We only met twice, but he left a lasting impression on me, both for his achievements and his humility, and I was very sad to learn yesterday that Syrian entrepreneur Mohamed Radwan Joukhadar passed away a week ago at the age of 73.
Of all the unusual stories I have come across in my time in Croatia, his was one of the most incredible.
“Have you heard about the Syrian in Vukovar who employs 650 Croats?” was one answer to my Facebook post a few years ago. I was looking for unusual stories to write about Croatia.
It sounded barely credible, but when I looked into the statement, it turned out to be an incredible story, once which Mr. Joukhadar told me in person when we found ourselves sitting next to each other at the EY Entrepreneur of the Year award in Zagreb a couple of years ago.
As I recall from his story, he was on his way from Syria to study in Italy when he was persuaded to stop in Zagreb on the way. Croatia was love at first sight (and soon followed by meeting his future Croatian wife, Yasenka) and he decided to stay and study here.
Having graduated with a Master’s Degree in Medical Biochemistry in Zagreb, Joukhadar was to put that knowledge to good use in 1990 when the law was changed to allow the wholesale of medicinal products, so he opened the first private wholesale pharmacy in Croatia.
It was an inauspicious start, as the brutal siege of Vukovar in 1991 left the city – and his new business – in ruins.
Undeterred, he pressed on, opening the first Joukhadar pharmacy in 1992. Today there are more than 35 pharmacies around Croatia and the region.
Not content to simply sell parmaceuticals, he felt that Croatia could – and should – start to produce more of its own. With that in mind, he built the Yasenka factory in his beloved Vukovar to start to supply Croatia, the region and the world with pharmaceuticals. A particularly strong market due to his medical connections with was Syria and his native Aleppo, and all was set for a lucrative relationship with his home city. And then, just like Vukovar in 1991, those dreams were in tatters due to the systematic destruction of Aleppo in the tragic Syrian conflict.
Despite these setbacks, his wholesale business, Medical Intertrade, grew exponentially and moved to Sveta Nedelja in 1998. When I met My Joukhadar at his office for the second and last time, the incredible success and achievement was plain to see. From such humble beginnings to an annual turnover of 250 million euro and staff of 829 people. While Rimac Automobili was attracting all the plaudits, Medical Intertrade was the biggest show in the town of Sveta Nedelja. In 2018, it was 37th on the list of top Croatian companies by income.
(Mohamed Radwan Joukhadar was a finalist in the EY Entrepreneeur of the Year awards in 2015, see video above)
He put his faith in people and was rewarded by a dedicated and very loyal staff.
“As a company owner, I had full authority to realize my vision into action. I employed young people, uncut diamonds, and polished them one by one until they became a beautiful necklace around the neck of our beautiful Croatia. When you have capable people and an orderly system, it is not a problem to steer such a ship and safely lead it from port to port.” Read the full interview in Lider.
(Joukhadar was awarded the Order of Danica Hrvatska by Croatian President Kolinda Grabar Kitarovic for special merit in the development and improvement of the pharmaceutical profession, and for his humanitarian activities and altruistic help to citizens in Croatia during the Homeland War.)
One man who knew him much better than me was Mayor of Sveta Nedelja, Dario Zurovec, who posted this tribute on LinkedIn:
Today we said goodbye to an exceptional man, humanist and entrepreneur whom we can rarely find anywhere else. Master Radwan Joukhadar, owner of the wholesale drugstore Medical Intertrade in Sveta Nedelja, the Pharmacy of the Joukhadar Pharmacy and the factory for the production of medicines, food supplements and cosmetics Yasenka in Vukovar, the city of heroes. Mr.sc. Radwan Joukhadar is certainly one of the individuals who have perhaps contributed the most to the development of our Sveta Nedelja and Croatia at the same time.
As he said during his lifetime, from his native Aleppo in Syria, he came to Croatia by accident and stayed on purpose. He fell in love with a beautiful lady, Mrs. Jasenka, and has stayed with us since the 1960s. And at the very least he enriched us with his work and deeds.
I could write miles of text about the achievements, awards and recognitions of his companies and him personally, but what impressed me were quite normal, one might say, human things – his favorite coffee, the “master’s” coffee that pleasantly surprised me and the approach to work and trade. He always emphasized to me – there is no me, me and me in business. You and me. With this principle, we can only move forward.
His student adventures have always made me laugh and I will remember them as well as the business advice applicable to politics and with which he has achieved tremendously.
As mayor, I will strive for his outstanding deeds and contribution to our region to receive sincere and just recognition in Sveta Nedelja, and I express my sincere condolences to those closest to him.
My condolences to Mr. Joukhadar’s family and colleagues.