Mohamed Mansour: A tarnished captain of industry

Ibtessam Zayed, Salma Hussein, Thursday 10 Mar 2011

Former minister of transport, many of whose family members and business associates are now facing corruption charges, served a troubled stint in the cabinet, but ‎has met with repeated success in business ‎


When he joined the cabinet as the minister of transport, on the 1 January 2006, Mohamed Mansour, the guru of transport vehicles, did not anticipate all the troubles he would face.

The year he was nominated to his post saw two horrifying public transport accidents. One was a train crash in northern Egypt killing 44 people. The other was a dramatic, the sinking of Al Salam ferryboat with more than 1000 passengers on its deck.

Mansour’s life changed on 26 December 2005, when he was asked to serve as minister of transport, a post he would hold for nearly four years.

He resigned from the 58 directorships and chairmanships he held as a private citizen, and Mansour Group agreed to end all of its business with the transport ministry.

“We had to draw a line,” Mansour said. “That was then, this is now.”

Four years later, in October 2009, he had to resign from his post in the aftermath of another deadly train crash. The incident triggered a barrage of criticism from the press and parliament, especially because the minister had led a very costly reform program since 2006 to modernize the railways.

Mansour was proud of the progress made on his watch. A railroad system that was hemorrhaging LE1.6 billion a year when he took office lost only LE180 million in 2009 despite wage increases for about 80,000 workers.

Yet criticism was intensifying for the growing number of businessmen who joined the cabinet since 2004. Mansour and Maghraby development group was expanding exponentially, triggering accusations of profiteering.

Along with Mohamed Mansour, there was the Minister of Housing, Ahmed El Maghraby (Mansour’s cousin), Minister of Tourism, Zuhair Garana (also his cousin), Amin Abaza ( Minister of Agriculture), Hatem El Gabaly (Minister of Health), and Rachid Mohamed Rachid ( Minister of Trade and Industry).

One had to leave to save the others. It was Mohamed Mansour.

Antithetically, Mansour was always very lucky in business. He comes from one of the most successful business families in Alexandria. The Mansour Group represents nine of the top Fortune 500 companies in Egypt and employs nearly 40,000 people.

Born in 1948, Mohamed Mansour got a Bachelor’s degree in engineering from North Carolina State University, USA in 1968, and a Masters degree in Business Administration from Auburn University, USA in 1971, where he taught until 1973.

The Mansours have survived the nationalization and confiscation of their assets in 1965. Because of the family’s determination, he said, “we managed to get through that tough time.”

His father, Lotfy Mansour, started out in the textile industry in the 1940s. He had a sharp business acumen that laid the strong foundation on which his sons have lead the company to even further heights of expansion and profits.

By late 70s, Egypt started strengthening ties with the United States. Mansour Group soon became an agent to a wide range of American companies, introducing a number of American brands to the Egyptian market. It started the partnership with Caterpillar in 1977, then Chevrolet, and tobacco, Marlboro, Merit and LM. The group also introduced to the market its own brands, like the Metro supermarket chain.  

As the business moved into the 1990s, Mansour described his management style as “very conservative. We were very careful about the debt-to-equity ratio” in a lecture he gave at the American Chamber of Commerce. As the decade progressed, he said, “opportunities came to us,” citing Philip Morris and McDonald’s.

Looking to the future, a private-equity firm was formed, Mansour said, and “we decided that all family-owned businesses would stay family-owned."

So, in 1996, the Mansours merged their business with their cousins', the Maghrabys, creating Mansour and Magraby Development Group. Their business extended from real estate and hotels to financing, along with trade and the auto industry.

The group is General Motors distributor in Egypt, Iraq and Libya. Mansour was the Chairman and CEO of Mantrac, the authorized distributor of Caterpillar, in six African countries namely Nigeria, Ghana, Sierra Leone, Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda.

He is also the distributor of IBM, Hewlett Packard, Microsoft and Compaq in Egypt. Mansour also chaired Unatrac. He now chairs the Credit Agricole bank in Egypt.

Mansour also served on the board of several organizations. He is a member and former Secretary General of the Future Foundation (created by Gamal Mubarak). He was elected as the Secretary General of the Egyptian Center for Economic Studies (ECES) and twice as the president of the American Chamber of Commerce in Egypt.

He was also a board member of the Center for Contemporary Arab Studies at Georgetown University, the George Washington School of Business Advisory Board, the International Advisory Board of the Coca Cola Company, the Egyptian Stock Exchange, the Social Fund for Development and the Trustees of the American University in Cairo. Furthermore, Mansour served as the Chairman of the Egypt-U.S. Business Council.

With his return to private life, Mansour said he has no plans to slow down. Rather, he will maintain an active role in the Mansour Group. But that was before the 25 January revolt.

Now that a number of his family members, business associate and friends are behind bars, Mohamed Mansour has retreated from public life, and faces an ambiguous future.

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