LEBAN-ON THE ROAD

Lebanon 2013 | ECONOMY | FOCUS: LEBANESE BUSINESS ABROAD

Increasing numbers of Lebanese firms are seeking new bases overseas, but this is not an unprecedented trend for the country.

The challenging business environment of 2013 in Lebanon has led many companies to consider relocating their businesses abroad. High electricity rates and unreliable IT infrastructure are limiting the growth of domestic commerce and industry, creating a renewed interest in global business opportunities among Lebanese entrepreneurs. The country's long tradition of emigration and entrepreneurial ventures around the world shows that the enterprising and cosmopolitan Lebanese are accustomed to success abroad. There are large numbers of Lebanese expatriates in North and Latin America, Africa, Oceania, Europe, and other Arab countries, who have largely maintained close links to their motherland, while amassing great fortunes for themselves. One look at the country's wealthiest confirms just how accomplished the Lebanese diaspora has become.

Various members of the prominent Hariri family are featured in the Forbes Lebanon rich-list. Rafic Hariri, assassinated in 2006, accrued his family's substantial wealth (an estimated $9.6 billion in total) through Saudi Oger, his enormous construction company commissioned by King Fahd of Saudi Arabia to carry out the nation's largest projects from 1978 on. His close relationship with the Saudi Royal Family guaranteed his large fortune and the rapid growth Saudi Oger. In addition to construction, the company's facilities-management services and infrastructure development projects assured the continued expansion of its business throughout the Kingdom and the region. His son, Saad Hariri, is currently CEO of Oger and is the fourth-richest man in Lebanon.

Incumbent Prime Minister Najib A. Mikati established telecom giant Investcom in 1982. The venture, in partnership with his brother, Taha, was a success, and the business was soon expanded to Africa and the wider Middle East. Following the company's listing on the London and Dubai stock exchanges, and its subsequent purchase for $3.6 billion by the South African MTN Group, the Mikati brothers became the richest men in Lebanon. Their success highlights the deep commercial connections between Lebanon and Africa, which have existed in their present form since Maronite and Shia Lebanese first migrated to colonial Dakar in the late 19th century.

Mexican-Lebanese telecom mogul Carlos Slim Helu was the richest man in the world from 2010 to 2013, according to Forbes, and is the paradigm of Lebanese commercial acumen. His parents immigrated to Mexico at the turn of the last century, and created a real estate and import business. This set Helu on course to take his current position on the global wealth lists, with his diversified corporate portfolio that includes telecoms, finance, retail, and Spanish football. The heavy migration of Lebanese to Latin America has spawned some of the most interesting global trading connections for the country; indeed, five of the 10 largest Lebanese diaspora populations in the world can be found in Latin America.

A key element in the success of each of these individuals lies in their transnational and cosmopolitan approaches to business. Industrialists and entrepreneurs in Beirut may be contemplating relocating overseas, but they can find reassurance in the fact that emigration in search of fortune is a familiar trajectory for ambitious Lebanese. The life stories of the country's most affluent and influential sons demonstrate that shrewd international business dealings have long been Lebanon's forte.