Volume 9, Issue 5                     September/October  2005

One Man's Mission to Keep His Country Safe

by Brigid O'Leary

Sharm al-Sheikh, leaving 83 people dead and 200 injured. The incident came as a surprise, particularly to the tourists visiting the resort—few have experience with terrorism firsthand. However, the citizens of Cairo have been the targets of domestic terrorism over the years, albeit less frequently in recent years than in the past. 

Enter Walid Bishara, owner and general manager of Armashield, Egypt. Bishara has brought security film to the forefront of the protection market in Egypt and made a name for himself throughout the industry and in his country.

In the Beginning
It’s been more than a decade now, since Bishara first learned of security window film and what it could do to protect people. In 1993 he received a videotape from British company Armashield Holdings that showed a demonstration of British army field tests illustrating security film’s resistance to projectiles, including Molotov cocktails. 
The timing of the video couldn’t have been better. Around the same time Bishara was reviewing the tape, his country was facing a dark time in its cultural history.

“In the early 1990s, the evil face of terrorism appeared in Egypt in a series of bombings and a number of assassination attempts. I decided to start immediately introducing this magical, reasonably-priced solution to help save lives and to minimize injuries caused by terrorist attacks,” Bishara says in an e-mail interview from his office in Cairo.
By the fourth quarter of the year, Bishara had launched Armashield Egypt and started introducing security, solar-control and decorative window films to his compatriots.

Scraping By
Knowing that security window film could help save lives in his country was one thing; getting others to believe in it was another. Armashield Egypt’s first year was a struggle, Bishara says, as he worked to convince his peers that the product would work to save lives.

“During the first year, I suffered a lot because there was no awareness in the Egyptian market about window films, and most customers didn’t believe that this polyester film could protect them from danger as they believe only in traditional solutions such as guards, security cameras, steel bars, etc.,” he says.

Though solar-control film sold well from the start, it took almost a year to establish the Armashield Egypt name for security film. However, the company got a break in late 1994 when the contractor EBASCO imported glass from the United States. EBASCO had built the U.S. embassy in Cairo and was used to importing products. Upon its arrival, the glass, to which security film had been applied before shipment, appeared to have been scratched. In actuality, all that was damaged was the security film and EBASCO wanted it corrected before installation. Aiming to finish the project in time, EBASCO enlisted the aid of Armashield Egypt to remove and replace the damaged security film. By successfully fulfilling the need, Armashield Egypt earned a much-needed ally.

“Armashield … received a very nice thank-you letter from EBASCO. This reference letter played a very important role convincing customers that security window films are very important and efficient; that’s why the U.S. Department of State is using them to protect people from bomb attacks,” says Bishara. 

With a well-known contractor in his corner, Bishara was able to build his business into a successful company that is now a regional player in northern Africa and the Middle East, and has done business on an international level, completing work in Cyprus as well as in some Asian countries.

From “Vulture” to Guardian
Before becoming a regional and international presence, the company—and Bishara himself—had to overcome not only skepticism but criticism as well. What Bishara saw as blessing and a business opportunity that would allow him to help his countrymen, others viewed as business venture that was crass and unfeeling, taking advantage of the misery of others.

“Potential customers were thinking that my business was relying on the misfortune of others, i.e. being victims of terrorist attacks or natural disasters,” Bishara explains.

To overcome this stigma, Bishara pulled out all the stops available to him. He showed pictures, videos and reports from around the world that illustrated just how important security window film can be. It helped that the security departments of many foreign-owned companies were required to install security window film, and though some of the local employees were still unsure that a thin piece of plastic sheeting could protect them, it quickly became evident to the skeptics just how well security film could work.

“After a couple of incidents where it was very clear that window film saved lives, people started to believe in the product and I noticed a huge difference in their attitude,” says Bishara. 

Standing Strong
The truest test of a company trying to make its name is the company’s product performance when it is put to the ultimate test. For Bishara and his staff at Armashield, window film has passed the test on numerous occasions.
Among the tests that windows protected by Armashield-installed security window film have undergone include every day incidents, such as preventing car theft (in at least 10 cases of which Bishara is aware) to large-scale attacks against people and infrastructure. 

One of the most recent events that showcased the company’s work was the attack on the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) building in Cairo last year (see Window Film, November/December 2004 p. 6). In May of 2004, Sudanese refugees, protesting what they perceived as the Commission’s lack of services attacked the building, throwing stones and bricks. The window film held and no injuries were reported inside the building.

However, that incident is far from the only example of large-scale protection that the company has provided. Other clients include U.S. Embassies in Djibouti, Ethiopia, Eritrea and Mali, the Canadian Embassy, the EU and Procter & Gamble and many banks within the country, as required by the Central Bank of Egypt. The Armashield Egypt website has no less than 50 letters of commendation from clients.

In February 2005, Bishara spoke before an audience at the International Window Film Conference, Expo and Tint-Off™, giving anecdotal evidence of the power of protective film and what it can do for a community, as well as business advice (see A Magical Gathering, Window Film, March/ April 2005 p. 12-15). Not only did Bishara discuss what happened at the UNHCR, but also how he landed an account with a popular, widespread and easy target few may have thought of as a place for a security window film sale—McDonalds. 

The fast-food chain had a branch open near the local college, just as it has many places around the world. The franchise owners didn’t think security film was imperative for their businesses, and dismissed the idea that any of the McDonald’s in Cairo could be the target of terrorism. Bishara convinced the owners to let him apply security film to the windows of the restaurant near the college—for free. One free job turned into a plethora of work when the restaurant became the site of a terrorist bombing two weeks later. The work performed by Armashield Egypt mitigated the damages and injuries, and by midnight that night, Bishara had a contract to apply security film to every McDonald’s in Cairo. 
And that work was well received.

“I would like to grasp this to convey my thanks to Armashield and all its staff members for a job beautifully done. The installers really showed discipline in what they did. They worked in a professional way to insure that they stick to their time limit and finished their installation in a neat and tidy manner within the limited period that they were given. I can guarantee for Armashield a good and promising future if they keep on going with this enthusiastic pace and articulate attitude. Thank you Armashield for all your efforts and support!” wrote Tarek Bassily, assistant construction manager for the McDonalds in Egypt.

In some ways, Bishara has found his niche by working with large, international companies.

“Multinational companies such as IBM, Proctor & Gamble, McDonald’s, HSBC, etc., have instructed their branches in Egypt to apply security film to all of the glass doors and panels and in new branches or offices, their employees are not allowed to move in and begin work until security window film is installed,” Bishara says. “That reflects the importance of security film and the high level of awareness that exists in these companies.”

No “I” in Team
Applying film to all the locations of a business’ entire chain in one city, national and international banks and embassies—a company doesn’t build that kind of business overnight nor is such success achieved by one person alone. Bishara’s company has grown to 29 employees, including 16 applicators, one civil engineer, two secretaries and five sales and marketing personnel, and the success of the company hinges on each of them.

“Every member is playing a vital role as we are working in harmony as one family,” Bishara says of his employees. “I believe that our strength is due to our professional installers who built Armashield’s name in Egypt, Africa and the Middle East. I consider them a treasure.”

His crew has garnered its fair share of individual praise in the letters of recommendation as well.

“The installation was done in a perfect and quick way with no interruption to our office’s daily schedule. I would like to extend my special thanks and gratitude to Mr. Peter Botros Tawfik who performed the work in a professional and courteous manner. We were also very happy to have him with us for a couple of days,” wrote Célestin Bado, acting country manager of the World Bank Office in Burkina Fasso.

Though his name is mentioned in several letters of appreciation on the Armashield website, Tawfik isn’t the only member of the Armashield team to receive personal praise. 

Magdy Mkhail and Kamal Azmir received personal praise from Nasr Saif Al-Ozaibi, projects manager for Tamareed company’s Najd Compound in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

Wendy Bashnan, regional security officer for the U.S. embassy in Eritrea named three installers with whom she worked—Milad Labib, Sameh Asham and Remon Safwat —in her letter of praise to the company; Helmy Aziz Habib Girges and Sheif Samir Girgis Mansour received acclaim from Lana Mourtada, office administrator at the World Bank office in Beirut, Lebanon.

A harmonious, well-trained staff is one thing, but it doesn’t hurt to back your workers with access to and knowledge of a range of quality products. The 16 installers can install film using wet glaze, FrameGard, Gullwing and Lifeline attachments, and they apply film from Bekaert, FTI, Madico and 3M, depending on the job. 

Bishara has also ensured that the company is socially responsible and gives back to the window film industry as well. Not only does it offer professional training courses to companies in other countries as a way to encourage and teach professional installations, the company has also created an unofficial program wherein excess safety and security film from consumer job sites can be used to secure schools and non-profit organizations for free (see sidebar, Generosity Defined, page 26).

Raising Awareness
Every country in the world has different laws and regulations regarding window film and its use, and different market strengths, of course. According to Bishara, in Egypt the primary segment of window film sales is in security window film, followed by decorative and solar control film, respectively. Despite the growing reliance on security window film among government officials and business decision makers, the average Egyptian citizen is less aware of the products available to keep them safe.

“Although awareness of security films is confined to the elite, we are doing our best to enhance it among the other strata of the population by placing ads in the national newspapers,” he says.

However, fewer are able to afford it for residential applications.

“They still cannot afford to buy security film even if we offer the lowest price in the world,” Bishara says.
Automotive film is a different story. Currently illegal for security reasons, a market has still developed for cheap, black market films. 

“The cost of one medium-sized passenger car is around $14.00 for the side and rear glass,” says Bishara, who is working with local authorities in hopes to get window film with a minimum VLT of 70 percent legalized. 
The illegal films are imported most frequently from China and Thailand and purchased by teenagers and college students who are looking for privacy. Though the police rarely tolerate it, some will take the risk and tint the windows, feeling that the punishment is worth the effort if they get caught. According to Bishara, enforcement of the tint law is up to the individual police officer and many will let very light tint go. However, if a citizen is stopped for illegal tint, their license is revoked, they are fined and told to remove the film. When they can show that the film has been removed, their license is returned.

Bishara feels that the legalization of window film would be a welcome change, so long as people can afford it. The average yearly income in Egypt, according to the Associated Press, is roughly $3,700 or slightly more than $300 per month.

“People are waiting for [automotive window film] to be legalized. Of course, they want it to be affordable. Right now, the really light film [that can be purchased] isn’t helping much. By legalizing the 70 percent VLT, this will help people to install the film and get a certificate from the supplier and seller that the film is legal,” he says. “This will … encourage people to install film legally and not be threatened by the possibility of being stopped by the police.”

Yet, the ban on vehicle window film—particularly dark window film—in the Middle East is neither uncommon nor unreasonable. Along with the usual reasons law enforcement is wary about the use of dark film (the safety factors associated with not being able to see into a vehicle), there is the added concern about who would be using a vehicle with darkly tinted windows. 

“We can’t blame the government because they have to be able to see in the car and the glass must be clear so that people can see through the back glass to see traffic, but also this is a big concern in the Middle East—a darkly tinted car would be a great way to move terrorists around,” Bishara says. “In Saudi Arabia they used to use very dark film and now they are being asked to remove it and put on lighter film so that the police and people there can see into the vehicles, too.”

Raising the Bar
The window film industry in Egypt is growing. In recent years more businesses offering similar services have opened—and Bishara says he is glad to see them on the scene.

“It’s competition, but it makes me happy. It means window film is a growing business here,” he says. Years of market domination, though lucrative, have had their downside. 

“Sometimes I feel I’m working alone,” Bishara admits.

He may feel he’s working alone in his own country, but the international window film community has opened its doors to him and all the networking opportunities that go with it.

Bishara works closely with and is supported by Tom Niziolek, Madico marketing manager and the company is a member of the International Window Film Association. 

“I am almost in daily contact with the best experts in this field,” Bishara says. “We always exchange information and we try to improve the performance of films, especially as the Middle East is ideal for live film testing.”
Though the Middle East has seemed an ideal place for testing security for some time now, recent history has proven that any country or region of the world can experience sudden and devastating circumstances. The future of the window film industry will likely be shaped—as it has in the past—by events around the world.

In the more than ten years since Bishara launched Armashield Egypt, the world has changed drastically. Armashield Holdings, the parent company through which Bishara made his debut into the industry, has since closed. His son has started showing an interest in working in the family business (see sidebar, Like Father, Like Son, page 23) and worldwide events have made window film a sought-after commodity. 

“There is no comparison between the window film market today and that of ten years ago,” Bishara says. “People used to not believe in [the security provided by] window films until the bombings of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998. The U.S. Department of State decided to protect all their buildings around the world and during this process, a huge number of people started to realize that security window film is important for protecting their lives and properties.” 

Like Father, Like Son
A young sales rep is nothing new in the industry; many people get their start in sales and work their way up the ranks of a company, but few companies—if any—can boast a sales rep as young as Karim Bishara, a part-time sales representative for Armashield Egypt. He’s barely 10-years-old and he’s been handling sales meetings for his father for more than a year now.

He does attend school full time, of course, but during the summer and school breaks, Karim joins his father at the office and has learned to sell security film. His father is so confident in his son’s abilities that he has allowed Karim to lead sales pitches in front of United Nations officials—a responsibility that Karim handled successfully.

“When the meeting was over, he asked me about his commission,” his father, Walid, told Window Film magazine, laughing. “I told him okay, you can have a computer and I’ll put some money in your bank account.”
An only child, Karim, whose name means “kind and generous” in Arabic, was born into a culture where businesses often stay in the family for many generations. Having Karim already interested in the company business is gratifying to both of his parents.

“Dalia, my wife, is very excited and she’s encouraging him,” says the elder Bishara. “I’m happy because in our country, the business is often passed from father to son to grandson. For us it’s common, but it did start early. Normally, it’s when he’s older that the father takes the son to the office to teach him about the company—it’s common practice in our country and in this part of the world.”

Karim’s early start in the company does have benefits on a personal level and one that all parents work hard to achieve: the work teaches him responsibility and self-confidence. 

“In the summertime, it gives him the incentive to earn his own money and when he does, it makes him proud that he’s making his own money. It helps him build character,” Walid says.

It also gives him a longer time to learn all aspects of the business. When Karim does become a full-time member of the business, he will know and understand how every facet of the business fits together to make the company run and run successfully.

“We give him a week in the office, a week with the installers in the field, a week doing inventory, helping with sales presentations,” says Walid. “It’s very good—no harm in getting him started at a young age. A year now is almost 15 for my generation. He knows far more about computers.”

Father also insists that his son’s command of the English language is better, too. Walid is so comfortable with his son’s delivery of sales pitches that he is working with a videographer to make his own marketing video—starring Karim. 

“I have a dealer’s meeting in Poland next month and I want to surprise them with this tape—Karim will be the sole presentation on the tape. He tapes well,” says Walid, his pride noticeable in his voice.

“When he’s ready to take over the business, he will have my knowledge, my experience to work with, but he will also have his own,” says Walid.

Generosity Defined
Though security window film is out of the price range of many Egyptian citizens, Walid Bishara makes sure that through his company the most needy are protected. Armashield Egypt has taken to providing—and installing—security window film at charity and non-profit organizations such as shelters for abused women, orphanages and schools for free. He uses the scrap and leftover materials from paid jobs to take care of the supply and donates the man-hours needed to complete the job. 

“It’s a social commitment. People with no money also need to be protected, not just the wealthy, rich companies,” Bishara says. “At some of the shelters, sometimes the men are angry and will try to attack these places to take their wives by force.”

Bishara doesn’t advertise his charity work nor does he have a formal program for it, either. Most people who come to him have heard about his service by word-of-mouth and he plans to keep it that way for a while.

“If everyone knows about it, suddenly 90 percent of my countrymen will be poor,” Bishara says. 
However, Bishara has also helped companies that others might not have otherwise.

“UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) is responsible for keeping our heritage and restoring our monuments and temples. They are rich. They can pay. When they needed window film, I gave it to them for free because I feel they should keep their money and use it to help save our history and restore our heritage,” Bishara says, adding that he will comp a job if he feels the company’s money would be better spent serving the community.

“When someone says ‘Walid, there’s a non-government organization (NGO), they don’t have the money, please give it to them at cost,’ I say ‘okay, I’ll do it for free,” because I know these places don’t have money. I am proud of the shelters. It is a service. You are serving God in a way. These people are poor and the NGOs are non-profit. If they have to give me money, they have to take money away from food and other help they provide these people,” he says.

And while what he does seems to put him in an elite group, Bishara insists that his is far from the only company that provides such services.

“Many companies do the same,” he says. “One of my friends supplies security guards and products at cost.”

Brigid O’Leary is the editor of Window Film magazine.

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