Thanks to the GEMBA, I have the theoretical frameworks, the networks and the leadership skills to realise our dream.
How did your career lead up to the GEMBA?
I was a working for L’Oréal in France, when – in 2006 – the call came from my father. He wanted my twin brother and me to come home and take over the family business. Although it wasn’t the best year for Lebanon, we decided to go back and grow the business into a regional hub for the entire Middle East. We started to consolidate the local framework in Lebanon growing the company by 6 times in 6 years, and from 20 to 140+ employees. In 2012, we decided to develop our company in the region, and doing the GEMBA is part of our continuing growth strategy! When I’ve finished, Nicolas, my twin brother and co-CEO will get to do his EMBA too.
Why did you choose INSEAD for your GEMBA?
For its emphasis on entrepreneurship, leadership and emerging markets – all of which I need to implement our strategy. INSEAD’s campus in Abu Dhabi was also a great opportunity for me to meet leaders from the region and understand their needs. The diversity of the participants is also very helpful for dealing with the very different markets and cultures and the alumni also add great value.
Was the programme what you expected?
Yes – times one hundred! It’s a bit like going to a restaurant with great reviews and when you start your journey, you eat food that’s better than you could ever have imagined, prepared by world-class chefs. Around the table, you meet extraordinary people from five continents that will become your friends for life, you have discussions that will change the way you view the world and help you understand yourself better. Isn’t it worth it going for this dinner?”
Can you describe the GEMBA classroom experience?
Classroom is a limiting word, since a lot of the learning also happens outside the classroom - in group meetings, experimental learning, simulations, onsite visits, reading, travelling, and discovering cultures. And it’s not just a one-man show put on by the professor. INSEAD faculty are incredibly skilled at getting participants to talk. And there is 600 years of combined diversified experience in the Abu Dhabi section alone!
Tell us a little about the social life, too.
Partying in São Paulo clubs, driving a jeep through the Abu Dhabi desert, running at six am with GEMBA classmates on the Copacabana Beach, “snowboarding” on the Dubai dunes, sleepless nights in Moscow, amazing desserts and wines in Paris, a karting race on the most beautiful track in the world, enjoying Bentota Beach after a peer exchange in Colombo, staying in a château in France during our elective. Do you want more?
What was the highlight of the programme for you?
The Brazil field trip was perfect for me. It was about understanding the way of doing business in emerging markets, and the business potential, differences and drawbacks those countries have. There was an amazing mix of 30 peers and 10 business/political leaders and three professors. As a result and based on my understanding of emerging market dynamics, I have a clear framework of where to expand in the region and how to do it. As an example, I now realize how important it is to identify cultural differences. I’ll have to hire local people, train them here in Lebanon and then send them back home. I also know exactly who to call for help.
As someone who’s already CEO, did you use the INSEAD career support at all?
Absolutely. As the owner of a family business, I still have a career. In fact, it’s even more complicated to manage. My goal is to teach/coach business leaders alongside practising it and, thanks to the INSEAD careers support; I’m already beginning to do that.
At the company level, how can you describe your experience before and after the GEMBA?
Before doing the GEMBA, I wanted to take my company regional but didn't know where to start! It was a dream without the right tools to make it a reality. After my INSEAD GEMBA, I have a clear plan based on a vision and backed up by clear strategic objectives and KPI's that will enable the entire team to look in the same direction and reach our common goal. Today, thanks to the GEMBA, I have the frameworks in all fields, the network of individuals that can help and the leadership skills to realise our dream.
How did you juggle work, study and family life?
My wife Souraya deserves a diploma too! She was the person that helped me achieve my target. She discovered she was pregnant just after I’d committed to the programme and our son is now seven months old. Baby or not, your partner has to back you 100%. I would go to work for 12 hours then come home and study or Skype with my classmates I was working with. There’s inevitably less time for family life. The upside was that she was able to come to all three campuses with me and meet other partners with children. And she does get some business benefits too, as she’s a lawyer with her own family firm.