What would you do? If you had built up a multimillion dollar industrial conglomerate, would you just hand it over to your son? Who was unproven. Untested.
I was introduced to the multimillionaire philanthropist Fouad Makhzoumi at London Business School. This was about 15 years ago. He had worked long and hard to build up a very successful industrial engineering business in the Middle East.
And then he just handed it over to his son.
Without a qualm.
Not many fathers have would done that.
What was the man playing at?
When I met him, though, Fouad struck me as a man who doesn’t play games. He was deadly serious about the succession to his son.
And while he was always there for Rami as adviser and counsel – indeed he remained Chairman of the industrial business when his son became CEO in 2003 – he never interfered overtly in Rami’s executive decisions.
That took some courage.
Because Rami proved to be radical in many of his ideas.
I was surprised soon after to learn that Fouad was launching a political party in Lebanon, a Middle Eastern state riddled with political challenges. Lebanon had only recently emerged from the punishing 15-year long Civil War, a war that still casts a long shadow over the country’s politics.
And the situation is complicated because of the 18 different religious sects, with all 18 actively represented on Lebanon’s political stage.
This brings a unique operating mechanism to the machinery of Government – and more often than not a spanner in the works. If not 18 spanners.
Not only is there complexity within Lebanon; the country also faces complexity at its borders. Lebanon sits on the northern edge of Israel, and has borne the brunt of the Palestinian refugee crisis.
Then there’s Syria.
No one knew then that Lebanon would face a Syrian refugee crisis of equal if not greater proportions in years to come.
And we wondered: what kind of a man would walk onto this political stage? We couldn’t fathom it.
Suddenly, in 2011, Fouad’s son Rami died, at the age of just 33. All Fouad’s plans and the legacy he was creating were frozen in time.
We were privileged to be invited to craft Rami’s biography, The CEO’s Journey. It was a labour of love.
But when we were asked to craft Fouad’s biography a couple of years later, it was a shock. Why were we asked? We’re not close to Fouad. We knew Rami mainly.
And we didn’t know much about the political landscape in Lebanon.
But we jumped at the chance. It would give us the opportunity to answer all the questions we’ve had since we first met the man.
We’re glad we did.
In the course of researching this book we discovered that Fouad Makhzoumi is a man who chooses to be distinctive and innovative in his approach to business. He doesn’t haggle, for instance, or compete on price. (It’s a lesson that many entrepreneurs still need to learn in the fast-paced 21st century.)
We discovered also that, in the political sphere, Fouad is a man who calls for dialogue and change, when the natural tendency is to hold out for the stereotypical – and sectarian – status quo of old. (This is refreshing.)
But above all we discovered that Fouad is a man who believes utterly in the future of his country.
This is unusual, because he himself is not tied to the land of his birth.
With business interests outside Lebanon, he and his family are financially secure whatever happens in his homeland. And with the resources available to him he could live anywhere he chooses.
But he chooses to live in Lebanon. (That’s nationalism, right there.)
So this isn’t a biography in the same way that the biography of Rami Makhzoumi captured the full story of a life.
In the first Act we include his formative years in Beirut and the evolution of the business, the philanthropic Foundation and the political party he built.
As a second Act we include how Fouad faces the challenges of war in Lebanon in 2006, of the global financial crisis in 2008 and the tragedy of the death of his son in 2011.
How Fouad recovers from these is a masterclass in leadership.
Why do we describe this biography as Fouad’s first two Acts?
Because in speaking to the men and women around him, it’s clear that Fouad’s final Act is not yet written. Indeed, Romano Prodi, twice Prime Minister of Italy, goes so far as to describe the book as ‘premature’.
Fouad Makhzoumi is still trying to reinvent the future. The unspoken mantra of Fouad Makhzoumi, at the height of his powers, is this: ‘There is more work still to do.’
This has made the book a challenge to write and – we hope – makes it thought-provoking and valuable to read.
Not even Fouad Makhzoumi knows fully what he is capable of, nor what his ultimate legacy will be.
There’s a French edition, an Arabic edition and an English edition of Reinventing the Future.
And if you’re interested in entrepreneurship, philanthropy or legacy, then this is the best thing Jacqueline and I have ever written.