In 2002, Fouad Makhzoumi retired as chief executive of Future Pipe Industries at age 50 and handed the reins of day-to-day business to his son Rami. In April 2011, a brain aneurysm struck and Rami passed away in the middle of life. At age 33, he was father of two young children and the main decision maker in the business.
Makhzoumi says as painful as it was to lose his son, he had to quickly reassume the role of chief executive. “Then to step in and reposition, you must remember that Rami for 10 years was the only known figurehead and if I did not step in very fast, the whole thing would start shaking,” he said. “But luckily, I like to read and follow up, and Rami was copying me in on all his correspondence. He would consult with me for only one hour every day on the key issues. I was acting as a chairman, a non-executive chairman. So I was in the loop, plus this was a business that I built myself, so I could easily step in. Of course we also have a very good management that was there before Rami and is there after Rami, which means the adjustment process was not very painful.”
At the time of writing, preparations were being finalized to announce a Rami Makhzoumi chair for corporate governance at the American University of Beirut’s Olayan School of Business. Also, a global prize of jurisprudence bearing Rami’s name for outstanding scholars of law is being prepared on a level comparable to the Nobel Prize, according to his father.
Fouad Makhzoumi on…
“We, the Makhzoumis, were in Mecca before Islam. Historically, my father, uncle, grandfather and great grandfather were part of the Ottoman Empire. We believe in the establishment of government. My generation was the first that decided to step out of government and establish our own business.”
…rights and their misperception in the region:
“We don’t understand freedom and don’t understand our rights. We think that if we can remove [former Egyptian President Hosni] Mubarak, we can remove anybody. The process of change is a series of education. We are not educated in this region to understand what it means to have rights. All the time we revolt against the regimes that take our rights away but guess what — we have no idea what our rights are. Look at Lebanon. We are now waiting for a bunch of yo-yos to [give] us the election law that we are pursuing in order to reproduce the same group.”
…his venture in Akkar and Lebanese industrial politics:
“At one point we had 850 employees in Akkar; it was the only investment that ever existed in Akkar. But neither were the Syrians happy for me to generate jobs nor was the Beirut government interested. Instead of trying to help, they blocked me from selling to Syria… There is no intention in this country to try and support industry. For the political regime in Lebanon it is much easier if you are a trader because your profit is a function of the political decision.”
…encounters with the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt:
“I have a factory with 2,000 people in Egypt. Some time before the ‘Arab Spring’ started the Muslim Brotherhood came to me and said ‘you are not a true Muslim [because] you are supposed to be helping us against the Christians.’ I said, ‘I have a global company, so I have Muslims and Christians, you name it. I actually have 29 nationalities working for me and so I am sorry, I don’t play this game.’ Then, all of a sudden, we had a fire in the factory.”
“Elections in Iran are coming up in 2013. I believe we will come to a deal between Iran and the United States by the end of 2013. The question is what advantage we can give Iran to not put them in the same position as North Korea. They are not willing to back off, because it has become an issue of national pride at this stage. Iran is a much bigger country than Iraq, three times the size, and it will be the focal point together with Afghanistan, to have all these cross[-continental] pipelines.
It is important that we try to encourage the region to come to a deal with Iran. I know the Gulf people may not be comfortable with Iran but at the end of the day, Iran will have to deal with reality, just as we, the Arabs, will have to deal with reality. I believe that if we can do that, it will be done by this time in 2013.”