Jordanian entrepreneur and investor Fadi Ghandour. (Photo: 500 Startups)
In 1981, Fadi Ghandour returned to Jordan shortly after graduating from George Washington University in Washington, DC. He took a job at a rental car company in Amman, but at twenty-two, Ghandour was restless. His family was in the airline business – his father Ali Ghandour founded Royal Jordanian in 1962 – but Fadi could not wait to let his own passion for entrepreneurship take flight. In 1982, Fadi started Aramex and offered to deliver packages in the Middle East on behalf of global courier services – Airborne Express, Emery, and Federal Express.
As a neutral handler for these competing global players, Fadi and his partner Bill Kingson learned from the very best on how to grow their company. Over the next thirty years, Aramex navigated a region marred by political risks and labyrinthine bureaucracy, and grew to become the largest and most respected courier company in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region. Now, Aramex has more than 10,000 employees in over 60 countries with a reported $17.5 million in profits in the second quarter of 2012.
In his new book Startup Rising, author Christopher Shroeder describes Fadi Ghandour as “the [entrepreneurship] ecosystem builder” in the Middle East. Indeed, Fadi was a pioneer who saw opportunities in unexplored markets. Back then, there was no private equity or venture capital.
When the Internet and email were introduced, Fadi became the first to invest in the first all-Arabic portal Maktoob in the region, because “there is no wasta in the internet” – wasta being the Arabic word for the system of elite connections in politics and business that is prevalent in emerging markets such as the Middle East. Because of technological breakthroughs such as the Internet, entrepreneurs were able to commercialize their ideas before regulations caught up. In 2008, Yahoo! Bought Maktoob for $175 million.
Startup Rising is perhaps the first major portrait of the startup scene in a region that is often deeply misunderstood. It is inspiring and personal. (Shroeder, an internet entrepreneur himself, has befriended many entrepreneurs featured in this book through the Young Presidents Organization). It describes the desire of young people to have social impact through their business ventures. It also tells the story of how businesspeople have used technology, such as mobile phones, social networking websites, and solar panels, to work around cultural barriers and institutional challenges.