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Making us proud in New York

Boys from back home who ascended to the throne

by Maya Sioufi

Whether from Lebanon’s coast, mountains, valleys or plains, Lebanese expatriates in New York City share at least one common attribute: they saw in the Big Apple a land of opportunities.

All this week Executive will be profiling Lebanon’s biggest NYC successes

See: Eight top Lebanese on Wall Street

Many packed their bags during the civil war with gun shots and bombs ringing in the background, escaping civil strife and dead-end career prospects, crossing thousands of miles in the hope that the land once offered by England’s King Charles II to his brother the Duke of York — the ‘York’ in New York — would offer them a better future. And the island of Manhattan, the capital of global finance as the home of the New York Stock Exchange (NYSE), the world’s largest bourse, has offered a fertile field for their dreams. 

New York-based Lebanese expatriates now hold crucial positions at some of the world’s most powerful investment banks. Among them are JP Morgan’s Anwar Zakkour, a Wall Street rainmaker whose history of high-profile deals include Comcast’s multi-billion-dollar buy-in of NBC Universal, and Morgan Stanley’s Wissam Kairouz, managing director at the bank’s leverage finance group. Some expatriate Lebanese have launched their own hedge funds, such as Marc Malek — whose journey from Beirut to New York began with shooting himself in the foot. Rudolph Riad Younes, raised by nuns in Tripoli, listed his company and rang the closing bell on the NYSE trading floor. Others are running private equity funds such as Jimmy Traboulsi and healthcare veteran Charles Boorady, as well as venture capital funds in the case of Habib Kairouz, who is betting on the disruption of television. Some are even managing family offices such as Samer Nsouli, whose career with the fund sent him back and forth to the Bahamas.  

Successful Lebanese have established themselves beyond finance as well. In hospitality, there is the upscale contemporary Lebanese fusion restaurant Ilili, run by Philippe and Alex Massoud; retailer George Altirs of Capelli New York is behind the private label of large department stores such as Macy’s in New York and La Fayette in Paris; then there are advertising agencies such as Rony Zeidan’s Ro New York, whose clients include multinational brands such as Swarovski and Chopard. 

Across the city’s many sectors, Lebanese are thriving. Their accomplishments are a source of inspiration for those back home in Lebanon: be it students anxious to start a successful career; employees and employers looking for hope as they struggle to rise above the political crisis and civil tensions suffocating the economy; or entrepreneurs eager to launch their new ventures despite the lack of a favorable legal framework or proper public infrastructure to support their businesses. 

New York expats also want to give back to their home country. The financial executives that we spoke to for this special report are all part of LIFE (Lebanese International Financial Executives), a platform to channel the influence of Lebanese finance executives worldwide, and several are also part of SEAL (Social Economic Action for Lebanon), an organization that helps finance projects for low-income Lebanese individuals. 

As Executive embarked on our 2013 mission to reach out to the diaspora, we ventured to New York City. Running up and down Madison and Fifth Avenue, we spoke to Lebanese about their stories of success: about how hard work, perseverance and the embrace of adventure saw their careers ascend. 

Our expatriates are cause for hope in a country so rife with bad news, stifled reforms and inept leadership. With the engagement of our diaspora and through their inspirational stories, we aim to bring back the promise of a better future for Lebanon. 

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Maya Sioufi

Maya is a research consultant on Arab youth entrepreneurship and employment. She headed Executive's banking, finance and entrepreneurship sections from 2011 to 2013. Previously, she worked at JP Morgan in London in equity sales for three years. She holds an MSc in Accounting and Finance from the London School of Economics (LSE) and a BA in Economics from the American University of Beirut (AUB).   

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