Rami Makhzoumi was born in Riyadh on 31st October 1977 to Lebanese parents – Fouad, an engineer then working in Saudi Arabia, and May, a pharmacist. In 1980 the family moved to London and Rami joined Hill House School, a private international school in Knightsbridge run by an unorthodox ex-Army Colonel and famous for educating Prince Charles. Rami flourished in the cosmopolitan, nurturing, disciplined and egalitarian environment of Hill House and quickly established himself as an all-rounder – as comfortable in the classroom as he was playing the violin, swimming or passing a football. Rami actively participated in all of the chores and activities that made up a typical day at Hill House, from washing dishes after lunch to singing in the choir after school. He particularly enjoyed the regular school trips to Hill House’s chalet in Switzerland where he would mountain-climb, canoe and ski. At school, Rami was a shy, sensitive boy, who was also intelligent, easy-going and kind. Rami possessed a cheeky sense of humour and infectious laugh which made being around him always such a pleasure. He was also very generous and considerate and was the first to share anything in his possession with friends. All of these characteristics made Rami very popular and in Hill House he forged strong friendships that would last for the rest of his life. As an adult, he always spoke of his time at Hill House with great nostalgia.
At 13, Rami passed his Common Entrance exam and moved on to Dulwich College, his first choice secondary school. Even as a teenager there were things that made him unique. His sense of style was one. At a time when other teenagers were trying to blend in with the crowd, Rami was experimenting with flamboyant clothes and even more flamboyant hair styles. There was that unforgettable moment when Rami arrived at his 18th birthday party (which was held at a posh London nightclub) wearing a kilt and sporting a leopard print hairdo. His hospitality and generosity, and also that of his parents, was limitless – all of his friends were always welcome in the family home and his bedroom became the base for our group, most of whom were old Hill House classmates. Most weekends were spent at Rami’s place, playing computer games, watching movies and chatting. As the group got older and more time was spent going out, Rami’s place was still where everyone would gather before (and sometimes after) a night out. He would go out of his way to make sure that all of his guests were comfortable, often cooking up industrial quantities of pasta to satisfy our appetites. There were many weekends spent in his family’s country house in Kent and this close-knit group would often go on holidays together. Given the amount of time spent in Rami’s home, his friends all got to know his mother very well and her natural kindness, warmth and compassion made Aunty May a second Mum to us. Her calm, non-judgmental approach to parenting allowed Rami to confide in her completely and they developed a very close bond which was one of the foundations in Rami’s life. Rami’s father would travel frequently and so we saw much less of him but from the few times that we did it became obvious where Rami inherited his drive, sense of humour and generosity from. To know Rami’s parents was to know Rami, and all of his best characteristics are easily identifiable in them. Throughout the highs and lows of adolescence, one thing that remained constant in Rami was his awareness of the responsibility that would one day fall on his shoulders – taking over the business that his father had worked so hard to establish.
Rami completed his GCSEs and A levels at Dulwich and then went on to The University of Buckingham to read Business Studies. In 1998, Rami graduated with a BSc (Hons) in Business Studies and then in 1999 he moved to Dubai to join the family business. The move to Dubai sparked a strong interest in his religion, Islam, and Rami quickly became a devout and practising Muslim. The following year, Rami would take his mother to Mecca to perform the Hajj pilgrimage. Islam would be a constant source of strength and direction in his life from now on. He often commented on how his faith meant so much to him because it was never forced upon him; his parents had given him the space to discover Islam at his own pace. Dubai was where his father’s global manufacturing business – Future Pipe Industries (FPI) was headquartered and Rami’s father began guiding him through the complexities of a rapidly growing multi-national company. The succession process had begun. Rami spent the next 3 years working in different departments to gain a complete understanding of how FPI operated. In 2003, he assumed leadership of FPI, taking over from his father, and developed and implemented a programme of major strategic initiatives that would transform and grow the business dramatically. You can read more about these initiatives here. The success of these initiatives was largely down to Rami’s ability to inspire and motivate his staff. He was a natural leader who had an extraordinary flair for captivating his audience and was never afraid to make mistakes. He also believed in the importance of listening and communicating information to all members of staff and used technology to foster a culture of communication throughout FPI. Rami was not just an inspiration to executives and senior managers but to all members of staff across all disciplines and grades. His total lack of aloofness coupled with his humility, compassionate nature and kindness made him accessible to all who worked at FPI, from executives to shop-floor labourers. The door to his office was always open to anyone, and the first thing to greet anybody dropping by was his warm, inimitable smile. People always left a meeting with Rami uplifted by his exuberance and can-do attitude. To Rami, FPI was very much a family business and everyone who joined the company became part of the FPI family. He believed that FPI was a great company because the people who worked there were great. Without fail, the first thing Rami would do after giving a presentation or speech was to ask the people around him how he did and what he could have done better. He worked tirelessly to improve his own leadership skills, completing an Executive Leadership course at London Business School in 2003 and later embarking on a PhD in Business Administration focused on entrepreneurship, innovation and change. This short video is a glimpse into what he was like as a leader.
Rami would often travel to Beirut to visit his family (who had moved there from London) and it was on one of these trips, in 2002, that he met Mirna Hilmi, a receptionist at the Makhzoumi Foundation offices in Beirut. Rami was the vice-president of the Makhzoumi Foundation, a private Lebanese non-profit organisation established by his father in 1997, and run by his mother, to provide vocational training to underprivileged Lebanese. Rami and Mirna married shortly after meeting and had 3 daughters together – May, Yasmeena and Nour. From the day May was born Rami was a doting father who savoured the company of his daughters and spent as much time with them as was possible – his paternal energy was prodigious. He made sure that his busy work schedule did not preclude him from attending any school event that involved any of his children and every evening, weekend and holiday was sacred family time. After school, his girls would frequently come to the office and Rami loved having them around. His ideal weekends were spent at home in the garden playing games with his girls.
Rami quickly became a highly respected member of the UAE business community and joined the Young Arab Leaders (YAL) organisation in 2005. YAL was set up to tackle youth unemployment in the Arab world, an issue about which Rami felt passionately. Rami became a YAL regional board member in 2008 and invested a lot of time in the organisation. He also sponsored many YAL events and made significant donations to the organisation’s UAE chapter.
Rami always had a keen interest in the history of the Makhzoumi family and would often talk about their tribal origins in Mecca. He commissioned a documentary which explored the history of the Banu Makhzum tribe along with the family’s more recent history, of which he was very proud. Realising the importance of generational planning, Rami began building a family office that would define the principles by which the family would operate. He firmly believed the prosperity that he, his sisters and his children had been blessed with should be governed appropriately so that as many future generations as possible would also benefit from it.
Rami also focused some of his efforts on new business ventures, which were a reflection of his personal interests, to varying degrees of success. He started a branding and communications agency, invested in a fashion label and helped fund the production of a film – The Imperialists Are Still Alive.
2010 was a year of major changes in Rami’s life. In April, Rami and Mirna divorced, at which point he decided to move to Lebanon so that the children could be closer to their extended family. A few months later Rami met Chiara Cattaneo whilst on holiday in Cannes. It was love-at-first-sight. Rami and Chiara quickly became inseparable and they married on 23rd October after a whirlwind romance. It was also around this time that Rami decided to take a less active role in the day-to-day running of FPI, instead focusing his time and energy on building a new life in Beirut with Chiara and the children. He embraced the vibrant culture of his new home-city and went on many short breaks and holidays with his family. This is how Rami would spend the last few months of his life.
On 23rd April, the day before Rami, Chiara and the children were due to go on an Easter holiday to Mauritius, Rami suffered a severe headache after an intense work-out in the gym. Rami was rushed to hospital and, following an MRI, was diagnosed with a ruptured brain aneurysm. He went into emergency surgery at Clemenceau Medical Centre from which he never woke up. Rami was 33 years old.
Rami is survived by his loving parents, Fouad and May; his sisters, Tamara and Camellia; his wife, Chiara and his beloved daughters May, Yasmeena and Nour.
This obituary is written by Saif Alwan. Rami and Saif were at Hill House together and have been best friends and companions for over 20 years. Saif has worked at FPI since 2002.