Samih T Darwazah, Chairman of Hikma Pharmaceuticals, beat out a peer group of 17 of the region’s most successful businessmen to be named the 2008 Ernst & Young Middle East Entrepreneur Of The Year on Saturday night.
Darwazah, who was born in Nablus, Palestine, in 1930, competed against other top entrepreneurs from disparate sectors such as Arif Naqvi, CEO of Abraaj Capital, and real estate developer Omar Ayesh from Tameer. The award qualifies him in the global Ernst & Young competition to be held in Monaco this summer.
The septuagenarian founded his company in Jordan three decades ago with seed capital of $150,000 (Dh550,890) and slowly built it up to become a global player in pharmaceuticals. “We started in Jordan from scratch. My first step was to build a nucleus organisation with a number of professionals who were also educated abroad, and we built the company,” he told Emirates Business.
Growing a company in landlocked Jordan in the early 1980s was not easy. “As you know, in developing countries in the Middle East we have many difficulties with the government,” said Darwazah. But the ascent of Hikma coincided with a period of increased liberalisation and reform, and the chairman said he received “excellent encouragement and responses” from the government. “When we complained about tariffs and other problems, they were solved very quickly.”
Once the company got its bearings, Darwazah’s drive and entrepreneurial spirit forced him to become a global competitor. “We have markets in the US, England, Europe and the Middle East. We manufacture in the US, Germany, Saudi Arabia, Algeria, Jordan, and now in Egypt. We are covering four continents,” he said.
Of course, this expansion needed resources, both material and human. For capital, Darwazah depended on the organic growth of the company early on, and more recently he listed Hikma on the London Stock Exchange (LSE). The company is the fourth largest pharmaceuticals company on the LSE, and has a secondary listing on the Dubai International Financial Exchange.
The 30 year-old company that had such modest beginnings now has a market capitalisation of $1.7 billion.
Human resources in the highly technical field was, and remains, the more difficult challenge, and one Darwazah is keenly focused on.
"We have our own research and development department and we employ people in the Middle East," he said. But he acknowledged these highly specialised professionals are scarce in the Middle East. So Hikma implemented numerous programmes that sends local graduates to gain doctorates and master’s degrees from universities abroad, whether in pharmaceuticals or business.
“We want to grow this industry and the only way to do it is if you have good people, so we have to invest in them,” he said.
One way Darwazah believes will help bridge the gap between Middle Eastern universities and those abroad is increasing and developing the co-operation between industry and academia. He recalled his days as a graduate student in the US where he “had five professors who all came from the industry, and they were giving us courses in different fields. This type of co-operation is extremely important and should be developed very soon.”
Ernst & Young Middle East Entrepreneur Of The Year award, along with the global competition set for May, should give Darwazah the platform to talk about these issues, and perhaps move forward on some initiatives. As a former minister in Jordan, he is used to politics and compromise, as well as lobbying his case.
“Samih Zarwazah’s success through the setting up of what is now a multinational company demonstrates the contributions of entrepreneurs truly matter and make a difference in our world,” said Fouad Alaeddin, Managing Partner of Ernst & Young Middle East.
Darwazah said it was “really a great privilege to be honoured for such a position” and urged the competition must continue in the years
Samih Darwazah, a pharmacist, worked for Eli Lilly from 1964 to 1976, before establishing Hikma Pharmaceuticals in 1977. Between 1995 and 1996, he served as Minister of Energy and Mineral Resources in Jordan. He also founded the Jordan Trade Association and was a member of the Advisory Economic Council to the King of Jordan.
He holds a master’s degree from St Louis College of Pharmacy in Missouri, US.
Hikma chief is ME Entrepreneur of the Year