15 CEOs to watch 2015: Ahmed Heikal

15 CEOs to watch 2015: Ahmed Heikal

Ahmed Heikal, Founder and Chairman, Qalaa Holdings, Egypt

At Citadel Capital, now Qalaa Holdings, Ahmed Heikal has led the creation of Africa’s largest private equity company, taking it out of Egypt and into opportunities across the continent.

The company is a behemoth by African standards, with $9.5bn in assets under management and $4.2bn worth of assets on its balance sheet. Over the years it has built up investments in five key sectors: energy, cement, transport and logistics, agribusiness and mining.

In 2014, the company began its transition from a private equity company to an investment holding company, changing its name from the English ‘Citadel’ to the transliteration of the same word in Arabic: ‘Qalaa’. The shift, the company said, is to reflect its “fundamental confidence” in the prospects for the region it invests in, which now spans across the Maghreb and through East Africa, as far south as Mozambique.

Among its more colourful investments was the 2010 investment in the so-called ‘Lunatic Line’, the colonial-era Rift Valley Railway through Kenya and Uganda. The firm has continued to invest in the line, which is looking like an increasingly sound gamble after oil finds in both countries.

2015 could be a critical year for Qalaa, which plans to issue $560m worth of shares as part of its restructuring into a holding company. The company plans to become a $1bn revenue company by the end of the year. As Egypt’s political transition continues to spook investors and depress the local economy, that could mean more expansion in the rest of Africa.

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