Zak El-ramly

BC Business Magazine - - Entrepreneur Of The Year 2018 - —F. S.


When Zak El-ramly was passed over for pro­mo­tion, he started his own com­pany. In 1995, he was ex­ec­u­tive vice-pres­i­dent of Pow­erex Corp., the BC Hy­dro and Power Au­thor­ity sub­sidiary that mar­kets the util­ity’s sur­plus elec­tric­ity. Some­one else was ap­pointed pres­i­dent of Pow­erex, and “I re­al­ized that my mar­ket value is higher than my cor­po­rate value, so I de­cided to leave,” El-ramly ex­plains. He founded ZE Powergroup to ad­vise util­i­ties on how to op­er­ate in a com­pet­i­tive en­vi­ron­ment fol­low­ing the dereg­u­la­tion of U.S. en­ergy mar­kets.

El-ramly came to Canada on a stu­dent visa in 1969. Born in Port Said in north­east­ern Egypt and raised in Cairo, he was teach­ing en­gi­neer­ing at Cairo’s Ain Shams Univer­sity when the Six-day War broke out in 1967. Fol­low­ing a year in Kuwait work­ing as an in­stru­men­ta­tion en­gi­neer at an oil re­fin­ery, he moved to Ottawa, where he com­pleted a mas­ter’s de­gree in com­bus­tion en­gi­neer­ing and a PHD in aero­nau­ti­cal en­gi­neer­ing at Car­leton Univer­sity. He stayed on as a flight safety re­searcher un­til 1977, when he landed an en­gi­neer­ing job with BC Hy­dro’s en­ergy con­ser­va­tion di­vi­sion in Van­cou­ver.

Sev­eral years later, by then man­ager of the util­ity’s en­ergy con­ser­va­tion group, El-ramly at­tended a NATO con­fer­ence on en­ergy man­age­ment in Por­tu­gal. “I re­al­ized how much we knew com­pared to the rest of the world,” he says, “and eu­reka, I came up with the idea of hav­ing a mas­sive pro­gram that cov­ers the var­i­ous as­pects of con­ser­va­tion in one pro­gram,” now called Power Smart. In 1990 he moved to Pow­erex.

In 2001, El-ramly cre­ated ZE Mar­ket An­a­lyzer (ZEMA), which de­vel­ops soft­ware that helps clients like Chevron Corp., Gazprom and Royal Dutch Shell use their re­sources more ef­fi­ciently. ZE Power En­gi­neer­ing, launched in 2005, de­signs elec­tri­cal sub­sta­tions, mainly in B.C.

The Rich­mond-based, fam­ily-owned ZE group of com­pa­nies has about 250 em­ploy­ees in Canada, in­clud­ing El-ramly’s five chil­dren, plus an­other 20 in the U.S., the U.K. and Sin­ga­pore. “We ac­tu­ally grad­u­ate a lot of peo­ple from our oper­a­tion, be­cause we are will­ing to train and take new­com­ers and new grad­u­ates,” El-ramly says. “Of course when you do that, you don’t have fences, and the wild horses roam around. As a re­sult, we feed the whole neigh­bour­hood with horses.”

What did your sum­mer jobs teach you about busi­ness? Think­ing you are great or know it all is one's own ma­jor short­com­ing and im­ped­i­ment to suc­cess

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