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An interview with the visionary behind Lustica Bay: Samih Sawiris

Samih Sawiris of Orascom, the company behind Luštica Bay, reveals the philosophy that underlies his work, tells us the story of the development, and shares his vision of its future.

Samih Sawiris, founder of Orascom Development

Samih Sawiris of Orascom, the company behind Luštica Bay, reveals the philosophy that underlies his work, tells us the story of the development, and shares his vision of its future.

‘I never had any intention of going into the family business, but I knew even before I left school that I wanted to create a business and use that business to become rich. I started doing the odd deal and trade at university, and when I left I founded a company producing and selling boats which made my first million. I’ve always loved the ocean – I get sick if I stray too far from water. Then I drifted into real estate, and stayed there for 30 years.

The Philosophy of Orascom- El Gouna as a flagship destination

‘The philosophy of Orascom Development and Luštica Bay has evolved out of many mistakes I’ve made along the way. I can arrogantly claim that there is no one alive who’s made so many mistakes – I can write the book. Our first project, El Gouna, started off as a plan for a few villas and a marina for sailors and fishermen. In my wildest imagination I would never have believed this 500,000-square-metre project would ultimately cover nearly 40,000,000 square metres and house 30,000 residents.

‘The project turned out to be a failure, because the infrastructure those few villas needed was costing so much – so I had to react before people discovered it was a failure. I built more villas, and reached critical mass; but now I had people coming to stay, I had to consider what if someone had an accident – what do you do with the poor person, throw him in the sea? So I built a clinic. Then I realised my employees needed a school, and after that I had to build houses for the teachers, and a decompression chamber for injured divers, and more and more generators to light the town. ‘Now, when friends come and visit they say, “So Samih, which bit exactly is your project?” The whole of El Gouna looks and feels so organic, so much like a proper place, that they can’t believe it was all built by Orascom. It’s very frustrating after the millions I’ve spent on marketing! So our philosophy is really the consequence of solving problems caused by the mistakes I’ve made along the way.

El Gouna red Sea orascom project

‘My commitment to sustainability and the environment is a little different. I’m a fanatical lover of the sea; some time ago I realised that human beings were abusing nature, and the sea is an integral part of nature. I noticed how much fewer fish there were, how many dead reefs, how much litter in the ocean. And I decided that we needed to preserve this planet a bit better.
Not only that, but I’ve watched the development of environmental law. I’m getting bravos for doing things everyone will have to do in a few years’ time. So my approach is, why not do it early and garner the gratitude? El Gouna has just been described by the UN as the most environmentally friendly town on the planet. I’m delighted, but a decade from now I’m hoping it will have been overtaken by many other towns.

Andermatt in Switzerland - another project of Orascom

Our environmental policies make good business sense too. Our newest development is in Andermatt in Switzerland and the Swiss would never have permitted it if they’d visited El Gouna and been disappointed by our standards. Much the same applies to our attitude to our staff and the local area. I’m a great believer in being plugged into the community. The community gives you strength – I come from Upper Egypt and there, part of your wealth is the number of people who depend on you and like you. There’s nothing that makes one more proud than being hailed as el capo, but it can’t be because people are scared – because you’re making them stand in line and cheer you like a dictator.

The Chedi Andermatt switzerland Orascom

‘When people identify with a place, they don’t steal from it. If you’re not stuck in a filthy little room with six other guys waiting for the holidays to come so you can see your family for 10 days – if Luštica Bay is properly your town – then you have a completely different attitude towards it. We win awards for our service and get by far the highest rates of repeat visitors in Egypt because of the way we treat our employees. Part of your capital is the happiness of the people who work for you, and again, the Swiss would never have signed off Andermatt if they’d visited one of our sites and been told by staff that I was cruel or criminal.

The Development in Montenegro

But for me, the thing that sets Luštica Bay apart is that it’s built around a place that has existed for many, many years. I compare it to mixing a new wine with a vintage. The result is so much better.
The fact that Luštica Bay has original buildings at its core will give it such incredible charm. It has a better chance of looking like a proper town in 10 years, rather than in 30 years. And Montenegro itself is such a quaint country. ‘I really believe that Kotor Bay will soon be the best place on the Adriatic. The One&Only and the Four Seasons are coming; it’s going to be incredible. As for me, now I’m no longer hands-on at the company, I can relax – although I reserve the right to give my team hell if I think a building looks ugly! I own two football teams, one in Egypt and one in Switzerland, and I’ve fulfilled a 30-year dream to build a boat big enough to go around the world. We’re currently in Australia; our next stop is India or Oman, and then we’re back to Egypt.

Lustica Bay Montenegro

‘My bucket list is empty, but I’m closely involved with the Sawiris Foundation for Social Development. We’ve made so much money and now it’s time to give some of it back; partly because it wouldn’t help the kids or anyone else to give them too much, and partly because we can’t continue having 2-3% of the global population owning 90% of the wealth. It will drive the world into chaos. I believe it will become the norm to give back and a big chunk of my net worth is devoted to the foundation, building schools and hospitals and training young people for work.

 

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