From Egypt to Dubai and Hamburg: finance expert MAHMOUD AMER takes the club! questionnaire and reveals a fondness for Fischbrötchen.
How many people work for your company in Hamburg and worldwide?
We have around 70 people in Hamburg. We also have smaller offices in London and Sofia. As a small and growing bank, our staff numbers are constantly growing, particularly in Sofia where we currently have 15 people.
Are there any technological developments that will have a particular influence on your business development?
I think the recent developments with the Covid-19 pandemic have shown how technology can change the business environment very quickly. We have seen a seamless adaptation towards working remotely, both at our organisation and at most of our counterparties of clients and service providers. I think some changes will certainly outlive the pandemic. This will translate into long-term positive impacts on some sectors and negative impacts on others. We are lucky to be already exposed to the technology sector, which puts us in a relatively favoured position to take advantage of some of those changes.
What do you appreciate in having Hamburg as a location for your company?
Hamburg provides an exceptional quality of living. It is an excellent spot to attract and retain talent because people simply like living here. Prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, I would have said that the thing that I would like to see improve is the number of direct flight connections to other global business centres. In the current environment however, flying has become restricted for everyone regardless where they are.
Are there differences between working life between Germany and your home country?
There was something that I immediately noticed, and it is a little funny because I had heard it before arriving here and I had thought it was just a stereotype; a lot of meetings take place and they are typically long. On a more positive note, I noticed the quality of the risk/benefit assessment that goes into every significant business decision here, which is something I really appreciate.
Which characteristic do you value most in your employees?
There are two characteristics that are not necessarily related but which I value equally deeply. One is drive, which is liking what they do and being excited about new challenges. The other is attention to detail.
What’s your favourite spot in Hamburg?
If I can mention names, then it is Alster-Cliff by the Außenalster. The view there is amazing.
Is there any charity that your company supports?
One of my first experiences here at Varengold was to join an event organised by the bank to visit the children at “Die Arche” in Hamburg-Jenfeld. “Die Arche” is an organisation that provides underprivileged children with a welcoming place, where they can do homework, play, have two warm meals and just socialise with other children in a safe environment. This is a cause that is both personally close to my heart and is also critical for a healthy society.
What did you want to become when you were a child?
Many different things at different stages of childhood; policeman in kindergarten, an engineer in elementary school, a diplomat in middle school and a chemist or even historian in high school. Banking was never on the list. However, promises of a financially rewarding career made me major in finance in college. In my final semester at the university, I just went to the job fair with lots of copies of my CV and left them at many booths. I was then contacted and hired (after many interviews) by EFG-Hermes, which is the largest independent investment bank in the Middle East…that is how I started my banking career.
Where do you consider home?
Again, different places at different stages. I was born in Cairo, Egypt, but I spent the first few years of my childhood in Alexandria, for which I always have a special place in my heart. My later school years I spent in Cairo and Abu Dhabi, UAE, and my university years in Cairo and St. Paul, Minnesota. I then spent 12 years working in Dubai. Now, here I am in Hamburg and very quickly it feels like this is home.
Any recommendations for people embarking on a career while in their twenties?
My advice would be do something that you like but which is also useful for society. If you have a skill that society values, your skills will always be in demand. If you do what you like, you will be ready to fulfil that demand for your skills.
If you have friends visiting you in Hamburg, where do you like to take them?
I like to take them for a walk by the Elbe at Blankenese and then climb up the steps to have coffee at Sagebiels Fährhaus. I also like to take them for a walk around the Binnenalster and the Passagenviertel, and then a Fischbrötchen at Landungsbrücken.
Where do you like to spend your holidays?
There are a few places, but it is always nice to spend time on the western north coast of Egypt with family. I truly believe this is the best spot on the Mediterranean. Unfortunately, it is a bit difficult to plan the next vacation now during the pandemic.
Is there anything that has truly scared you?
I tried to take Baz Luhrmann’s advice (from the song “Sunscreen”) and do one thing every day that scares me, but I find it a bit difficult, given my personality. I do, however, occasionally do things that scare me. In the summer, I went climbing with my daughter in an adventure park in Switzerland, and I am never too comfortable with heights. So yes, that was scary.
Who would you like to have dinner with?
This can also be a historical person. Harry S. Truman, probably one of the most underrated figures in modern history. He made some truly world changing decisions, yet you do not really hear his name very often.
Did you have a mentor who helped you in your business career?
I think one never really stops learning, but in the early stages of my career, I learnt a lot from my MD at EFG-Hermes, Ali Husseini. I still consider him a mentor and a friend and a some-time business partner. On my part, I have always tried to share the knowledge I gained through my own experience with others.
Mahmoud has led a career in finance spanning over 15 years, where he advised on over 5bn in transaction value, across a number of sectors and geographies.
An Egyptian native, Mahmoud moved from Dubai to Hamburg in 2018 and currently heads the Credit department at Varengold Bank AG. Varengold’s core businesses are Transaction Banking/Commercial Banking and Marketplace Banking, where the Bank has established itself as a partner of Fintechs.