The story of Jordanian pharmaceutical giant Hikma: from bartering to IPO [Case Study]

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This is the fifth post in our case study series, in partnership with the El Khazindar Business Research and Case Center (KCC) at the American University in Cairo's School of Business, Wamda and Aramex, offering an in-depth look at 12 leading startups from Egypt, Jordan, the UAE, Palestine, and Lebanon, highlighting their startup stories, major challenges, and future plans.

When he was just ten years old, Jordanian entrepreneur Samih Darwazah was inspired to build his own business after visiting a local soap company. After years of hard work and study, he later went on to found one of the Middle East and North Africa’s leading pharmaceutical companies in Amman in 1978.

Darwazah first got on the path to entrepreneurship at the American University of Beirut where he graduated with a degree in Pharmacy, later landing a Fulbright Scholarship to study medical science in the U.S. After living in St. Louis, Missouri, he next moved to Italy where he spent 12 years working at a multinational pharmaceutical company before moving back to Jordan to launch Hikma.

During the early years of the company, Darwazah focused on getting FDA approval and expansion into other countries, including Lebanon, Syria and Iraq. To further facilitate this process, the company, for a time, even bartered with consumers in Syria for peanuts, in Sudan for sesame, and in Iraq for two-year letters of credit. Throughout its history, the company has focused on giving back to its community, whether through environmental safeguards, effective waste treatment, outreach programs and fundraisers.

Building a global brand

In 1991, Hikma acquired U.S.-based West-Ward Pharmaceuticals and was able to turn some of the company’s major operational challenges around, making the branch fully FDA compliant and thus turning Hikma into the first Arab company to receive FDA approval. In 1995, Darwazah became Jordan’s Minister of Energy and Mineral Resources and his son Said Darwazah took over as CEO for the next eight years. By the late 90’s, Hikma had also began exporting to Eastern Europe and later built their own manufacturing plant in Portugal which was operational by 2001.

Samih returned in 2003 with the goal of taking Hikma public while acquiring companies in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, Algeria and Jordan. In 2005, Hikma had its initial public offering (IPO) on the London Stock Exchange, which has propelled it to its success today, spanning across 50 countries 17 of which are in the region, making it the fifth-largest pharmaceuticals manufacturer in the Arab world today.

While Hikma continues to expand around the world, the company also seeks to build local trust through CSR programs but also through employee development and brand adoption; sometimes Hikma won’t change the name of an acquired company if the brand’s name is already trusted locally.

Check out the full case study in the grey box to the right for a thorough overview of the global pharmaceuticals industry and a deeper look into the Hikma’s story.

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