Kamel Ghribi is a Tunisian-born philanthropist, founder of Swiss-based GK Investment, and Vice President and Chairman of Gruppo San Donato, a private healthcare company in Italy and the Middle East. Healthcare has been a longstanding area of both personal and entrepreneurial interest for Ghribi.
He has always taken a special interest in the healthcare sector for what it represents, not only in terms of human values and development for the community, but also its impact on the economy and welfare of the population. Ghribi’s authentic leadership matches his passion for improving healthcare in Africa through his influence as one of the leading private healthcare providers in Europe, the Middle East and Africa.
His business interests span across Botswana, Kenya, Tunisia, Morocco, Libya, Senegal, and, of late, South Africa. His lifelong commitment and passion towards Africa and the Middle East were born from a profound sense of accountability towards a continent that has never had the opportunity to take its rightful position on the world stage economically, socially or politically.
Ghribi began his long and prestigious career in the oil and petrochemical sector. His first significant role was at Olympic Petroleum Corporation in New York, where at the age of 29 he had already climbed the corporate ladder to occupy the role of Vice President. He has occupied a series of chairmanships since 2004 and is now dedicated to facilitating formidable partnerships and cross-border trans-actions in the Middle East, Europe, and Africa.
Healthcare, education, and infrastructure are his immediate priorities. His surrounding circumstances forced him to pay more attention to promoting issues of diversity, peace, dialogues, and access to universal healthcare. Ghribi recognises the essential role heritage and culture plays in our ability to develop new markets globally and strengthening social cohesion.
He thanks his eclectic childhood in Sfax, Tunisia, for his profound belief that brilliance lies within us all, but only if we have the courage, honesty, clarity, and integrity to embrace our vision and purpose in life. “I had a normal and happy childhood in a fairly typical working-class family. Indeed, I think it is fair to say that we Tunisians hailed from big families at that time and mine was no exception.”
Since the 60s and 70s, Sfax has been to this day, very much the industrial engine of Tunisia as a port city. Ghribi has had the honour of coming up close and personal with world leaders, Kings and Queens, and luminaries from political, industrial, and cultural spheres. “I have forged close relationships with some of the most important figures of modern history. We all have one thing in common–an innate drive to move forward and an unwavering trust in our instincts that allows us to embrace the future and respond to the changes that make life so meaningful,” he says.
Throughout his noteworthy career, Ghribi has never wavered from his core belief that if we are unable to communicate our personal vision and draw others in, then we will never inspire them to learn more, become more, and have the courage to shape a better future. Ghribi has often stated that none of this is achievable unless Africa and the Middle East get a taste of peace and stable governance.
So what is his interest in South Africa?
“I have always considered myself as a son of Africa. While my heart lies in the Middle East, my soul dwells in Africa. My ties to this great continent span over thirty years and throughout these years I have had the pleasure of working with many African governments and institutions over the course of my career.” Ghribi says.
He believes that South Africa is in a prime position to lead the way in affordable healthcare. “I believe that we can help strengthen the national healthcare system through strategic investments and the exchange of medical and technical expertise that will in turn provide accessible services to the general population,” he says.
The nation’s healthcare system is a key indicator of the health of its citizens, its communities, and ultimately the economic wellbeing of the nation itself. Running such a huge empire does not come without its challenges. “There are many difficulties in running an investment holding as big as GK. Two fundamental issues. Firstly, when you are responsible for having built up an empire from nothing to something this big, there is always an extremely high temptation to micro-manage your company even when it becomes too big to do so. It is a natural inclination.“
As the business grows, it is impossible to be active across all elements, therefore, it is essential to choose the right people to do the job not only as you would, but even better. Ghribi says the second risk is losing sight of your goals.
Success is rarely immediate, but rather takes a great deal of perseverance and patience to achieve, so we often find our-selves losing motivation or interest in favour of easier pursuits. “I have seen that those with clearly defined goals succeed because they know where they are going, and no obstacle will ever prevent them from attaining those goals. So, it has been with me, when my goals were shattered, I accepted the defeat, picked myself up, and started building the foundations again and again until I reached my objective. This is the only way to find enduring success in every field from business to personal,” he insists.
Ghribi takes after his father who was a businessman in Sfax, Tunisia. He was the youngest of nine siblings. Both his parents instilled in him a strong work ethic. His father died while he was young, and he had to fend for himself and support his studies. Much like Charles Dickens’ novel of the young David Copperfield, with his own adventures along his journey of change and growth from infancy to maturity, life was not kind to him.
As the years passed, he became more and more resourceful and successful. “I can honestly say that I spent some of the happiest and most gratifying years of my childhood in those moments spent after school and at the weekends doing any odd jobs.” It was an invaluable apprenticeship in entrepreneurism for Ghribi.
He made his first million from commodity-related transactions which involved facilitating a contract to process crude oil under a spot agreement with a big refinery. From there, he became a consultant for oil trading and had the privilege of working with some of the biggest names and major players in the sector. Ghribi insists that character alone is not enough.
A bit of luck, hard work, a determined spirit, and being in the right place at the right time perfected his hunt for a better tomorrow. He says you must never lose sight of your goals. Stay ambitious, grounded, and never allow the reality of your circumstances limit you. He concludes by saying that we should all treat people with respect, pay no heed to creed, colour or standing, and that even the enemies you come across in life can enrich you in a unique and unexpected way, even when they do present a challenge.