Summer 2004 Vol. II, Nos 3 and 4
 
 From the Editors
 To the Editors
 AUB News
 Campaign Update
 Behold Beirut Architecture’s
 New Frontier
 The Post-AUB Architectural Life
 An Exact Type
 Architecture and Graphic Design
 Students “JAM”
 Shaping the Landscape of Lebanon
 Blueprint in Action
 Commencement 2004
 Honorary Degrees 2004
 Young Lebanese Musicians Learn
 Lessons from the Master
 More than a Stamp of Approval: AUB
 Receives Accreditation
 Alumni Profile
 Alumni Activities
 AUB Reflections
 Class Notes
 In Memoriam
 Credits
 Previous Issues


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.

“AUB has 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.”

And so 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.

As 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.

While 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.

“I’ve 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.”

“Nigeria 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.”

Though 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.”


 

El-Khalil 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.

El-Khalil is 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 companies.”

“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.”