In 2000, Basem Al Manzalawy graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in Engineering from Zagazig University, in his native Egypt. After ten years of business experience, he went on to achieve a top MBA degree from Midtown University, USA. Six months ago, he was appointed Director of Sales and Marketing at Alanesoon Trading Company (ATC), managing the company’s sales and marketing affairs across the whole of Saudi Arabia. I speak to Basem to uncover the journey from his beginnings as an engineering, tech-savvy graduate in Egypt to a successful Sales and Marketing Director in Saudi Arabia.

Q. The term “engpreneur” is central to your story of success. Could you explain what this means?

I introduced this term to our market to describe the status of those who have the same background and business situation as myself. We all know the term “entrepreneur” and understand what “entrepreneurship” means. “Engpreneur” is simply a combination of the words “engineer” and “entrepreneur”; I am an engineering graduate, and I wanted to translate my technological knowledge into real solutions for people in a commercial market. “Engpreneur” describes a professional with an engineering background who has made the shift into commercial ventures.

Q. Why did you want to make this shift from the technical side of engineering to the commercial, customer-focused side?

I think it’s important to make these kinds of transitions in life. For me personally, it was important to migrate from my technical background into entrepreneurship so that I could actually apply my knowledge and skill set to the business world. I wanted to get involved in marketing, and to understand the sales side of things. I am interested in talking to people as a means to understand consumer demand – communication is vital to understand the market so that you can most efficiently serve your clientele.

Q. I understand that you read a lot of business books as inspiration. Has such information been central to your career development? 

Yes, I have at least fifteen books at home on sales, marketing, customer services, finances, etc. Particularly when I was struggling to make the shift from engineer to entrepreneur, I did a lot of online research and read a lot of books which helped shape my commercial understanding and outlook. An important lesson I learned, amongst many others, was that an online business is a good place to start if you are tight financially, because you can keep the business relatively low-cost.

Q. So would you say you are still constantly learning?

Yes – every day, every minute!

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Q. How did you finally manage to effectively make the transition from engineering expert to sales and marketing? 

A. I am Egyptian, and I emigrated to Saudi Arabia in 2000 because I felt there was more business opportunity for me there. I had my engineering background and expertise, I had my technical solutions, my business ideas and models – the only thing I really lacked was money. And obviously you need finances to hire people and buy the technology.

I then had a call from a friend who told me about a Saudi investor who had a small company and was looking to upgrade the business, but he had no knowledge of sales and marketing. I worked for him for six months, and we understood each other. The company already worked with the government, but I helped expand it into the commercial scene. We have been very successful and are now working across three sectors – with the commercial sector (hotels & banks, etc.), with contractors and with the residential sector.

Q. How do you remain on top of the overall management of all ATC’s strategic and operational Marketing and Customer services in Saudi Arabia?

A. As I said, I am always learning. For instance, I always ensure that I understand the technology behind the products we are marketing, across all units of the business – safety, security, IT, and audio-visual solutions, etc.

I have an organisational system which I use every day to stay focused and efficient – have you heard of the three P’s?! The three P’s are: People, Priorities and Projects. Everyday, I wake up and determine the People I will contact that day, I set out my Priorities for the day, and I plan for all my Projects – who needs support, what problems there are to be solved, what needs finalising, and so on. Having this system relaxes me as I have a structure and no matter how busy I am, I can manage my business affairs.

Q. What is the most important lesson you have learned from your experience in Sales and Marketing?

That you cannot achieve anything in any business without effective Sales and Marketing!