Interview with Khaled Akl

CEO - Regina Company for Pasta and Food Industries

We are running a series of interviews with successful Egyptian CEO’s to learn how they navigated the path of their success and to learn from their valuable wisdom. We are delighted to kick off with Khaled Akl:

How do you see your company changing in two years, and how do you see yourself creating that change?

I see my company expanding in other food categories, launching in new markets, and increasing its production capacity by at least 50%.


What are your current goals?

  • Business: I’d love to see the company playing a more regional role; thus becoming a supplier of choice, a customer of choice and definitely the employer of choice.

  • Family: For all my beloved ones, I wish for more health and tranquility and that all their dreams become a reality.

  • Egypt: I hope all the latest economic reforms start delivering on the objectives and that the GDP growth exceeds 7% year on year.

What would you really like to achieve if anything was possible?

I’d love to see a local Egyptian company becoming global – and here I don’t mean to have global operation, I mean creating a global Egyptian brand especially in FMCG where it’s usually harder.


What are your three biggest accomplishments?

• While working for Unilever as the Customer Development

Director in 2013, the Egyptian team managed to win

Unilever Global Compass Award as the best performing

business unit globally. This award is the most prestigious

award Unilever offers and it was awarded to Egypt business

unit in recognition for Egypt's outstanding performance

during Arab spring

• In 2011 (the year of the Arab Spring), while all companies

were cutting down their headcount – or maintaining it at

best – we hired 460 young sales reps as we believed that

this was the right time to invest.

• In 2015, I got promoted as the Customer Development

Vice President, leading Unilever route to market center of

excellence globally – which is a position that no Arab ever

held before.


What other CEOs do you admire?

GE CEO Jack Welsh. When Jack joined General Electric at a middle management level, his authentic leadership style took him all the way to become GE CEO where he served for more than 10 years. Under his leadership, GE multiplied by more than 10 folds in revenues and profits – and became the 2nd on Fortune's top 500 list. In addition, he introduced the 6 Sigma as a ‘lean manufacturing’ process that optimizes production efficiencies. His bestseller book “Straight From the Gut” comes across as a textbook in people management.


What do you like and what do you dislike about being a CEO?

  • I like the sense of responsibility and the ability to influence and be influenced by the economy.

  • I dislike it when things are out of my control (like, e.g. when the CBE decided to increase interest rates, post devaluation, which was counterproductive for industry and there was nothing I could do about it other than trying to lobby with other industry players.

How do you use instinct in your role?

Instinct is the ability to use personal judgment when numbers are not 100% conclusive. In other words, it’s the ‘Eureka’ that executives develop over years and years of experience (the so called business acumen).


What has been your biggest learning so far?

The human capital will always be the single most important asset a company has – and that you should never underestimate the human potential.


In your opinion, what are the 3 most important roles of a CEO?

• Setting the company strategic direction.

• Safeguarding the organization, structure, talent, and definitely the culture.

• Delivering the company business objectives.


What are your 3 top personal values?

• Authentic leadership.

• Responsibility.

• Paranoia for achievements.


Which word describes you the best?

Authenticity.


How would your employees describe you in a sentence?

A caring leader who inspires trust and who creates a learning environment.


How do you view servant leadership?

If coupled with the right vision, humility can get more out of people than what aggression does (Gandhi style).


How do you get your leadership team committed to a culture of growth and development?

By involving them in setting the company goals so that they take ownership of the plans.


How high is employee satisfaction on the priority list in your organization?

I believe that you are as good as your people are – and unless your people feel that they are being taken care of, authentically, they will not have loyalty to the company.


What is your favorite inspirational quotation?

“When the going gets tough, the tough gets going”. I often used this quote during the Arab spring when it was a total chaos in Egypt. Doing business in Egypt at that time required a lot of resilience and stamina simply because it wasn’t business as usual. Those companies that survived this period came out of it as winners.


What legacy of leadership would you like to leave behind when you retire?

I’d love to be remembered as a person who helped people unleash their full potential; who spared neither time nor effort to help people achieve success through creating a learning environment and through emphatically caring for them. I usually say “it’s not important who comes to your wedding party, what is really important is who shows up to your funeral”.


Pasta Regina is a leading company in the pasta industry in Egypt and currently exports to over 30 countries worldwide. With more than 25 years of experience in producing high quality pasta, Regina caters to all consumer segments and proves its success with a significant 15% growth in sales per year.

Pasta Regina is a joint stock company with over 1500 employees and it firmly believes in the power of synergies throughout the production process. As the only semolina milling producer in Egypt, Regina carefully supervises of all pasta manufacturing milestones, from the acquisition of 100% durum wheat to final product placement.

Pasta Regina aims to be a standard in enhancing the quality of nutrition. In order to achieve this mission, the company’s business model stands firmly in line with their commitment to both society and environment.

www.pastaregina.com


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