Out of Africa
From Beirut to
Lagos, Faysal M. El-Khalil has become one of the leading entrepreneurs
in West Africa. MainGate Coeditor Lynn Mahoney learns about his
experiences and commitment to encouraging commerce at a local level.
had its flag flying in Nigeria for quite some time now,” Faysal M.
El-Khalil (BA ’69) told me recently over an Arabic coffee in Beirut.
“The first AUBite who arrived here in the 1930s, Arif Barakat,
happened to be my father’s best friend. An interesting fellow, he came
to Nigeria and opened a successful string of movie theaters.”
did I learn that for decades, Nigeria has been a destination for many
AUBites. They went there seeking commerce, perhaps a little adventure,
and in the process, built a community with strong roots in Nigeria.
El-Khalil is no exception.
managing director of the Seven-Up Bottling Company of Lagos, he is in
charge of the second largest soft drinks manufacturer in
Nigeria and oversees a staff of close to 5,000. El-Khalil is also group managing
director of his family’s business, which comprises the Seven-Up
Bottling Company, along with Green Eagle Cork Seals (Nig.) Ltd., M.
El-Khalil & Sons (Properties) Ltd., and Sunglass Limited.
work certainly keeps El-Khalil busy, he has also been very active in
community concerns, serving on the board of organizations such as the
Fate Foundation, the Nigerian Economic Summit Group, the Lebanese
Community School, the Nigerian-American Chamber of Commerce, and as
past president of the Harvard Business School Association of Nigeria.
been in Nigeria for 35 years now. I joined my family’s business, which
was started by my father in 1926,” he says modestly. “For some time,
we remained firmly routed in Western Africa, but then started
branching out to countries in sub-Sarahan Africa. We have a Pepsi
bottling company in Tanzania and are looking at opening businesses in
Uganda.” El-Khalil notes there are many opportunities in Africa if one
is keen on working there. “There is a lot of potential for growth,
despite the somewhat harsh environment. It’s not always the easiest
continent to live in,” he adds with a smile.
El-Khalil says that much of the outside world considers Nigeria a
terrible place to do business. But he is quick to note that if one is
determined to succeed, one can—which has been the experience of the
Lebanese émigré community: “The Lebanese in Nigeria have done very
well for themselves, which seems to typify most Lebanese who emigrate.
They may not have much capital at first, but they certainly have the
knowledge, business savvy, and will to succeed.”
El-Khalil moved to Nigeria and joined the family business after
graduating from AUB. “I completed my BA in political studies in 1969,
which was enjoyable but not applicable to my business. The quality of
my education at AUB, however, was just terrific.”
is an interesting place,” El-Khalil says of his adopted home. “It is
the most populated country in Africa and has huge potential—but it
needs to get its act together.” Since Nigeria’s independence in 1960,
El-Khalil explains, the country was ruled by a series of military
dictators and the government was badly corrupted. “A new democratic
government has been in place since 1999, but it is still fragile,” he
says. “Religious and ethnic tensions are problematic issues.”
rich in natural resources, he adds, Nigeria is management poor. “Gas
and oil resources are well developed—Nigeria is the sixth largest
oil-producing country in the world and a chief exporter of oil to the
United States,” but despite its abundant resources, the country is
plagued by an incredible amount of waste and corruption. “An often
asked question is whether the wealth of oil is a blessing or a
curse—and many say a curse, as the country’s infrastructure is not yet
ready to handle this resource.”
nevertheless believes that with a combination of dedication and hard work,
entrepreneurship can take root in Nigeria. He is on the board of a non-profit organization, the Fate Foundation,
whose mission is to foster the accumulation of wealth by promoting business and
entrepreneurial development among Nigerians.
happily married and has four children. “One of my children went to AUB for a
degree in graphic design and completed an MA at the School of Visual Arts in New York. The
second got his BA from the Lebanese American University (LAU) and is currently
working with me in Nigeria. Another is a graduate of Sarah Lawrence College and works with
NGOs. And my youngest child is now at AUB as a freshman,” he says proudly.
He reports that
the AUB presence in Nigeria is active. “The Nigeria Alumni Branch is a diverse
group of entrepreneurs; some are construction executives and others are in
consumer products, like me. There are many young men, but few women with these
“The AUB alumni in
Nigeria are not just concerned with making money,” he says; “they are very
involved in the society.” For example, many give of their time and money to help
promote public health awareness for diseases such as AIDS and river blindness. I
do believe the alumni community has greatly contributed to the economy and
society. They don’t see themselves as being in Nigeria short-term, so they
invest in their environment and make positive contributions.”