from Heriot Watt University in Scotland. I am married and a father of three. I am the co-founder and Executive Manager of Al Barakawi International Co.; an agricultural commodities trading company based in Khartoum.

HR Revolution Middle East Magazine: What are your talents and skills that help you in the company?

Eng. Ismail I. El Sayed: My brothers and I established Al Barakawi in 1993 at the early age of 24 with the guidance of our late father. Since then, I was very determined and persistent to make it as the market leader of commodity trading companies in Sudan. My engineering background provided me with good analytical skills and it enabled me to break down the job tasks into achievable and measurable steps to simplify the execution. I am, also, a very patient person with a strong desire to learn from the people around me. Moreover, due to the nature of my job, I always deal with different nationalities. This helped me to improve my people skills and to understand and appreciate different cultures.

HR Revolution Middle East Magazine: What was your dream job? What is your life goal?

Eng. Ismail I. El Sayed: I have always dreamt to be an international prominent business leader and to establish an international company with offices in Africa and the Middle East. I am very thankful to have my current job and I believe I am on the right track to achieve my dream. As for my life target, I am planning through my business, to help in Sudan’s economic development. I also want to be a role model to empower the youth of Sudan to attain their fullest potential.

HR Revolution Middle East Magazine: What are the qualities needed for your position?

Eng. Ismail I. El Sayed: I think the two most important qualities for my position are: Firstly, being able to analyze and to predict the future trends of the business environment in order to stay ahead of the competition. Secondly, being able to empower my team, so they could give their best to the company.

HR Revolution Middle East Magazine: Tell us about the nature of work in the company?

Eng. Ismail I. El Sayed: Al Barakawi works as an exporter of agricultural commodities, such as sesame seeds, ground nuts, chickpeas and gum arabic (acacia gum). We are also importers of agricultural input products such as jute bags. We really enjoy our work as it exposes us to the international market with both the dynamic changes and challenges caused by the information revolution, which allows companies of our size to rival competitively with multinational companies.

HR Revolution Middle East Magazine: What is the market share of the company? How did you get to this percentage?

Eng. Ismail I. El Sayed: We have two categories for our products: pulses and oil seeds. Unfortunately, we don’t have accurate data regarding the market share but what I can confidently tell you is that we are one of the top players in the pulses and we are steadily gaining more market share of oil seeds

HR Revolution Middle East Magazine: What is the target of the company in the future?

Eng. Ismail I. El Sayed: Agricultural commodities’ trading is a huge market and has a great potential. Our long term goal is to introduce advanced food processing technologies in order to add more value to our products and to be a regional market leader.

HR Revolution Middle East Magazine: Tell us about the market of import/export business while putting the country’s economy into consideration?

Eng. Ismail I. El Sayed: Import and export business is becoming a very important sector of the economy due to globalization. Sudan is surrounded by several landlocked countries and Port Sudan is gradually becoming a regional port. This gives Al Barakawi the ability to market products from our neighbouring countries to the world and also to import goods to cover the regional demands. This expands our customer base and it gives us immunity if the local economy recedes.

HR Revolution Middle East Magazine: If you were the minister of trade, what would be your plan for importers and exporters?

Eng. Ismail I. El Sayed: I would like adopt the Dubai model of trade in Port Sudan and make it a regional port. I would also improve the quality of the Sudanese products according to the international markets’ certifications and standards. I would work with the ministry of industry to attract more investors to add value to Sudan’s agro-products by building modern food processing factories. Furthermore, I would also work with the agricultural ministry to increase the production rate of the farms to the international level in order to decrease the cost. I would also introduce new crops to match the international market demand.

HR Revolution Middle East Magazine: How do you apply the management styles among your team?

Eng. Ismail I. El Sayed: At Al Barakawi, we adopt different management “styles”. For example, in operations and deal executing, we usually adopt a fusion between the style of project management and outsourcing. We give the operation teams, both in-house and outsourced, specific targets for the quality, cost and time-frame to make our projects successful. Business development is the most challenging area, as we are always trying to open new markets for our products and introduce new products to the international market. This task is continuous and cannot be measured as accurately as the operation tasks. Our top managers always follow the local and international business trends and they research the needs of the market. We always adopt a brainstorming management style; where we discuss the findings and allocate the company’s resources to the most viable projects.

HR Revolution Middle East Magazine: What does it take to work in Al Barakawi Company?

Eng. Ismail I. El Sayed: In Al Barakawi, we recognize the major role our employees play in our future success. Therefore, we follow the Warren Buffet rule and look for people with three qualities: integrity, intelligence and energy.

HR Revolution Middle East Magazine: Give us a brief idea about the struggles the company faced and how did you overcome it?

Eng. Ismail I. El Sayed: Al Barakawi survived a very tough economic environment. Despite the 20-year-long US economic sanctions on Sudan, we managed to have a steady annual growth. We look positively back at that time and appreciate the valuable lessons learnt. We worked in a turbulent environment with a high fluctuating currency which not only affected the profitability of the business but also had a huge negative impact and depleted the capital of many businesses. We adopted a model which depended on a small core management team supervising outsourced teams who are running the operations. This model gave us the flexibility to expand and contract according to the ongoing demand and it saved us the enormous fixed cost of having a permanent big-working staff. Another factor that has helped us to pass this difficult time is our commitment to deliver excellent quality products and our pledge to honour our agreements under any circumstances. These elements enabled us to secure consecutive business deals with our customers.

HR Revolution Middle East Magazine: What is your opinion on the unemployment in Sudan? What is your suggestion to overcome that?

Eng. Ismail I. El Sayed: I have a very positive outlook for the future of Sudan. It has a huge unemployed youth work-force and massive unexplored natural resources. I see this as an opportunity rather than a problem. For example, some countries like the Gulf States have natural resources and they actually had to seek manpower from abroad to exploit the resources. Luckily, we have both the natural and human resources.My suggestion to the government of Sudan is to pave the way to the private sector to take the lead in running the economy in a competitive manner and to implement the proper regulations which would make this possible. The government should also direct the higher education institutes to concentrate on the suitable training schemes that supply the market with the desired skilled labours. In my conclusion, I would like to borrow a quote from the great Maya Angelou: “My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humor, and some style”