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North Africa’s richest man considers breaking up his billion-dollar empire

Sawiris considers OCI transformation amid asset sales

by Omokolade Ajayi
Nassef Sawiris

Egyptian billionaire Nassef Sawiris, the wealthiest individual in North Africa and one of the continent’s most affluent billionaires, is contemplating a significant overhaul of OCI Global, a conglomerate in the chemicals and fertilizer sector. 

This move follows a series of strategic shifts within his financial empire, with recent developments indicating a potential transformation of OCI Global, which has emerged as Sawiris’ most valuable asset.

Sawiris, whose net worth amounts to a staggering $8.21 billion, including substantial stakes in Adidas and OCI Global, has expressed keen interest in restructuring the Dutch-listed chemicals group OCI Global. This overhaul may involve additional divestitures and the fragmentation of Sawiris’ primary holding within the conglomerate.

Nassef Sawiris considers OCI transformation amid asset sales

The planned move coincides with Sawiris’ plans to relocate his family office to Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates. These considerations come on the heels of OCI’s recent asset sales totaling $7 billion, including the divestiture of its entire stake in the American fertilizer producer Iowa Fertilizer Company (IFCO) to Koch Industries for $3.6 billion.

In a recent interview with the Financial Times, Sawiris discussed the possibility of transforming OCI into a cash-shell entity focused on pursuing acquisitions in new industries. This strategic shift comes amidst heightened deal activity at OCI, prompted by pressure from U.S. activist investor Jeff Ubben, as well as within Sawiris’ NNS Group family office.

“We’re evaluating what we want to do, not just with the money [from the asset sales] but as a team,” Sawiris stated. “And maybe OCI stays with a piece or two pieces and it becomes a cash cow, and becomes a machine for further investment. We’re quite open-minded.”

Nassef Sawiris hails U.S. investor Jeff Ubben’s influence as OCI embraces strategic overhaul

With investors increasingly optimistic about realizing value from their investments in OCI, the conglomerate’s share price on the Euronext Amsterdam Stock exchange has increased over 3 percent this year, propelling its market capitalization above the $6.1-billion mark.

OCI’s board approved a strategic review of all business lines and its listing venue in the Netherlands following Ubben’s acquisition of a 5 percent stake. Sawiris noted Ubben’s constructive approach, noting that the activist investor’s recommendations had prompted swift action.

“We always say that we are builders, not holders,” Sawiris emphasized. “But if this asset is worth more to another party than it’s worth in the context of OCI or the public company or of myself, then that is the more deserving owner.” In the midst of these deliberations, Sawiris and OCI’s stakeholders are poised to navigate a pivotal period of transformation for the conglomerate.

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