A broader perspective

MIT Sloan Fellow Karim Fadel of Lebanon seeks a broader perspective on business to help his family company grow

MIT Sloan Fellow Karim Fadel

The global leaders in the MIT Sloan Fellows Program have come to MIT fresh from battles with technological obstacles, complex mergers and acquisitions — even epidemics and poverty. Then there are those, like Karim Fadel of Lebanon, who are managing enterprises in a climate of armed conflict.

Fadel, however, shrugs at the suggestion that business in a war zone is an extraordinary challenge. Lebanon, he says, has seen much political strife over the years — it's a reality he must confront, understand, and work around.

Fadel heads ABC sal, a large family retail and commercial real estate business based in Beirut. The keystone of that business is the 70-year-old ABC Department Store, a retail legend and the leading department store in Lebanon.

War, Fadel says, may present an obstacle to the growth of his business, but he considers lack of knowledge an even greater threat.

“I chose the MIT Sloan Fellows Program because it gives me one solid, intensive year to improve my theoretical knowledge of business and concentrate on the skills that will help me make better, more informed decisions,” he says.

Transformation on horizon

Fadel believes that working in a family business can be insulating. On the upside you have a great support system, he says, but on the downside your perspective can narrow.

“When you work in a family business, you lose sight of what's happening around the world, and that is a natural barrier to growth,” he says.

Fadel's goal is to transform his family business into a traditional corporation with distributed leadership and multiple decision makers. It's tough, he says, because the company culture is very different from traditional corporations.

“The labor market is tight and finding employees with the right skills is difficult,” he says. “My big picture challenge is to make ABC sal an institution rather than a trade. To take it from the centralized company it is now to a decentralized company where managers are accountable. Our next step will be to internationalize the business and identify areas in the gulf for expansion.”

Building bridges

One of Fadel's chief interests in the MIT Sloan Fellows Program is the opportunity to build bridges with other successful executives from around the world, find out how they run their businesses, and learn how they deal with expansion. The program also gives him the chance to put his experiences in perspective and benchmark with the achievements of others.

In addition, Fadel is comparing notes with a classmate who, like him, is trying to keep a business thriving in a volatile climate: Tsahala David, CEO of Softlib Ltd. in Israel.

Recently, Fadel and David decided to collaborate on a presentation to the class on the Israel/Lebanon conflict. They gave their frank, colorful presentation to a standing-room-only crowd of classmates, faculty, and MIT Sloan staff.

“Understanding,” Fadel says with emphasis, “is all about knowledge.”

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