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A Full-Time Pastime:
AUB Alumni Association

Mohammad Machnouk

His is a familiar name, connected with the AUB Alumni Association (AAA) as well as with the press and communications sectors in Lebanon. But to those who know him well, there are dozens of other interests that color the life of Mohammad Machnouk.

“The best thing in the world,” he says, “would be when your hobby is also your business,” and he goes on to list his pastimes, in no particular order, as travel, squash, and swimming. But it appears that inventing is also a pastime ingrained in his character. In 1972, with the help of teachers in Paris, he created his own eau de cologne. He insists this has been an absolute secret, revealed here in MainGate for the first time. Twice a year, he makes his own fragrance, and says it is composed of sandalwood, lime, gardenia, and jasmine (but doesn’t give the exact formula). The scents or oils are derived from plants grown in Europe and found in the souk al attareen (perfume market) of Lebanon’s old towns. He uses the cologne almost every day. Other pastimes filling his life include communications, photography, art, old Lebanese houses, and music.

The AUB Alumni Association is one of Machnouk’s top priorities. Now in his second three-year term as its president, he looks upon the office and its responsibilities as a “full-time pastime.” He enjoys the work and energetically champions alumni goals. “From the early 1960s to the present, AAA has hosted or assisted in many major activities of interest and benefit to the University,” he recalls, “especially the international conventions that were held. There is also the annual event, at which AUB’s graduates are honored and given a free one-year membership in the association.”

One outstanding occasion was the AAA’s 75th anniversary celebration, held in December 1999. It was on that occasion that the tradition was set to honor AUB medical graduates on the 25th and 50th anniversaries of their graduation. “Such events play a major role in keeping the AUB spirit alive among the alumni,” explains Machnouk, “and go a long way in promoting loyalty and devotion to their alma mater.”

This past spring, the AAA moved its offices and activities from the Alumni Club, the building next to the AUB Medical Center that had been its home since the early 1950s and which is now slated to become the University’s School of Nursing. The AAA is now located in temporary quarters at the former Tapline Club in Wardieh Square, Beirut, where the rooms have been attractively revamped to accommodate the association’s activities. Overseeing the AAA’s relocation was yet another of Machnouk’s many responsibilities as its president.

Machnouk has always been a joiner and an activist. He is presently the general manager of Group Plus Holding and president and chairman of Communications Consulting Group (SAL), and is also involved with Masters Publications and ECO News-Business Review. He is a member of the AUB Board of Trustees, as well as of the Steering Committee of the Permanent Congress for the Support of AUB, and has served as chairman of several national conferences held by the Alumni Association.

AUB certainly runs in the Machnouk family. His father, Abdallah Machnouk, graduated from the University in 1922 and in the 1960s became a member of the Lebanese parliament and a minister. He himself is a 1968 AUB graduate in political studies and public administration and three of his four children are alumni. A number of cousins, nephews, and nieces are also AUB graduates, all adding to his sense of closeness to the University.

Clearly, the AUB Alumni Association is more than another hobby or side interest for Machnouk. Being its president demands full-time attention—but he is pleased by the gains achieved.

On Communications, Migrations, and the Importance of AUB

Bassam Zarkout

Ottawa Chapter President and Alumni Association of North America (AANA) Board Member Bassam Zarkout (BE ’77), who is a professional in information technology, works at making sure the chapter stays in contact with its members. And the best way to do that, he says, is through communication, which is achieved through the chapter’s newsletter.

Communication, personally and professionally, is a priority for Zarkout. He is a highly trained expert in the field of e-mail management and electronic records management, which thoroughly qualifies him for his present position as vice president of Products at eManage Inc. in Ottawa, Canada. Prior to that, Zarkout had been with Hewlett Packard and Sperry.

Zarkout is a frequent public speaker at international technology conferences and his work involves a great deal of traveling around the globe, which he enjoys tremendously. A thoughtful and modest man, he claims his love of travel is rooted in his student days at AUB. “The international flavor of AUB permanently changed my outlook to the world,” he explains “and this, I think, is what turned me into a traveler and migratory creature throughout
my professional life.”
He looks upon his student years as not only transforming but also as fun. “Although my time at AUB coincided with the civil war, it was a very positive experience. I made lifelong friendships, and being a wazwaz, I remember the celebrations we had after beating the Arts and Sciences team in soccer,” he happily recalls. He made a return visit to the University this past February after a four-year hiatus, and with his memory still fresh, says: “The campus was beautiful, of course, and there was a great sense of normalcy. AUB looks—and feels—like a university again.”

After graduating from AUB, Zarkout made his way to Saudia Arabia, where he worked from 1979 until 1988, when he departed for Canada. There, he settled first in Toronto and then a year later in Ottawa, where he now resides. “These migrations were mainly due to job opportunities,” he says. In Ottawa, he quickly got to know the AUB community and became involved in the activities of the AANA Ottawa Chapter.

Zarkout believes the chapter has a two-fold AUB mission: to serve as a cultural ambassador for the University and to promote the institution to outside constituencies with the aim of
increasing fundraising. “Lectures and cultural programs about the region are a good way to do this,” says Zarkout. “But it is equally important for alumni just to have a good time together at events such as hiking trips, picnics, and holiday gatherings.”

Reflecting on the turmoil in the region today, Zarkout is of the opinion that AUB’s role has never been more vital to the world community. “For example,” he explains, “our chapter recently held a gala in honor of President John Waterbury, with the theme centered on the importance of education in bridging East and West. Creating future leaders and thinkers in Lebanon and the Middle East is, of course, AUB’s primary mission. But I believe the University’s ability to bring together East and West stands as a close second.”

Zarkout still remembers a conversation he once had as a student on the importance of AUB. It was with the late Dr. Suleiman Deeb, who was then chairman of the Department of Mechanical Engineering, he recalls: “He told me that the most important thing you can do in this place is to learn how to learn. I certainly did and I believe that holds true for our
students today.”