Rasha Oudeh caught our attention after an interview with the German newspaper DIE WELT. “Aus der Armut zur Millionärin” – from living in poverty to becoming a millionaire, how to break the cycle of being born poor. The Jordanian-born serial entrepreneur lives in Switzerland, where she is based with one of her companies. CEDEM AG specializes in marketing and distributing nutraceutical
products in over 22 countries in the Middle East, Africa, China, and Vietnam. The company’s vision is to become every person’s partner in wellbeing. Rasha Oudeh is ambitious, with no other goal than to succeed.
INTERVIEW BY SANDRA-STELLA TRIEBL
Ladies Drive: Where are your roots?
Rasha Oudeh: I was born in Amman and I grew up as the oldest of seven siblings in Jordan. My mother was 16 when I was born.
What was it like to be born and raised in Jordan and live in a big city?
This varied from family to family, as the differences between rich and poor were and are immense in Jordan. While affluent Jordanians have full access to different levels of education inside and outside the country, the options for those born at the bottom of the social ladder are very limited. I come from a poor community in Jordan. My father was selling plastic material, like bags.
As the oldest one, you were the role model in your family, weren’t you?
Exactly. But I don’t very well remember my dreams, what I wanted or what I didn’t want. In a simple community, you do not really express what you want, especially if your family is not very educated. Because of my family’s education, I had little self-confidence. My parents had not been supportive, so…
… your parents did not support you?
Did you find out why?
My parents did not recognize the importance of supporting children. It’s as simple as that. They never thought that poverty and education were inextricably linked. Old Arabic structures! Now the Middle East has quietly changed.
Which values did you inherit from your home country that still resonate with you?
The Arabic culture has many values, and they encompass tradition and religion as well. It’s a mix between conservativism and politeness. We have many wonderful values in the Middle East, such as being respectful, supporting one another, hospitality, and generosity.
But your parents allowed you to go to school?
Yes, they did. I loved school. I went to a free government school with 50 other classmates in my grade. After 12th grade, I was thinking about studying at the university, but we did not have money to pay for it. But I was lucky! My aunt supported me in attending a community college. So, I studied computer programming in 1999 for two years, sponsored by my aunt.
Why this topic?
I have another aunt who was living in the U.S., and we considered her to be the most knowledgeable person in the family. During her visit to Jordan, she told me that computers were a major topic. And I followed her advice. What I liked about computers is that they made me a quick learner and thinker, almost like a computer. I understood that knowledge was a key – a powerful key. Then I had to do an internship, which led me to a small company run by a woman who had faith in me. She was the fist who discovered me, my talent, during a time when I did not yet believe in myself. She gave me a job and the chance to earn my own money. This opportunity changed my way of thinking completely. It gave me strength, focus, and confidence to step out of my comfort zone without hesitation.
What is it you particularly like about what you do? What is the underlying motivation?
To be honest, I enjoy working in the health sector. It makes me feel I am doing something really good for people. I was thrilled to create my own brand and sell products throughout the world. I succeeded at this. In addition, I brought the trend of licensing and private labels to the Middle East over the last twelve years. The private label, the white labeling, only makes up one percent of the market in the Middle East. Just for comparison, in a country like Switzerland or Spain, it is 44 percent. And in the U.S., it is around 18 percent or even 20 percent. In Germany and the UK, it is 38 and 40 percent, respectively. So, the situation in the Middle East is well suited for me and my business model. What I do is unique. The pharmaceutical business is the most regulated in the world. It is always a challenge to solve all these regulatory issues in different countries.
Tell me more about the uniqueness of your business model!
I bought CEDEM AG in 2016 and scaled it up. It was a very small company owned by a Swiss businessperson. The uniqueness of my business is that it is the only tailor-made company from this area. It is a one-stop shop for a huge portfolio of products and it bypasses all the difficulties of private labelling. All the business comes through Switzerland, but I have branches in Ireland, Germany, Holland, Malta, the UK, Nigeria, Jordan, and Dubai. So CEDEM AG, as a Swiss company, could reach 22 countries within only four years. Our products cover all the vitamins you need for health – and we just started another line this year with generic pharmaceutical products. Our business model is B2B. We do not make B2C, meaning we sell to distributors with no need for salespeople in every country. But we are an agile company as well. We have an online shop, a web app, and an Amazon shop.
Where do you produce your vitamins, your products?
We produce most of our products in Germany, Switzerland and Italy. I have been working in this field for 17 years, so people trust me and I have already found other companies in this field. Plus, I am a person who is very attuned to networking. I believe you must expand your network as much as possible to tap into opportunities.
Did you ever have an investor or business angel in your company?
I had investors in 2018 and raised one million Swiss Francs. Then I paid back some of the investment and I kept two investors with 10 percent. So, I own about 90 percent of the company. Our business has a turnover of five million Swiss Francs a year. We
plan to do more specialties in the future because the market for general multivitamin products has become saturated. So, I see a lot of growth opportunities.
What is your bestseller now after Corona hit us? And how big is the market for products like this?
We have a line for men and women. Our bestseller is an A-Z multivitamin product. The business is worth 1.2 trillion U.S. dollars
worldwide each year. In Europe alone, it’s worth 250 billion U.S. dollars. Since the pandemic, vitamins became more of a lifestyle trend. People want to avoid getting sick and our industry profits from that.
I think it is just a pity that we forgot about the power of our Alpine herbs that could heal us and give us all we need.
You are right, Switzerland is incredibly green and very beautiful. And Alpine herbs are a concept for many. They are world famous.
The German newspaper DIE WELT wrote you are a millionaire!
Well, I have worked very hard for it and my wealth serves not only me. I still support my family in Jordan and having a company doesn’t mean you have a lot of cash in pocket. We reinvest and have to grow the business and this is very costly. I also like to support social projects, including my initiative “Amali”, which supports women from different countries to accelerate their start-ups. But it is not about the money. I like to achieve something, to be different and I love success, especially the passion and journey that come along with it. I am not a very sophisticated person – I am a hard worker and my success drives me. Money comes and goes all the time. For me, it is this feeling of having success that is rewarding and that I am aiming for. Money does not come easily or quickly for a woman like me – it needs trust and trust needs maturity, and maturity takes time.