Learn to Enjoy the Taste of Failure, Egyptian Business Leader Advises UVA Darden Students

By Jay Hodgkins

The taste of failure is not so bad.

At least that’s true for Egyptian entrepreneur, angel investor and businessman Moustapha Sarhank after a long career that has survived multiple business failures, bankruptcies and even political revolutions in his home country.

“One thing I have learned is that when I get punched in the face, I stand up again,” Sarhank told students during a recent visit to the University of Virginia Darden School of Business. “You will always hear this from entrepreneurs. We embrace failure. We love failure. Because I know the minute I’m going to go down, I’m going to stand up again. The taste of failure is nice because after failure, there is success.”

Sarhank, who introduced Microsoft and Oracle to the Middle East, is also a fellow in the Olsson Center for Applied Ethics at Darden and visits the School annually as a lecturer. Just a week before his visit, the scholar and honorary chairman of the Sarhank Group for Investments was named the secretary general of the International Advisory Board for the Suez Canal Economic Zone, also known in Egypt as “the Great Egyptian Dream.”

While he has found more stability and success in his career today, he retains his appetite for risk and potential failure as an angel investor. He acknowledged that success has allowed him to absorb failures without forcing his family to “live on the tuna can,” as it once did early in his career. However, he advised students to tolerate risk and failure when starting out in their own ventures because they are necessary before an entrepreneur can truly experience success.

Sarhank also praised the value of what students learn at business schools like Darden, but stressed that lifelong learning would be critical for business leaders to continue to lead effectively.

“We go to schools like Darden to learn the tricks of surviving the jungle, but then you have to go back to the jungle to test what you’ve learned. And when you test what you’ve learned, you have to have the ability to assimilate new techniques,” Sarhank said. “Read continuously. Read anything you see. Read new business techniques. … It’s like medicine. You have to always be at the latest threshold of the latest technology.”

Surviving business failures hasn’t been the only challenge in Sarhank’s career. His businesses have also had to survive two political revolutions and regime change — from former presidents Hosni Mubarak and Mohamed Morsi to current President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi.

Sarhank commended Sisi for re-establishing stability in Egypt, fighting the threat of religious extremism in the country and region against foes like ISIS, and for reigniting economic development. However, he told students that none of Egypt’s leaders were all good or bad.

“I don’t look at each president as good or bad. Each president has good and has bad.”

The key to surviving as a business leader through a shifting and volatile political climate, Sarhank said, has been to “stay just” — not get too close to any regime or push too far away.

C-Suite, Middle East, Africa
About the University of Virginia Darden School of Business

The University of Virginia Darden School of Business delivers the world’s best business education experience to prepare entrepreneurial, global and responsible leaders through its MBA, Ph.D., MSBA and Executive Education programs. Darden’s top-ranked faculty is renowned for teaching excellence and advances practical business knowledge through research. Darden was established in 1955 at the University of Virginia, a top public university founded by Thomas Jefferson in 1819 in Charlottesville, Virginia.


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