Onsi Sawiris, the patriarch of a family of billionaire businessmen who launched a group of multinational companies under the Orascom umbrella, died on Tuesday at the age of 90, chairman of Coptic Christian General Authority Sherif Doss announced on Facebook.
Born in 1930, Sawiris was raised in Sohag, Upper Egypt. The son of a lawyer, he received an engineering degree from Cairo University and started his own construction firm in 1950, which grew over the following decade to become one of the country’s largest contractors, building roads and waterways.
In 1976, he established the Orascom General Contracting and Trade company, which later became Orascom Construction Industries.
His conglomerate is one of the country’s largest contractors for building roads and waterways. It was expanded in the 1980s and 1990s to include tourism, hotels, information technology services and mobile phone services.
Through partnerships with international companies working on local projects, Orascom grew to be one of the largest private builders in Egypt by the mid-1990s.
Onsi diversified the business into telecommunications, real estate and fertilizer. By 1990, Orascom had evolved into three separate operating companies: Orascom Telecom, headed by his oldest son, Naguib, Orascom Development and Hotels, led by middle son Samih, and Orascom Construction Industries, that was overseen by the youngest, Nassef.
The companies, some of which have evolved into different entities or are under different leadership, now employ more than 120,000 people globally.
Onsi Sawiris is the father of famous Egyptian businessmen Naguib, Nassef, and Samih. According to Forbes, Onsi Sawiris’s net wealth is estimated at $993.8 million while his son Nassef is Egypt’s richest person with personal wealth estimated at $7.1 billion fortune.
Sawiris was also a philanthropist, establishing a foundation for social development, as well as a scholarship programme that enabled talented Egyptian students to study abroad while committing to working in the North African country after graduation.