“You discover what really matters when you challenge the status quo.

Eduardo Bravo

When I asked Hassan El-Shabrawishi where he is from, he said “I am Egyptian, but I am also a citizen of the world.” Hassan is very proud of his country and of his roots, though he is aware that his name puts him in the not-so-popular stereotype box of an Arab. Traveling and living in many countries led him, luckily, to realize that what matters has nothing to do with borders, skin color, or religion.

El-Shabrawishi sees himself as a persistent person. This allows him to overcome many difficulties and achieve the targets he sets for himself. He had a long and intensive journey from the start of his MBA at IE to his current position at AXA.

“My experience during the MBA was not without complexity. In order to support my family, I studied and worked at the same. My daughter was not yet a year old, I had loans… my expenses were considerable.”

Things were not simple either when he finished his MBA. After falling in love with Spain, Hassan El-Shabrawishi wanted to settle in Madrid with his family. Circumstances were not optimal as he spoke little Spanish and unemployment was close to 40%. Yet Hassan knew from his experience at IE that “nothing is impossible.”

A few months later, AXA, one of the most important insurance companies in the world, called him and offered him a job: “despite my name, my poor Spanish, my lack of a work permit, or my absolute honesty during the interview.”

“I was asked then why I wanted to work for AXA. I said, ‘Which answer do you want? What you already expected or the truth?’” My interviewer asked for the latter, so I explained that I originally did not want to work for an insurance company, but they had been the only ones to contact me! AXA showed me that carrying risk for others is indeed a noble business. I soon learned that insurance is not at all about small print.”

After taking on his position in Spain as Business Transformation Leader for the Mediterranean and Latin American regions, he was promoted and moved to the head office in Paris. Working closely with role models such as Denis Duverne, who was then Deputy CEO of AXA Group and now Chairman, taught him to be sharper and to “think big”.

Soon after, El-Shabrawishi was assigned the mission of launching a green field operation in Egypt. “Armed with only my Blackberry and laptop, it was an uphill sprint. As the CEO of AXA Egypt, and with the help of an exceptional team –70% of which were young women– we broke all the records and surpassed all targets.”

He wanted to transform and improve the business, moving away from small print to regain the trust of people in insurance. “To do so, I was inspired by a Spanish company called Sanitas. I thought we could do something similar in Egypt: offer a new service through a monthly subscription fee to give access to highly needed hospitals and specialists which are otherwise inaccessible to the middle class, not to mention those with lower incomes.”

The initial goal was to gain 5,000 clients. They had soon half a million. These achievements led AXA to ask El-Shabrawishi to replicate similar results on a larger scale. He was promoted to become the Group’s first Chief Innovation Officer, and he created a new Fintech health insurance arm to the company, called AXA Next, of which he is now the CEO.

“My focus is, as always, on healthcare. My team and I work tirelessly at finding solutions for complicated societal issues. We want to reduce unnecessary deaths caused by preventable diseases.”

Yet, Hassan El-Shabrawishi has always seen himself as an entrepreneur, and, although he still has not had the chance to launch his own company, at AXA he has found the support needed to become a good intrapreneur. In fact, after already receiving awards for his previous work. El-Shabrawishi was nominated as one of the most influential business leaders in Africa by Institut Choiseul. Soon, he may also win an EPIC Award. This would be especially meaningful for him because of the emotional connection he has with IE.

“As you can imagine, it’s been a very pleasant surprise to be nominated for the EPIC Awards. I am honored and humbled. IE Business School is like my second home, because home is the place where you discover yourself and unlock your potential. Winning an EPIC award would not only show recognition for my past achievements, but it would also reinforce what I learned at IE, which is that nothing is impossible. You will be entrusting me with this honor to continue working towards providing dignifying healthcare solutions for future generations. I thank you in advance for the trust you have placed in me.”