CAIRO: While Egypt’s retail business infrastructure is evolving — as is the case with the growth of supermarkets and hypermarkets — the process needs to be accelerated, said Tarek Kabil, president of PepsiCo for the Middle East and Africa.
“In Egypt, organized trade is only 5 or 6 percent of the business and [in] other countries [it is] much more than that,” Kabil told Daily News Egypt in an interview discussing the country’s changing retail business environment.
Kabil joined PepsiCo as Technical Director for Egypt and North Africa in 1994, and three years later he assumed the role of franchise vice president for North East Africa. In 1999, he was appointed CEO of Pepsi’s newly-acquired beverage business in Egypt.
According to Kabil, one reason for the slow growth of the industry is Egypt’s established traditional trade infrastructure, which comprises a large part of the retail sector that still depends on the store around the corner.
“People go to hypermarkets for convenience, but today you can still have very good prices [and] with a phone call you can have it sent to your home,” he said, a unique characteristic of Egypt. In order to survive, kiosks and small- to medium-sized markets years ago added services like home delivery in order to compete.
“The huge hypermarkets will always be on the outskirts of Cairo, leaving room for the smaller retail outlets inside the city,” he added.
In one year Kabil and his team were able to move the company from loss to profit, and Egypt won the market unit of the year for Pepsi International in 2000. He was then tasked with expanding the North Africa franchise. In 2003, he was promoted and snacks were added to his portfolio.
Egypt and North Africa doubled its profit and tripled its revenue in three years. In June 2006, Kabil accepted the role of vice president of regional operations, and helped reshape the function to drive significant productivity gains. This also entailed staffing new roles with a team capable of creating innovative strategies for Pepsi.
Kabil advised young graduates entering the job market to stay and work in Egypt. “If you were to ask me what advice I would give to a new graduate on whether to look for a job in Egypt or Dubai, if they want to maximize their learning, I would say Egypt.”
He explained that while it is more difficult to work in Egypt due to the different delays in the business process, this is also an opportunity to learn for new empoyees. “Because the system is very challenging here, you have to be extremely alert. Even local companies which have more flexible systems can be an opportunity for job applicants in a certain position to move from one area to others like I have, as long as they have passion and intellectual curiosity.”
He gave an example of driving in the US, where the traffic flow is more regulated making it more comfortable for people to drive down a certain lane without really noticing the surrounding traffic. In Egypt — a country plagued by traffic problems — drivers are more alert, he said.
Kabil said Pepsi currently has 15 vacancies at the management level with no suitable candidates to fill the positions, highlighting another problem officials and experts often point to — the gap between the available labor force and the skills needed in the job market.
Talking about the company’s corporate social responsibility (CSR) and linking it to his concept of the power of the individual, Kabil spoke of the various projects PepsiCo has funded. Most recently, the company supported the Right to Climb initiative, which saw more than 20 climbers summit Mount Kilimanjaro to raise awareness and funds for the Right To Live Association, which provides mentally handicapped children with the necessary skills to cope with the outside world.
While he did credit the role of CSR in giving back to the community Kabil said that the larger companies have a significant role to play in bettering society through their own expansion, which means they can hire and train more people.
“We have 10,000 employees working at Pepsi, each working with an average of 10 individuals indirectly creating thousands of additional job opportunities,” he said. “If you want to measure our impact you will have to compare where these people were when they joined Pepsi and where they are today, in terms of success and business standards.”