The Career Spotlight series aims to shine a light on people from a range of different academic backgrounds and career pathways beyond the less traditional ones to inform, inspire and empower others to explore their own interests and talents. I’m constantly inspired by so many people around me who have taken the leap, challenged the status quo and pursued their passion which in some instances is different to what they studied at university. So, I’m hoping I can share their own accounts and stories to help you on your journey. To find out more about what inspired this, check out the launch blog here.
The first guest featured on the Career Spotlight blog series is Ahmed Darwish, a General Manager at Darwish Bros (Marketing Services and Restaurant Franchise Management company). Read on to learn more about his career pathway, what influenced his decision, advice for those interested in working within the marketing field and how he’s pivoting to adapt to the current COVID-19 climate.
What do you currently do?
I’m a General Manager at Darwish Bros food division which operates three restaurant brands (M Burger Joint, Munchies and Ni3ma in Sudan). I overlook all aspects of the business from HR, finance, restaurant operations, supply chain to marketing. I also head the Marketing Agency that serves our internal brands, but also provides marketing consultancy services to external clients.
What do you love most about your job?
The greater part of my career has been in marketing, having worked in the following sectors: Telecommunications, Fast Moving Consumer Goods (FMCGs), Consumer Electronics and more, before founding Darwish Bros. I’ve mostly enjoyed the exposure to diverse industries that marketing exposes me to.
Also, our food business has given us the space to be creative. By serving our diverse portfolio of clients through our Marketing Agency, we accumulated a lot of knowledge and were exposed to different types of innovation which made us realise that the sky's the limit in terms of what we can implement and how we can innovate. There is no glass ceiling.
In addition, a lot of the knowledge we gain from one industry/brand we can transfer and adapt to apply to another industry/brand. So it becomes a chain reaction of endless creativity fuelled by the innovation around us. Our current portfolio of clients operate in multiple sectors: corporate industrial brand, food, beverage and healthcare. This highlights the diversity of knowledge and insights we can input into every brand and project.
What’s an average day like in your job?
In Sudan, it's a daily case of firefighting due to the never ending issues and uncertainty. From the corruption to lack of infrastructure, and now COVID-19 at the back of the glorious Sudanese revolution, we try to resolve external issues whilst also doing everything possible to educate ourselves and teams, be creative and stay ahead of the curve.
What did you have to do to get to where you are now?
It was a mix of improvising, taking the initiative, being bold and having the confidence in my abilities.
Also, I experimented a lot. As a junior team member at the start of my career I did not shy away from making my ideas heard.
As I gained more experience and took on more senior roles, my risk appetite grew, which translated into me becoming more experimental and not being afraid to challenge the norms.
How have you been able to monetise or profit from what you do?
It’s pretty straight forward in the food business. The marketing services though are a bit tricky. I've always had to be very careful about how I value and price my “ideas”. Because that’s basically what marketing is all about. I recently did a postgraduate degree in Strategy and Innovation to enhance my knowledge and credibility to the services we provide.
In terms of pricing methodology, we try to assess what value our ideas and marketing strategies will deliver to the client, and price accordingly. Plus, we need to ensure our overheads are covered, our teams are well rewarded and that we achieve fair and ethical profit margins to build our brand and positive reputation in the field.
Why did you pursue a career in marketing?
As is the case with many people in Sudan, I grew up hearing the noise of “engineer, lawyer, doctor” as the ideal careers to pursue. My logical route would have been either a doctor, like my late dad. Or a banker, like my mother and late granddad. I tried to rebel against this boring norm as I had so many different ideas of what I wanted to be and my family were supportive. But, I was also limited to studying in Sudan, so the farthest I could go away from medicine and engineering was Biomedical Engineering. Yes, not medicine, not engineering, but a mix of both!
As soon as I graduated I attempted to leave Sudan as I was not fond of the very limited options available for biomedical engineers, despite it being an up and coming profession. It was more or less engineering opportunities for medical machines. This is far from what biomedical engineering is. It’s a very wide profession and I was more interested in genetics and genomics, tissue engineering and health economics. All of which to this day are not present in Sudan. I did a mini certificate in management whilst I explored my options. And that got me an entry level HR job at a telecommunications company in Sudan, called MTN. A few months into that HR job, I felt I hit a dead end in terms of being creative and coming up with ideas. The most I could come up with was, file colour coding and an ideas portal for staff. I realised I was leaning more towards marketing so I worked my way into the marketing division at MTN.
Simultaneously, my brother Elmontasir Darwish, was embarking on a more entrepreneurial route and establishing food outlets. So I joined forces with him on a few projects especially as our first venture together was in a crepes and waffles restaurant and then a burger joint; two of my favourite foods!
From then onward, I moved to other marketing roles in different companies, while still being slightly involved in the food business with my brother. Eventually, I started focusing mainly on our food business and established the Marketing Agency.
As I mentioned earlier, the diversity, room for creativity and limitless possibilities for innovation in marketing is what resonated and drove me further. I was enjoying working for every client we served from a variety of industries. The postgraduate degree was a great boost and helped me cement my position in the market, and also widened my perspectives and knowledge, as it was focused on Strategy and Innovation.
To what degree did your parents’ impact or influence your choice? If your parents weren’t supportive initially, are they more convinced now?
Initially, I dreamt of going into a variety of different majors. From architecture and interior design, to genetics and law. You can see below, all the degree options I considered. As supportive as my family were, their advice was always "go for engineering or medicine”.
Trying to decide on degree options!
At times, during the many obstacles we faced in the Sudanese market, I would attempt to seek out job opportunities abroad, and that’s when I realised the marketing job market is very competitive abroad. It’s in those moments that I think to myself, maybe if I had listened to my mother and pursued medicine it would have been easier for me to get a job abroad to escape the ongoing and increasing difficulties we face in the Sudanese market. But, I’m glad they supported my choice not to enter medicine and study biomedical engineering.
In hindsight, my choice to pursue a biomedical engineering degree didn’t impact my long term career. My degree was a prerequisite for landing a job in MTN but it was my ability to network internally and pursue a career in marketing which led to my current career path.
As tough as Sudan gets, it’s very rewarding excelling in your own country and contributing in any way possible.
What’s the biggest challenge now facing the marketing and restaurant sector and how are you overcoming it? How has COVID-19 impacted your role?
For the food business it is certainly very challenging. Curfews and social distancing mean we lost our peak hours and main revenue stream. We are now trying to develop our delivery services. We’re also providing retail options where customers can buy the food and ingredients uncooked and make them at home.
For the Marketing Agency, much more strategic marketing is needed to overcome the challenges and be agile and innovative in making up for lost revenue. Also, there’s been a growing demand for digital marketing, in particular social media marketing, which is becoming more in demand during these challenging COVID-19 times.
What’s your advice for students or people considering a career in marketing?
Marketing continues to be a fast evolving profession. There’s so much to learn every day.
Stay up to date, but stay focused because it could become overwhelming. Improvise and experiment. Do not stick to one industry, at least during the first years.
You can learn a lot in every sector and it will help you identify which sector you enjoy the most. Or, if you’re like me you may decide to take on a role that doesn’t limit you to one industry.
What’s your favourite food?
Burgers of course and we happen to operate a delicious burger brand in M Burger Joint.
Finally, what’s the most embarrassing situation you’ve encountered at work?
I guess when you are young and have achieved a lot for your age, you tend to subconsciously make it a habit to challenge and insist on your position and be very competitive. So I remember going on an email rant with a “rival department” and in that case they were the ones in the right. But, I was too competitive and over confident that I was blinded and too focused on just being right and on proving that they were wrong.
Hope you enjoyed reading this blog! If you did, please spread the word and share your thoughts in the comment section below. If you’d like to be featured please contact me.