This post is part of the My Zawya Story series.
Zawya, the MENA online business media company, was my fourth private equity direct investment and has been one of my most fulfilling and satisfying active investments, not just because of the 20x cash on cash return but also because of my participation in the leadership of building the company and charting a course to a phenomenally successful business.
I got involved in Zawya in 2001 as the founding CEO of Saffar Capital (then named ABQ Investments). Founded by British citizens of Arab decent, Zawya was based in London and after about a year of operations it had six employees. Operating in the aftermath of the bursting of the internet dot-com bubble was challenging for Zawya and raising funds was daunting. This set the stage for Saffar Capital to invest.
Ihsan Jawad, the founding CEO of Zawya, initially found it difficult to accept his new majority shareholder, as would any entrepreneur. In my role as the new Chairman of Zawya I was left with the responsibility of building an effective working relationship with the original founders and working with Ihsan in forging a strategy for Zawya that could unite the founders and Saffar Capital.
Over the next 10 years Ihsan and I worked closely to develop that strategy and execute on it. Zawya grew to become an indispensable media and information tool for investors and businesses alike, reaching well over 5,000 institutional subscribers worldwide with approximately one third based outside of the MENA region. In terms of employees, Zawya had approximately 40 in the UAE and 160 in Lebanon when we sold it. Importantly, Zawya bucked the online trend and actually delivered profits and even stronger cash flows driven by high quality subscription income.
In the following series of posts I will present my Zawya story from my personal view point and will hopefully provide insights and ideas that you will find useful.