When he is not travelling, Mohamed Mansour is usually to be found in his office overlooking London’s Hyde Park.
It’s discreet and refined – like its owner. Mansour is a billionaire but he does not fall into the category of super-rich who flaunt their wealth. He’s not at all brash and flamboyant, but thoughtful and quiet.
If he wasn’t the head of Mansour Group, the industrial conglomerate based in Cairo with a turnover of $7.5 billion (it partners General Motors and Caterpillar and has interests across banking, real estate and owns the McDonald’s franchise in Egypt and the country’s largest supermarket chain) he could pass for a seasoned diplomat. Tall, impeccably dressed and courteous, Mansour, 75, is as urbane and charming as any ambassador.
Which is why it is odd, seemingly out of character, that he should raise his profile so high by becoming Treasurer of the Conservative Party and making its largest donation, £5 million, since 2001. The faction-fighting so in evidence at this week’s party conference in Manchester sits uncomfortably with him - Mansour is a unifier, right behind his favourite Sunak.
It’s a strange environment in which he now finds himself. In the UK, such moves do not go unnoticed. Indeed, if the desire is to be thrust into the spotlight and have politicians and the media crawling all over your life, that is one certain way to go about it.
Mansour has effectively made himself public property. Having been in the shadows for so long, he’s now stepped out, big time. He’s not stopped there. He has also become co-owner of a new Major-League Soccer club in San Diego, California. Football is another route to attracting attention, again not all of it welcome. Politics and football - suddenly from nothing, Mohamed Mansour is being talked about.
You could be forgiven for supposing he is on some crazy, headlong ego trip. Not so. The Mansour I’ve met comes across as highly principled. What is really occurring is that he is putting his money to things he believes passionately about.
He first started giving cash to the Tories in 2016. He’s friendly with Nadhim Zahawi, the former party chairman and chancellor, and he admires Rishi Sunak.
“I believe this country has a very capable prime minister, Rishi Sunak,” he told the FT. “He understands what growth is about in a modern economy. He understands innovation and he understands technology, which is vital to the future of growth.”
What he saw in Sunak as well was someone, who he felt, was prepared to be judged on delivering his five core pledges — halving inflation, growing the economy, reducing debt, cutting NHS waiting list and stopping the boats. This “added purpose and accountability" to the government.
To many people, £5 million may seem a lot, but if you’re as rich as Mansour, it’s not so enormous. Plus, it’s enough to make a difference and to show a lead - if his mind is made up, he is not someone given to doing things by small measures.
He’s sustained by a feeling that business and government can work as one, that the former can bring skills and expertise honed in commerce, to the latter. In 2005, he was Egypt’s Transport Minister under Hosni Mubarak, doing the same, trying to add private-sector know-how to the nation’s creaking railway network. He stayed in post until 2009, before moving to the UK and setting up Man Capital, his family office with investments across the world.
Mansour, who holds a degree in engineering from North Carolina State University and an MBA, was one of the first to invest in Facebook, Airbnb and Uber, and he’s co-founder of 1984 Ventures, a Silicon Valley venture capital firm.
In Sunak, he sees a modernising UK leader who gets tech and digital and how they can transform government. Sunak, who went to Stanford (the prime minister met his wife Akshata Murty, daughter of an Indian software billionaire, at the university) has made no secret of his love for California’s cutting edge, keeping a property there. It’s thought that should Sunak quit Westminster he will take up a job in tech.
Said Mansour: “The UK could become a major force in innovation and technology by encouraging the right young men and women to come and stay and prosper. I would also like to see the stock exchange, the Footsie, encourage new start-ups and be able to keep them there.”
The Tory treasurer is devoted to London. He lives in Belgravia and his family also live in the city. “I consider London to be the capital of the world. I travel all over the world and I have never found anywhere to compare to it.”
Nevertheless, America’s West Coast also appeals. As well as his gift to the Conservatives, Mansour’s San Diego football deal raised eyebrows. He partnered the Sycuan Band of the Kumeyaay Nation, a local casino-operating Indian tribe, to pay a whopping $500 million for the franchise.
It’s an incredible amount, for entry into what is still the US’s fourth major sport. But Mansour owns a global youth football development academy called Right to Dream, and the club makes a perfect fit. Right to Dream started in Ghana, then expanded to Egypt, before opening in Denmark. Right to Dream bought FC Nordsjaelland in the Danish Superliga, and the training school feeds that team.
In San Diego, the plan is for something similar. He’s building a $150 million Right to Dream academy in the city and it will be able to recruit, not only in the US but also from the whole of Mexico.
San Diego sits adjacent to the US-Mexico border. Under Fifa rules, an academy located within 31 miles of a neighbouring country can seek recruits from that country as well.
The trainees, starting from 12 years old, will train, reside and complete their education at the San Diego football school. The expectation is that some of them will graduate to the major team, reaping financial rewards for Mansour and his partners and their club.
It’s typically clever and calculating. Not so mad after all.