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My Business Inspiration: How My Grandfather Built an Empire with 30 Cents
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My Business Inspiration: How My Grandfather Built an Empire with 30 Cents

My Business Inspiration: How My Grandfather Built an Empire with 30 Cents
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Ever since I was little, I’ve been inspired by my grandfather’s hard work and big dreams. As soon as he reaches one goal, he’s onto the next. The way he treats people, even those who’ve done him wrong, makes me want to be that strong. He’s always said that his success lies in his employees. His power to forgive and forget, an act that shows great power and real strength, is just one of the reasons why he is my mentor and source of inspiration.

Once upon a time in a small Egyptian village, lived Mahmoud, a 13-year-old boy whose father had just passed away. This event left his three sons and wife with no money or income. The young boy, in desperate need of money for his family, quickly discovered his passion for trading.

Mahmoud started out by asking a friend of his, who was working in Cairo at the time, to bring him some toys to sell and paid him 30 cents, which was all he had at the time. The next day, his friend bought the toys, Mahmoud soon sold them all and even made some profit. He had 40 cents now. Again, he used all of his money to buy more toys, selling them right in front of his house.

Entrepreneurship out of necessity

After those two, somewhat successful trades, Mahmoud decided to move to Cairo. After all, it’s the capital of Egypt, more money could be made there. He started by working as a sales person in a small shop on the busy street of El Moskey. By working hard and saving money, he moved up to an even bigger shop. He continued to save. Mahmoud was motivated by his dream to one day become a businessman worth 100,000 Egyptian pounds. His aim was to buy the ‘princess’ shop, a very famous shop on the same street. People used to laugh at him when he shared this dream. No one took him seriously.

Then, he found a business partner who shared his aspirations – to become a successful businessman. Soon after, they started a tiny business together and it turned out to be a huge success. But his partner soon fell sick and two more partners came on board for financial reasons. The two new partners decided that they don’t want to work with the sick partner, in fact, they want to push him out of the company. Insisting on keeping his old, sick partner, Mahmoud decides to break up the company and partnership.

The beginning of a dream

Along with his two brothers, Mahmoud started a brand new company selling stationary. They called it El Araby. Soon, this company became a huge success with multiple branches. This took place in the early 70s, so the electronics market had just started in Egypt. On top of stationary, the brothers began selling TVs and radios too. Little did they know, this moment would become the defining moment of El Araby.

A Japanese student in Cairo, who hung out by El Araby store and knew the three brothers to be ethical and brilliant businessmen, suggested they talk to representatives from Toshiba. The forward-thinking student’s idea was to launch the Toshiba brand in Egypt through El Araby. He pledged his wide network of contacts and his help.

The representatives from Toshiba visited Cairo and El Araby but they didn’t like the fact that everything in El Araby was done manually. At this point, El Araby didn’t even have a fax machine! Mahmoud stepped in and promised to handle those concerns right away. And handle them he did. He also asked for some tasks to do to prove El Araby to Toshiba. This was also a great success.

After this, Toshiba invited Mahmoud to Japan. Once he arrived at the Toshiba factories, Mahmoud stood in front of them stunned. At that moment, he told himself that he had to have factories of his own. After talking with Toshiba, they helped him open a factory in Egypt. But they estimated at least another ten years before Mahmoud could open one of his own.

Defying the odds

He opened his first factory that manufactured fans, in 1985.

Mahmoud has always measured his success and his legacy by the number of people he employs, rather than the amount of money he makes. Now, El Araby has 25 factories and 25,000 employees. A recent study shows that in every home in Egypt there is at least one El Araby product. In 2009, Mahmoud was presented with The Rising Sun prize from the Empire of Japan for his great efforts and contribution to the Japanese economy.

Now 86 years old, Mahmoud still goes to work every day, working hand in hand with the second and third generations. His dream now is to have 200,000 employees. He serves as chairman of El Araby, alongside his brothers.


  • Dr. James Mulli says:

    Very Inspiring and absolutely well written to honour such a noble and with exceptional achievements! You are truly blessed.
    Dr. Mulli

  • The story of Elhaj Mahmoud El-Araby is very inspiring and has a very positive influence on the life of many persons. Mine is one of them:
    In a small village in upper Egypt, I was a student in 2nd year prep school when I heard about the prizes that Al-Araby provide for students with good achievements. It was a strong motivation for the little boy to work hard to win an Alba or Seiko watch from Al-Araby if he has a rank on his governorate. So, he did when he was ranked 1st in prep certificate (shehada e3dadya) and Elhaj Mahmoud fulfilled his promise by gaving him a beautiful Alba. This was a milestone in the little boy’s life to work hard in the next few years to win another prize from Al-Arabi in secondary school (shehada thanawya Azhaya). As a result he was ranked 7th allover Egypt but unfortunately Al-Arabi program to reward student excellence has been suspended this year. The good news is that student after tasting success continued his hard work as well to become an Engineer and got a scholarship to obtain a PhD from France. All this started with a dream of an Alba/Seiko watch from Al-Arabi. May Allah reward you, Haj Mahmoud with the best rewards in this life and the hereafter. Hoping that Al-Arabi resume the student excellence program to encourage Egyptian youth doing well in their life.

  • deeps says:

    inspiring story

  • […] who’ve targeted Nestlé, even if Nestlé is not using too much water for their business (read more on that here)… the big newspapers, people will be talking about this… it’s much more difficult […]

  • Cyruz Tuppal says:

    It is an honor and a privilege to be a classmate of this promising business icon from Egypt. The story unveils how struggle can lead to a wider outlook turning a dream into a reality. It is a matter of perseverance, integrity, patience, and truthfulness of one’s acts, behaviors, and beliefs. The integration of core values is a prerequisite towards valuation of even minuet things that matter to us but not to some. It is also a matter of turning a tainted and tarnished piece of coin to a something that is worthy of appreciation. The story opens doors to some of us who are willing to learn and relearn the core and advanced underpinnings of business acumen. Furthermore, as a promising business entrepreneur, owner, and a woman like soon-to-be Dr. Manal El-Araby, DBA is indeed an epitome of encouragement, empowerment, and compassion. A woman who becomes a boundaryless pillar who shows the world how continuing education serves as a pivotal instrument to change the stereotype among gender towards equality, social responsibility, and compassionate service in a global spectrum. Congratulations and May Allah bless you and El-Araby’s company

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