A life lesson that Michel Fahmy learnt early in his career is one that resonates with him even today.
Early in his career while working for Procter and Gamble selling health and beauty products, he was keen to perform at his best and make a mark for himself. ‘I would always tell my boss to give me more, more, more,’ he says.
The boss did and Michel found himself working until 11pm for weeks on end. ‘[This went on] until I burnt out and told him I could not handle any more. That’s when he told me: life is not a race, it’s a marathon. Learn to pace your energy, prioritize what’s important and focus, instead of trying to do it all.’
It is a lesson he still remembers. ‘I learnt that I had to talk with my actions more than just my words. I refused to simply coast through the system, and I learned as much as I could every day. A lot of great experiences followed.’
Today, with over two decades of experience in various fields including sales, marketing and management, Michel Fahmy is President of ALDO Group International overseeing development of franchises stores in more than a hundred countries stretching from Middle East and Africa, covering Europe, Asia Pacific and Latin America. Michel’s responsibilities include managing teams that support ALDO’s international businesses, developing markets, merchandising and training at franchise stores, along with omnichannel transformaiton, while ensuring alignment with the company’s business model.
Excerpts from an interview:
What is your definition of success?
For me, success is reaching your full potential in all aspects of life and not only in your job, finding joy and contentment along the way. More than just about your own success, it’s being a force for good, inspiring and uplifting others who find success in turn.
Who have been your mentors in business? What are the 5 lessons you have learnt from them?
I have never had just one mentor who guided me. I believe each person can inspire and teach you a super power, so in that sense, many people have mentored me and inspired me.
For example, my father, who had a consulting company, taught me the principles of integrity and hard work. What defines a man is not what he accomplishes but what he stands for.
I love reading and have learnt a lot that way. Stephen Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective people or Good to Great by Jim Collins are examples of books that have helped me a great deal in my professional life.
Lately, Aldo Bensadoun, founder of the ALDO Group, has shown me that passion for what you do is ageless! His relentless pursuit of excellence and how he works with love and respect for others is truly inspirational.
What got you interested in a career in business?
I originally thought I was going to be an engineer, but when I took my first business class, I discovered a world that combined both creativity and problem-solving techniques and called on both left and right brain functions. I remember the project was we had to create a business case. I launched a small catering company as cooking was my passion, and it went well and led me to greater jobs. When I started studying marketing, it ignited a passion in me. Discovering who the consumer is, what they desire and how to speak to them – it’s exciting.
Who are your pillars of strength?
My foundation is my faith, my friends my family. I have two wonderful daughters, aged 15 and 14. It’s what keeps me calm in the face of any storm.
What do you look for when recruiting staff- attitude or aptitude?
They go hand-in-hand, but we always need attitude. Aptitude without the right attitude means no learning spirit and ability to lead others. They will actually start to discourage others. Competence and the right attitude mean you can learn anything.
Sustainability is fast becoming a key factor in defining a fashion corporate’s business model. How is ALDO incorporating it?
ALDO values are to be a force for good. It‘s about the social compliance of factories, how we treat our teams, partners and our consumers with love respect and integrity, and our sense of responsibility towards social and environmental concerns that relate to our planet.
We are focused on reducing our carbon emissions, a key aspect to our climate strategy. Our ambition is to achieve net-zero emissions (Net 0) by 2050. On top of that, since 2020, all our Call It Spring products are PETA-approved Vegan, a seal of trust which we’re immensely proud of.
Post Covid, comfort has gained prominence over fashion. What is ALDO doing to ensure its shoes are comfortable as well as stylish?
Earlier this fall, we launched our newest footwear innovation: Pillow Walk technology. With Pillow Walk, we wanted to address a few things: first we know there’s a pent-up demand for dress, but customers still desire comfort.
Second, ALDO’s always been known as a top destination for dress, but with Pillow Walk we’re re-introducing ourselves as a company that can do both, producing beautiful footwear that you also don’t want to take off. The technology we’ve developed is a moulded sock foam that provides extra padding at the heel and ball of the foot that helps provide comfort. Imagine looking great and feeling great day to night.
How do you define the fashion sensibilities of the Middle East woman? And how is ALDO catering to their unique discerning taste?
I believe the Middle Eastern woman is changing and embracing fashion as a way of self-expression of who she is. She is discerning, looking for brands that deliver on both style, quality, and price. We believe ALDO is the brand that can meet all their needs. From her nights out, prom, her wedding, to her first job, to life’s special moments, whenever they fall throughout the week and at whatever time of the year. ALDO has you covered. We can adapt our products to the needs of the moment. During the pandemic, we sold more casual shoes as people were stuck at home and now we are back to predominantly dress as the consumers have started going out again.
ALDO is known for its association with influencers. What are your insights from these campaigns?
We love that we are partnering with multiple influencers at a time. We are a brand in over 110 countries and our diversity is what makes us stand apart from other brands. We want to not only have diverse nationalities, but diverse personalities. We recently partnered with Marwa Al Hashimi who is a horseback rider, but also a model, actor, and a former pageant contestant and finalist for Miss Universe UAE. She is an empowering role model for young women with her thriving success in a competitive sport that is dominantly male, where she was doubted and told that she could not succeed. It’s an honour to partner with woman and men who embody what it means to be truly empowered in all aspects of life and for ALDO to be with them every step of the way.
Do you believe it is possible to have a work-life balance?
Yes, but it will never be perfect and it’s something you will always have to strive for and work on, because if you stop making a conscious effort, you will lose that balance quickly. Now, we all have a different definition of what work-life balance means. I believe it’s more about seasons of life and moments in the year, as there is no typical week. You need to see it as a whole.
It definitely means working hard and being ultra-efficient. I am obsessed with my calendar and not letting anyone take it hostage. I make sure to have short meetings with action plans and next steps. I put my personal responsibilities, family time, friends, hobbies – everything that is important – in my calendar.
One moment where I learned this the hard way was when I lived in New York. I was working long hours and got out of shape. I had a hard time mustering the energy to do anything but work and sleep. So I got a trainer, got back in shape and it gave me the energy to perform better in my job. I ask myself daily what is important and what counts. I believe it makes you better in the long run if you take care of your health balance work with life outside of it.
Every month, I review where I am with my goals in the different aspects of my life. I’ve learnt over time to accept that it will never be perfect – and that’s ok! As long as I try some adjustments the following month! It’s a journey.
How do you relax?
I love working out one hour every day. Bike, hike, walk dog, kayak, run, spend time with my kids – I need to be active.
I wanted to be a chef growing up, so I do a lot of the cooking on the weekend. Cooking for family and friends and spending time is a great way to relax and I love the quality time of gathering for a meal.
Be a servant leader. Be humble and inspire others by showing them instead of only telling them what to do.
Be resilient. People need a captain who is calm to lead them through the storms. Remember that it always looks easier from the outside, so don’t be like the fan at sports games who’s quick to start criticizing the players.
Be a life-long learner. Learn as much from people under you than people above you. Learn from the good examples (what to do) and the bad examples (what not to do).
Be courageous. Life is about making choices, prioritizing your time and when you make mistakes, trying again! If we risk nothing, we get nothing.