Summer 2008 Vol. VI, No. 4
In Our History
An Apricot Empire
Upon graduating from AUB with a bachelor's degree in business
administration, Emile Cortas (CC '22, BC '25) went to work in the University's
Alumni Office. Weekends, he would travel to the family home in the mountain
village of Brummana. On one such weekend, his mother, who was well known
for her home-made jams, gave him a couple of jars of her apricot jam for
his business school professor and friend, Professor Nicoley. The professor
was so impressed that he advised Emile to go into the apricot jam-making
business. That summer, Emile helped his mother preserve the apricot crop,
which together they packaged to present to friends and prospective customers.
Their summer experiment resulted in orders, and the business was born.
Emile left his post at the University to build his own factory, as well
as his knowledge of jams. In 1926, he apprenticed in Dublin with the Lambs
of Ireland, famous jam-makers and old Cortas family friends. Upon his
return to Lebanon, Emile imported the first of many top quality machines
from Britain and started the Cortas Canning Company.
A few years later, Emile's younger brother Michel, with a degree in chemistry
from AUB, joined Emile in the business. Emile managed business affairs
while Michel took over factory production. As business grew, Cortas Bros.,
as the company became known, began distributing its products in Lebanon,
Syria, and Palestine. The product line expanded to include tomato paste,
vegetables, and fruit-based beverage syrups.
During World War II, Cortas had earned such a reputation for quality that
the British Army, with a reputation of its own for being meticulous, commissioned
Cortas Bros. to supply marmalade to British troops stationed in the area.
The factory expanded, requiring workers to work a three-shift schedule
to satisfy demand.
In the years just after the end of the war, Michel Cortas earned a master's
degree in chemistry. Around the same time, the product line expanded further
and Cortas opened a tin factory to manufacture its own cans.
Business continued to thrive, but not without challenges. Political uncertainty,
starting in 1948, unsettled the area and limited industrial growth. A
tomato paste factory that Cortas had set up in Homs, Syria, was forced
to close due to the upheaval. In 1974, Emile and the company lost an innovative
chemist and dedicated manager with the passing of his brother, Michel.
The following year, war broke out in Lebanon. During the next 15 years,
civil strife badly damaged the country's economy, as well as the Cortas
The 1970s also brought the first change in management. Founder Emile,
now in his seventies, became chairman, with long-time sales manager Fadlo
Khauli moving into the position of general manager. Fadlo's vision included
opening new markets in the United States, Canada, and Australia, where
numerous war-displaced Lebanese had emigrated.
Meanwhile, war raged on. In 1978, shelling resulted in extensive damage
to equipment once again. Finally, in 1989, mere months before the end
of the war, the explosion of an area gas reservoir totally destroyed the
Cortas plant. The rebuilding, which stretched over a period of years,
took extraordinary perseverance, effort, and dedication-qualities that
had been in place at Cortas since its inception.
Reprinted with permission from