Al-Ashmouni Who Achieved Plato’s Dream

January 9, 2024

In one of the days of 1932, just before the English writer John Galsworthy won the Nobel Prize for Literature, Mahmoud El-Araby was born to a farmer father and a poor family in the village of Ashmoun, part of the Monufia Governorate in Egypt. This governorate has continued to produce presidents and ministers up to the present day. His father sent him to the "kuttab" at the age of three to memorize the Qur'an. However, as the family's economic conditions worsened, he did not receive formal schooling. He began his commercial journey with 40 piasters at the age of five, learning all the tricks through experience and seizing every opportunity that came his way. After his father's death, El-Araby moved to Cairo to work, established his own business, and continued to develop it until the early 1970s. During this time, Mahmoud sought to obtain a franchise from a leading global company in the electrical appliances industry. He met a Japanese student studying at the American University in Cairo who frequently visited his stores. Fortunately, this person worked for Toshiba, the leading Japanese technology company at the time. Mahmoud earned Toshiba’s trust and founded "Toshiba El-Araby" in 1978. The series of commercial successes and expansions continued, earning him the well-deserved title of “Shahbandar of Traders,” which means the chief of traders.

You might think this is just another entrepreneur's story, shared to ride the global trend of entrepreneurship content. But the story hasn't even begun yet!

Despite El-Araby’s empire employing over 40,000 workers, Mahmoud treated his employees uniquely, distinguishing himself from other entrepreneurs and decision-makers. He often said, "These people work with me, not for me," considering his employees as partners in the business. He even established executive rules favoring employees! After two years of employment, employees received a share of the company’s profits and enjoyed special social benefits, including education for their children and trips for Hajj and Umrah.

I did not want to mention the positives of this approach or the returns from it, to avoid adding a materialistic or contractual aspect to the story. But I must mention them! This approach earned him the respect and appreciation of all his employees. This strategy had numerous positive aspects, such as increased loyalty, retention rates, especially among the competent ones, and enhanced work efficiency and productivity, as employees felt valued, respected, and responsible as partners in the business. Mahmoud's humanity was evident during the COVID-19 pandemic when he reassured his employees, saying, "The ship will continue to sail safely and securely," instilling confidence and job security.

Mahmoud managed to create an ideal work environment in a challenging industrial field, where employees received the company’s respect and appreciation, and the company received the employees' focus and dedication. Thus, we can say this environment is the "Utopia" Plato dreamed of and Mahmoud El-Araby, the son of Ashmoun village, achieved. May he rest in peace.

What businesses and decision-makers lack is not humanity or capability to do what Mahmoud El-Araby did, but this culture – the culture of our understanding of work environments and employees, a culture that makes the human element the most important in the work system, the culture of the employee before the money. Therefore, in our Arab region, we need to enhance this culture through universities and academic institutions or through active communities that bring together HR managers, CEOs, decision-makers, and influencers in this field, like the “Workplace Utopia” community on LinkedIn!

What is the Utopia?

An amazing and light Arab community that brings together decision-makers, HR managers, and influencers to discuss and exchange ideas and information on enhancing employee happiness and creating better work environments.

What are the goals of Utopia?

Simply put, through Workplace Utopia, we aim to promote the concept of employee happiness and its importance through discussions, workshops, and sharing experiences of those interested in this field.