Sipping a glass of Chivas Regal Extra against the luscious backdrop of his brainchild Kazoku, entrepreneur Ayman Baky speaks social impact, mentoring young generations, and why family changed his outlook on business.
Though often deemed a buzz word, the realities of entrepreneurship today are not only reshaping the economy but also the country’s educational practices, as business approaches to problem solving gain traction amongst Egyptian youth. But in a landscape that exudes youthful zeal, the stories of role models and mentors are seldom heard; so I head off to meet Ayman Baky, a senior entrepreneur whose journey through the nightlife and hospitality industries led him to a role model position he had never foreseen for himself.
When Baky shows up at his luscious sushi eatery Kazoku, the ambience is lavish. Nothing in his appearance or entourage gives away the giving nature of his ventures, his family-oriented outlook on business, and the plentiful activities he spearheads to catalyse young entrepreneurial will. As he takes the first sip of Chivas Regal Extra, I drop the first question.
You are considered a role model for entrepreneurs. What would you say is the one principle that guided you throughout your career?
Persistence and the love I have for my business. I have this passion since I was in university; I really felt that this is what I wanted, although I didn’t know how to do it. I learned a lot and failed a lot, but that’s the most important thing for me – having learned through failure. After I graduated from AUC in 1996, I worked in the entertainment business for quite a while, and I loved it until I came to a certain age when I felt I couldn’t do it anymore.
Tell me about a time when it was hard to stay persistent.
I had a dream before the revolution; we’d always wanted to put Egypt on the entertainment map, but during the two years after the revolution, most businesses went down and I thought: “the journey has ended, now I have to find an alternative.” But we kept going. I lost passion; I lost persistence and hope for two years. I made stupid financial decisions because of the panic attack we all had, but it was a learning experience as well. Now I am really focusing on the hospitality company I founded in 2013 and the team. The power here is in the team.
How do you think businessmen like you impact the community?
A few months ago, I was asked by an entrepreneurship professor at AUC to give a talk at a class. I had never stepped back into AUC since I had graduated. Most of the students are in engineering and computer science, and I never expected to be standing in the AUC talking to kids who are 19 or 20 years old about entrepreneurship and how successful someone can be if they follow their dreams.
I think it is time for me to help young people who have trouble striving in their business. I also have a few kids at the Heliopolis Club who look up to me and always need advice, and I’ve also been serving in church with boys between 12 and 16 years old, helping them with swimming, basketball and fitness skills, and studying the Bible.
In what ways did this change your life?
What actually changed my life back in 2011 was understanding, through studying, that fame and money are not the number one thing that drives a man. Through that – once you get appreciation and people love you – things start to come. But you have to have faith and give your life to serve someone else.
Do you consider yourself a mentor?
It’s not something stable, but I am working on creating something. It was something I was not focusing on before, because I was concentrating on creating my business. When I opened Sachi, I was just looking for something to survive, to feed my family after the drop brought by the revolution. But its success brought several opportunities for me and others, and I’ve been helping people around. But again, the direction is not money; it’s passion and family.
Is that your biggest lesson for entrepreneurs? Or what would you teach them?
Have faith in what you believe in; follow your dreams and fight for them. You have to be a fighter; in this country, it is difficult and the system is not easy. There is a lot of jealousy, people badmouth you, but you have to put all that aside and believe in what you are doing. The most important thing is transmitting this love and passion to your team. You have to brainwash them so that they are in the same line. It’s not about what salaries they get, but the growth plan for each one and what each one can become.
What do you think is the biggest misconception related to the industry?
There is not enough transparency. People may think it’s lame to talk about deep issues, but those who are close to me and to my heart know me and that’s what matters; I don’t care about the rest. Another very big misconception is to think that everyone involved in a restaurant is a millionaire, which is not the case. That’s why so many people are opening restaurants that only last a couple of months, because they don’t know what’s happening in the back office. It’s not an easy sector.
Is there a code of chivalry amongst businessmen in the sector?
We don’t steal staff from each other. We have a lot of respect, and if there is someone who comes here for an interview while he works for someone else, I pick up the phone, “this guy came for an interview, and I am letting you know because I am not going to interview him.” The same thing happens with myself. This is like a gentleman biblical agreement that we have this code. Not all of them follow, but 90 per cent do, and it’s not like we sat down to establish it, but it just came and we were very solid about it.
Photography by @MO4Network’s #MO4Productions
Photographer: Abanoub Ramsis