Issad Rebrab: The dreams of an optimist

Algerian entrepreneur expands his presence in Brazil and explains his investments beyond just the economic scenario

Issad Rebrab has made more frequent trips to Brazil in the past few years. And that is because his company, Cevital, is one of the largest industrial conglomerates in Algeria, which has been making voluptuous investments in Brazil. This Algerian billionaire is especially interested in Brazil, first and foremost, due to the agricultural potential of the Country, one of the few in the world capable of supplying the demands of Cevital for raw materials. Rebrab has sought to diversify his investments in order to generate wealth in diverse regions of the world, than just generating his own wealth and his own business ventures.

The Cevital group businesses are present on five continents and exploit such different segments as: steel, foods, agribusiness, and electronics. Nowadays, the food and agribusiness division of the company runs the largest sugar refineries in the world, boasting an annual production of around 1.5 million tons. Its activities even include petroleum refining, margarine production, and beverage packaging production, pickles and preserves, and in the field of port silos, as well as port terminals for unloading goods. The products are sold in several countries, especially in Europe, Maghreb, Middle East, and Western Africa.

The company is especially interested in investing in building a steel mill in Marabá, Pará State, in Brazil, estimated as a 4.5 billion Real project. The steel mill will dedicate its production to producing train rails for Latin America. Besides that, other products derived from steel will be shipped to the European and African markets by way of its Italian and Algerian group units. 20 thousand jobs will be generated during the course of the plant. After that, there will be an impact from the 2.6 thousand direct jobs and thousands of indirect jobs in the region. That type of production is unprecedented in Latin America. “We intend to make technological transfers” he kids.

That good mood was how Issad Rabrab opened his scheduling for greeting the ATLANTICO team during the 4th Brazil-Africa Forum, in Foz do Iguaçu. During the conversation, one can confirm the following; he spoke about the Cevital business ventures in Brazil, the importance of the private sector for achieving development in countries, his interest in investing in the media, and even giving tips to those who are starting businesses. “(It is necessary) to be optimistic”, he summarizes.

ATLANTICO — Cevital has carried out several prospections here in Brazil. Some agreements have been signed, including one already underway, the construction of a steel mill in Marabá, Pará State. How is Brazil important to the Cevital business deals?

Issad Rebrad — Well, first of all, in 2013, Adam Iskounen, who is our international director in Brazil made us reflect on the fact that, Cevital, the first importer of Brazilian products in Algeria, 62% of the Brazilian exportations to Algeria go through Cevital. Among the imported products from Brazil are sugar, corn, and soy flour. We have the largest sugar refinery in the world, capable of refining 2.7 million tons that we export to Europe and Africa. Our friend Paulo Hegg took us and Adam Iskoumen to Mato Grosso to discover a fantastic country. Mato Grosso is the cradle of cereal production and it is the greatest grain producer in the world. However, we confirmed its high cost of logistics. We calculated, for example, at that time, a ton of corn costs US$85 in Mato Grosso, but the logistics costs US$140 per ton; which means, the logistics costs more than the corn itself. Meanwhile, in the United States, logistics does not cost more than US$25 to US$35 per ton. Thus, that makes Brazil extremely competitive in its agricultural crop, yet it cannot escape from its logistics cost. Then, we decided to invest in logistics in Brazil. So, we decided to purchase the properties in Miritituba and in the Vila do Conde port, in Barcarena. And now, we have implemented a project in Marabá focused on iron making, at the steel mill. We are going to buy a silo in Mato Grosso, next to Vera, where we intend to invest in an industrial unit for producing ethanol. Our most important goal is to securitize Algeria and the surrounding region of Magrebe, in northern Africa on an agrifood production level. And from 2013 to up to now, we purchased the second largest steel mill in Italy in 2015 named Lucchini, which is the largest manufacture of train rails in Europe. And we had the honor of hosting the governor of Pará State in Algeria, so that he could visit the Cevital agrifood industrial facilities and we encouraged him to perform a similar transformation of the agrifood industry in Pará State and also in the steel mill industry in Marabá.

ATLANTICO — Currently, are there other ongoing projects in Brazil?

Issad Rebrad — We have many projects in Brazil, as we are involved in the agrifood industry and in logistics. In the latter, we are importing agrifood products from Brazil to Algeria and Northern Africa and exporting fertilizers to Brazil, such as phosphates and also other competitive products Algeria produces. And thus, this is how we carry out our trading in Brazil, Northern Africa, and also other African countries, such as the Ivory Coast and South Africa. Besides that, we have the opportunity to expand and apply our expertise in the steel mill purchased in Italy. As well as, we will have the opportunity to produce in Marabá, by building a steel mill complex, obviously creating 2000 direct jobs and several other thousand indirect jobs, by producing steel that we will export to Italy and Algeria, as Carajás is nearby Marabá, a large supply of reserves. This is an idea on our investments in Brazil.

“We have many projects in Brazil, as we are involved in the agrifood industry and in logistics.”

ATLANTICO: Recently, you purchased El Khabar, a media group. What was your reason for making that investment in this segment?

Issad Rebrad — I would like to recapitulate our interest by the El Khabar group, as we publish the largest Arabic language newspaper in Algiers and we have created the largest French language newspaper as well, named ‘Liberté’, in 1990. At that time, we were having serious problems of terrorism and Islamization in Algiers and so, we decided to participate in the creation in the Liberté newspaper for the purpose of fomenting freedom in Algiers, such as the freedom of speech and freedom among mankind. And, I also wish to defend the common interests of everyone. And, I wish to also defend the Republic, Justice, and legality, the oppressed and thus defend the interests of everyone. So, we first created the Liberté newspaper. And following that, as we know recently, nowadays the printed media is on the decline, due to the growth of electronic media, thus the El Khabar newspaper has been going through hardships, its former owner, my friend, asked me if we could participate in the newspaper. We know the printed media is not for making money; however the Liberté newspaper does make some money in our country. But, above all, we wish to participate in the progress of our country. It is our duty to participate in the social life and raise the social life of our country.

ATLANTICO: You are one of the main entrepreneurs on the African continent, especially in Magreb. Your story encourages many people. Are you interested in participating in politics?

Issad Rebrad: Well, I am an economic operator. I create jobs, generate wealth, participate in the economic development of Algeria, Africa, and in any country where we have made investments. We cannot do two things at the same time nowadays. One thing I truly love is creating wealth and generating jobs. So in this manner, I feel useful to my country, as well as Africa, and the countries where we have made investments.

“We know the printed media is not for making money; however the Liberté newspaper does earn some in our country. But, above all, we wish to participate in the progress of our country.”

ATLANTICO: How can the private sector contribute to the development of the African continent?

Issad: Listen, nowadays the private sector, in any country certainly wishes to achieve economic, agricultural, and social development, as well as improve the quality of life of people, as these drive development. Firstly, it is necessary to develop industry, capture the latest technology from a global and competitive vision in order to produce quality, as quality products can be sold to everyone. And simultaneously, the private sector develops wealth, jobs, agriculture, and enhances the social level of people in general. The Cevital group also invests in men and women in order to grant further competencies among all their different employees. Nowadays, the greatest wealth of countries is more than anything else, knowhow. And when knowhow is developed, we achieve development throughout all fields. And the Cevital group invests a great deal in professional preparation among men and women.

ATLANTICO: In order to make investments, it is necessary to supply a safe environment. Big investments are necessary to make a safe environment, from the social point of view, as well as legal. In your opinion, would that be the main problem in attracting investment to Africa? What other problems can you point out?

Issad Rebrad — Our obligation is exactly the creation of jobs and wealth, in order to decrease instability. When people are employed and paid their salary correctly, they live better. They will no longer commit violent acts. Contrary to this, it will generate violence. If young people do not have anything to eat and if parents of families do not have the basic necessities to supply their children, certainly those parents will act violently, and violence creates further violence. Thus, as an economic operator, it is our duty to participate in the construction or development of any country, so it can know what stability is like. As, if this does not happen, stability will not occur. It is our duty to create wealth for everyone. And that is what contributes to the stability of the country.

“I create jobs, generate wealth, participate in the economic development of Algeria, Africa, and in any country where we have made investments.”

ATLANTICO: What are your recommendations or tips for anyone beginning to make any business venture?

Issad Rebrad — According to my own experience, what I would tell the young people here is the same as I have told the Algerian young people: firstly, it is necessary to believe in yourselves. Everything is possible. Being ambitious and perseverant in everything you do and always continue dreaming. The best thing the Good Lord has given humans is the ability to dream. Besides that, always be optimistic, be an optimist, and always think positive.

ATLANTICO: What are your expectations regarding the dialogs promoted by the Brazil-Africa Forum?

Issad Rebrad — What you are doing is wonderful. The “good word” from everyone who works in the south-south cooperative will promote economic development between Africa and Brazil. When people stop starving to death, culture will arise automatically. But, if people are starving to death and they do not have anything to eat, then there is no culture, they cannot think about culture. Primarily, that is what human beings are like and the next level is intellectual development, where they find culture. And culture is an excellent thing, but the top priority is not to let people starve to death.

“Thus, as an economic operator, it is our duty to participate in the construction or development of any country, so it can know what stability is like.”

Issad Redrab is 72 years old and he is the ninth richest person in Africa. According to Forbes Magazine, his fortune is estimated at 3.1 billion dollars, and his riches did not come overnight. He was born in the city of Taguemount-Azouz in 1944; Issad began his career as an accountant, as head of an accounting company, established in 1968. Three years later, he was invited by one of his clients to purchase 20% of the shares of a steel construction company, Sotecom. After that, he made great progress in the metallurgic and steel mill sectors, and then he expanded to the food industry, as he established Cevital, in 1998. He is married and the father of five offspring — one woman and four men, who are all working with him in his company nowadays.

*With translations of @Bruno Eliezer and Maurice Strauss