Exclusive Interview and Video on Billionaire Mohed Altrad

“Those who succeed are those who learn from their mistakes”

Mohed Altrad leads a $2.6B in revenue company called the Altrad Group which sells construction and maintenance services. He started out as an orphan in Syria, earned a scholarship to study in France, and worked in tech and the oil & gas industries. He then acquired a bankrupt scaffolding manufacturer in France in 1985, and has since grown it into what is today the Altrad Group.

Below please find my personal interview with Mohed, and we have embedded a video on him as well here.

  1. What is the #1 most costly mistake you have made, or seen many investors/business owners make that could be avoided?

This is an essential question. Because mistakes are made all the time. And those who succeed are those who learn from their mistakes. Business is the school of life. The best thing you learn is from your experience. For me, I would rather talk about the mistake I didn’t make but which is the one that often dooms entrepreneurs and investors. The mistake I avoided was resignation.

I had a bad start in life: I came from a miserable place and there was a lot of drama around me in the very first years of my life. It was very hard. I should never even have gone to school. Yet I hung in there, resisted the pressure of my classmates who couldn’t stand a kid with nothing being top of the class. I fought. And I imposed myself. I managed to escape my condition. To leave Syria, to meet France, the promises of happiness, equality, fraternity. I worked hard, I created several companies. I went to the Emirates, I came back. And through sheer force of will, I managed to create what is today the Altrad group.

  1. What is the most valuable strategy, worth far more than $1 million, that you wish someone provided you with early on that you can share here?

The only strategy that works is also one that you don’t learn at school or university. The strategy that works is to do it yourself: to be where the value is, to make sure every day, every hour, that what you have promised the customer will be done at the right price, at the right time, at the right place. To achieve this, you need to know your market perfectly: competitors, prices, products. You must also always be one step ahead: how will the market be assessed? What will the competitors do? Finally, and this is essential, you must never put all your eggs in one basket: the Altrad group was built up quickly because it has always had several activities. With different economic cycles, you weather the storms and you can participate in the consolidation of the sector. The link between the two is the manager’s knowledge of his market. If you know everything, understand everything, you can act quickly.

  1. What was the major turning point, point of increased momentum, or strategic choke point, that once you acquired or completed, made everything you were doing surge forward?

Everything changed the day I realised that I could succeed. I had worked in the IT sector, I had created my own company. I sold that first company to Matra. Then Altrad was born when I took over a scaffolding manufacturer in a small town near Montpellier. I turned it around with one fixed idea: to be free. Being free in business means having few debts and lots of cash. With these two assets, you can buy other companies: you get into a bit of debt, you restructure them by managing them better, you get out of debt. And you start again. And you keep the entrepreneurs who set up these companies in the capital if they want to. This is where I understood what is most essential in success: the human factor. I give my best in my work. And I work with my employees to do the same. A lot of my time is spent on this goal: showing my employees that they can do more than they think they can. That’s the best thing about life: discovering that you are greater than you thought, that you have more know-how, more capacity. This is what I want to give to all Altrad employees, the idea that with Altrad, we go beyond the possible.

  1. Non profit

In 2011, Montpellier’s rugby lovers came to me to ask me to save the local club. That is what I did. I invested a lot in the club. With two ideas: to help young people and to give the club a future. And, at the same time, to leave my mark on the city of Montpellier, this city that I love so much and to which I owe a lot. It is my commitment to national cohesion: I like the idea that a Syrian Bedouin’s son supports a sport rooted in the traditions of the South of France. This is also what France is all about, meeting people, fraternity.