Excerpt from Chapter 4, CEO Succession – Winning Them Over

When Fouad makes the suggestion in 2003, Rami is taken aback. If not shocked. They’re sitting in his father’s corner office at the company’s main factory in Dubai. ‘It’s time for you to consider becoming CEO,’ says his father.

But to understand the significance of Fouad’s suggestion for Rami we need to go back a couple of years, to 2001.

In 2001 Fouad has just promoted Rami to chief operating officer of Future Pipe. For the past two years he’s been in and out of Dubai, learning about pipes – how the different grades and brands are manufactured and what they can do. He’s also spent another period of time on the campaign trail with his father, meeting Jean Chrétien, the prime minister of Canada, and other world leaders.

Following his promotion to COO, Rami continues to be based in London and his new wife Mirna joins him there. But almost as soon as the two are united, Rami leaves again on an extensive tour of Future Pipe’s plants and sales offices around the world. Once that’s over he begins a wide-ranging tour of duty in almost every department in the business. He’s away from London for another extended period of time.

As well as his personal office in London, Rami has an office in Dubai – he’s there so often. And it’s in Dubai one day he decides the company website and brochures need a facelift. He calls round, finds a company he likes and brings them in. But almost immediately he sees a bigger picture. ‘I like what you do, and I want a stake in your company,’ he tells them. The partners like the bigger picture and sell him a stake in their company, 13th Studios. It’s Rami’s first entrepreneurial investment outside Future Pipe.

Rami’s vision is to build Dubai as the production centre for the media company and to open sales offices in London and beyond. So now he needs a manager for the London office. He calls best friend Saif Alwan in London, now working at consultants CAP Gemini: ‘Are you ready to move now?’

Since 1999 when he left college, Rami has constantly called Saif, saying ‘Join me in Future Pipe.’ But Saif has persistently refused. ‘Let me go and learn something first. So that I can actually bring something with me.’

But this time when Rami asks ‘Are you ready to move now?’ he’s rewarded. Saif says ‘I’m ready now.’

Years later Saif explains his thinking: ‘Rami was patient. And two years in, the time had come. The opportunity had come. There was a role for me in London to do exactly what I knew and what I had learned during my time at CAP Gemini. So I handed in my notice. I finished work one Friday and I started on Monday in the Future Pipe office in Kensington High Street.’

After a briefing in Dubai, the London start-up gets under way, securing orders. But eight months in Saif calls Dubai with difficult news. ‘Rami, the vision is good, but we’re not getting anywhere. The presence of Future Pipe as the major client is proving to be counter-productive.’ No matter how many orders the sales team brings in, the company’s main focus is to serve FPI. ‘And that’s OK. But if you want to expand then we really need to fix this.’ Rami’s instant response is ‘Are you ready to move to Dubai?’

Saif doesn’t know how to put it. But ‘Umm, I’ve met a girl,’ he eventually blurts out. ‘So give me a couple of months. I need to propose.’

In three months, now engaged to be married, Saif moves to Dubai to manage 13th Studios. And a few months later, Rami buys out the partners and rebrands the company. Saif ponders the new name, Ayam Creative. Ayam is the Arabic word for ‘days’, in the nostalgic sense of ‘days gone by’. And maybe it’s no mistake that the company’s first manager is Saif Alwan, Rami’s best friend from Hill House, the time that both of them acknowledge as the best days of their lives.

But now Saif is Rami’s employee, not just a friend. And he learns first-hand what it’s like to be led by Rami. ‘It was hard work because we were a very small team,’ says Saif. ‘But within 12 months we had gone from quite hefty losses to break even. Which was great.’

And the best thing? ‘Rami just left me to it. Which was wonderful. I knew what I was doing. I enjoyed what I was doing. And we’d have a work-based meeting once every three weeks. It was tough because I had never been in that position before – learning about budgeting and everything. Because I was responsible for everything pretty much. So the learning curve was vertical. But it was great. Rewarding.’

Saba Zreik, Future Pipe’s VP of finance and legal affairs at the time, compares the different management styles of father and son. ‘Fouad is a pusher. Rami is much more of a delegator.’

Working with Fouad means being alert 24 hours a day. ‘If you have a big assignment, be sure that he’ll remind you every day.’ Rami was different. ‘Maybe I should say he was very British. In the sense that he let you work. I’m not saying he would let you do whatever you want – he would set a timeline. He’d say “how long do you need”. But you should meet these timelines.’

In 2002, a year after their marriage, Rami and Mirna are blessed with a daughter, named May, and Rami is immediately besotted with her. ‘She’s beautiful,’ he says at their London home. He loves being a father. And in a few months’ time, early in 2003, Mirna falls pregnant again.

It’s also early in 2003 when Fouad calls his son to Dubai for the pivotal meeting.

‘I have a suggestion for you,’ he tells Rami at the company’s main factory in Dubai. ‘It’s time for you to consider becoming CEO.’

For three years now Rami has been touring company plants, across the Middle East and Europe, and he’s been talking at length with dozens of senior executives, finding out more and more about the business. But to lead it? As CEO? That’s a different thing altogether. There isn’t much that surprises Rami. He’s laid-back and cool almost all the time. But this is huge. Shocking.

There seems to be a long gap in the conversation before Fouad speaks again. Rami has worked through all the departments of the company, Fouad says. He’s the chief operating officer now and he’s done well. ‘I can see that you are maturing in your position very fast. And when you did your advanced degree the idea was that you wanted to learn more advanced techniques, how to be able to turn this business around. And now I am convinced that you have the maturity to do so, then I figure… I will pass to you my wisdom and my experience, but you know the tools of the 21st century. That combination will really get us where we want to go. I believe you can do it.’

Rami isn’t so sure. He’s just turned 25. Isn’t that too young? But Fouad is certain. ‘I was 25 when I was in charge of the family,’ he says. ‘And for you I will still be here.’

Later his mother explains to him that Fouad would not risk the firm if he did not believe Rami was capable and had the potential to lead it. ‘Fouad groomed you into it slowly. And he can see it will work. There was a time, of course, you were a wild teenager. And who would think that you would settle down to be what you have become? But you settled early.’

Rami recognises how much it would help his father if he stepped into the CEO’s role. Fouad’s attempt in 2000 to win a seat in the Lebanese parliament as an independent did not succeed. Now he has a vision to launch a new political party, the National Dialogue Party. If the day-to-day operation of the business were being looked after by his trusted son, his attention could be given wholeheartedly to creating and launching the party. Rami can see this and he can see what it means to his father. His empathy he gets from his mother. Part inherited, part learned.

Nevertheless, while he’s happy to be in the business, he isn’t ready to lead it. ‘Can you give me a little time to think about this?’ he asks, and Fouad agrees. Fouad understands the psychology that says you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.

When Rami leaves his father’s office he walks around the plant in Dubai. He’s played here since he was a child. He’s walked around it many times. He looks at the machines he knows so well. ‘But all this really doesn’t interest me,’ he says to no one in particular. He can’t see the story in pipes. He can’t see how pipes will change the world.

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Sunset is sudden, as usual. It’s 6.45pm. Soaring high above Downtown Dubai is the iconic Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building. Standing at the base and looking upwards, it’s easy to believe that the pinnacle, stretching endlessly upwards, actually reaches its vanishing point and touches the canopy of the night sky.

From the rooms on the south-east side of the Burj Khalifa you can see the Dubai Fountain, 6,600 pulsing lights, together with fifteen hundred sweeping, cascading water jets and a thousand fog jets, creating an atmospheric mist for the lights to play on. The lake and fountain were created by the former Disney imagineers of WET Design, the California-based company responsible for the 4-hectare Bellagio Hotel Lake in Las Vegas.

Unlike the crooners of Las Vegas, though, it’s an eclectic computer-controlled programme of contemporary Arabic and world music blasted across the 13-hectare Burj Khalifa Lake. From a network of powerful but discreet loudspeakers comes Michael Jackson’s Thriller, then Ishtar Poetry by Furat Qaddouri, the renowned Iraqi musician playing the Qanoon, plucked like a harp.

Under the surface of the lake, high-pressure super-shooters – called oarsmen or water robots by the WET engineers – are building up the pressure to fire solid jets of water up to 150 metres in the air from a variety of high-tech nozzles. At the correct split-second, the jets are released, in perfect synchronisation, and a series of loud booms echoes across the lake. The sequence of booms, a surprise for the first-time visitor, parallels the sequence of jets, but always a moment or two behind.

The overall effect of this feat of pipe engineering is mesmerising. The fountains dance and sway as the choreographed columns burst upwards under pressure, then the water scatters and falls back to the lake in slow motion. After O mio babbino caro by Kiri Te Kanawa comes Ishy Bilady, the national anthem of the United Arab Emirates, and the show ends.

It’s 7pm now and the guests at the world’s first hotel designed and developed by Giorgio Armani are arriving in every possible luxury car you can imagine. Most are black or silver sedans. Rolls-Royces. Bentleys. Mercedes. But there are also Lamborghinis and Bugattis, Maseratis and Ferraris. Some are bright pink, gold or hot-rod red. The guests emerge from their cars in tuxedos and ballgowns, in brilliant white dishdashas – the full-length tunic of Arabic men in the region – and there are women floating in beautiful flowing abayas. The guests cross the hotel’s brown marble floors, imported Eramosa granite from Canada, to greet other guests in the lobby. And together the friends, colleagues and family groups make their way to the Armani ballroom for the Middle East Business Leaders Awards.

The floor show in the ballroom is stunning. Whirling dancers from head to foot in a kind of white satin, with long streamers and ringlets dangling from their headdresses, turn ultraviolet when the ballroom is plunged into darkness. But the main event is what everyone’s come for. The awards ceremony itself. After the awards made to young leaders in the region, for organisations such as HSBC Middle East and Air Asia, for women in business and for organisations in different sectors, there comes the announcement of Masterclass CEO of the Year. And for the Makhzoumi family, seated at one of the central tables in the Armani ballroom, it’s the recognition of what they have always believed, but never flaunted. That Rami Fouad Makhzoumi, son of Fouad and May Makhzoumi, and the president and CEO of Future Pipe Industries, is the best CEO in the region and very likely one of the best CEOs in the world.

As Rami steps on stage to receive the award, you can see he is probably the shortest man on the platform by a good few inches. Even so, you can tell from a distance he has great charisma. It’s not in his stylish shawl lapel tuxedo and straight black tie. Or even because he sports a (for him) conservative, almost bald hairstyle. It isn’t that he’s close but not clean shaven like a film star. The charisma is in his eyes. In his easy, warm smile. In his firm handshake with His Excellency Abdulrahim Hassan Naqi, secretary general of the Federation of Chambers of Commerce in the Gulf region and chairman of the judging panel. ‘You are a role model for the men and women of the region,’ says His Excellency.

The role model, Rami Fouad Makhzoumi, steps to the microphone and says to the 300-strong audience of the Middle East’s elite business executives: ‘It is an honour and privilege to have received this prestigious award. The roots of our group stem from this region, and the Middle East is and will always be, our main focus. The region thrives on successful entrepreneurship and strong leadership and we look to continue supporting the young entrepreneurs and leaders in this region to succeed and advance.’

Today is 17 April 2011 and Rami is at the pinnacle of his career to date, with everything to look forward to. He’s speaking of the future, as usual, and offering his support to the entrepreneurs and leaders of the region. At the centre of his life are his three young children and a wife – his ‘soul-mate’, he says – and a loving family. Beyond that is his extended family of cousins, friends, close colleagues and indeed the employees in his businesses. Rami really does believe his company is like a family.

Which makes it heart-breaking to relate that within six days of speaking those words Rami Makhzoumi dies in the Clemenceau Medical Center in Beirut. A blood vessel in his head bursts while he is working out at the gym and the internal bleeding and complications following surgery prove too much for his body. Rami is 33 years old. He dies at 1pm on Saturday afternoon.

It is 23 April 2011.

This is a book we never expected or wished to write. But there is some logic to our being its authors. Our connections with Rami began and ended with books.

We first met Rami Makhzoumi together at the launch of our first management book, Leadership Unplugged, at London Business School in 2003. Earlier that year Rami had taken an executive education programme run by Steven at London Business School – the Young Professionals Programme, since renamed the Emerging Leaders Programme.

And in 2011 we were discussing jointly writing a book with Rami.

So on the day Rami died, when Steven was writing a letter of condolence to Fouad and May Makhzoumi, Rami’s parents, it seemed logical to suggest that, when their thoughts turned to a legacy for Rami, perhaps they would consider inviting us to help produce a book, ‘in part as a biography of a wonderful man, in part as a leadership lesson for generations of young men and women to come’.

Less than three hours later, in the depths of his sorrow, Fouad found the energy to write back:
Dear Steven, thank you for kind words, Rami was an inspiration for all of us and he was one of a kind. I love your idea and I was thinking along the same lines… Saba Zreik and Omar Ashur will be in London on Wednesday 27 April and it may be a good idea to meet them. Thank you again and let’s pray for Rami where he is in a better place.

It was difficult to believe Fouad’s speed and decisiveness, but that’s very definitely a mark of the man. So a few weeks later Steven found himself sitting in the boardroom of the Future Group, in the heart of the Dubai International Financial Centre, to hear the family’s and the business’s plans to establish a number of legacy projects in Rami’s name. There would be a chair at the American University of Beirut (AUB) and a number of endowments at the International College, also in Beirut. But what of a book? ‘It shouldn’t be academic or a manual,’ says May Makhzoumi, Rami’s mother. ‘It should be a celebration,’ says Imad Makhzoumi, Rami’s uncle. ‘It’s a weighty task,’ says Matt Barton, Future’s legal counsel.

A few months later, having agreed an outline for the book with the family, Steven is invited to Beirut on what would have been Rami’s 34th birthday. It’s the formal inauguration of the Chair in Corporate Governance in Rami’s name at the AUB. In the main auditorium Steven announces the launch of the book, encouraging the invited audience to ‘tell us your stories’. The book is intended to be a collection of stories through which we can see Rami’s larger story, as it plays out across the world and through the people he most cared for.

And that’s what you’re reading now. The CEO’s Journey is our attempt to capture, in the words and stories of those who knew Rami best, Rami’s journey. He himself often described his life as a journey, and through working on this book we can appreciate that, although it was an incredibly short journey, it was very full. Many of the people we spoke to made the point that in just 33 years Rami accomplished more than most people who live a full three score years and ten.

There’s something else we want to say here, about how we’ve written this. The CEO’s Journey is unashamedly a celebration and a business biography at the same time. So we’ve done our best not to make this a dull ‘he did this, he did that’ kind of book. Instead we’ve relayed the stories we’ve gathered in a present-tense, narrative style, to convey the impression of what it was like to be in a room with Rami. In addition, because Steven occasionally appears as a character in the story, we’ve written the book from Steven’s point of view as a singular author. This just makes it easier to read, even though Jacqueline shared the interviewing and the writing duties. Finally, but purely for reasons of space, we’ve condensed and combined a few stories together and we’ve moved a few conversations in time and space. Having to craft a coherent representative narrative of just 100,000 words from almost half a million words of material makes some editing inevitable.

Of course, we haven’t been able to include everything we’ve been told about Rami, or everything that research has revealed to us. But you will be able to learn still more about the man from the RamiMakhzoumi.com website over the coming weeks and months.

Finally, in writing any book, but especially a book of this kind, we need to offer our thanks. This has not been a solitary endeavour.

To Fouad and May Makhzoumi, Rami’s parents – thank you for introducing Rami Makhzoumi to the world. Our lives have been enlarged as a result. Secondly, thank you for commissioning this book and for your support in paving the way for our interviews with family, friends, colleagues, suppliers and customers. Thanks also for the freedom to write this book as we wished, which we hope is how Rami would have wished his story told.

To May, Yasmeena and Nour Makhzoumi, Rami’s children – you only spent a little time with your father. We hope this book can be a time machine for you and that through the stories relayed here you can feel a little closer to him. We know he loved and cherished you above all else.

To the Makhzoumi family, Rami’s sisters, cousins, uncles and aunts – we honour you with this book. It can never bring him back, but we hope that it reminds you of some of the times you shared together.

To everyone we interviewed and who spared us so much time and energy – thank you. Your stories have helped us to understand Rami better and to tell his story. We hope we’ve done your stories justice in this telling.

To Dr Assem Safieddine at the American University of Beirut – thank you for crafting your Afterword and for explaining about the work of the Rami Makhzoumi Chair in Corporate Governance. We wish you and the team all the best in your important and ongoing work.

To everyone who helped along the way, who organised, or arranged, cajoled or persuaded – thank you. (You know who you are.)

To Zanjeer Salam and the FPI Corporate Communications Team – for the inspired cover design based on Rami’s last professional shoot, for the wonderful chapter spreads and how you treated them and for the typographic design and setting throughout, thank you. The Makhzoumi family logos on the cover and Rami’s personal logo used to open each chapter are amazing. Zanjeer, we know Rami meant a lot to you. But we also know that you and the team meant a lot to him.

To International Printing Press (IPP) – thank you for the work you did on this important book. It means a lot to us all that you finished it off so well in spite of our punishing schedule!

To Saif Alwan – you are perhaps Rami’s best friend and if there is one person without whom this book would not have appeared it’s you. Thank you for everything you did to make this a reality.

In trying to juggle the stories of more than 70 people it’s inevitable that inconsistencies and errors will have crept in. These mistakes are all ours. Please get in touch with any factual amendments you’d like to see and we’ll do our best to correct them at the earliest opportunity.

When ending his conversations with Steven, Rami always signed off with the words ‘Change the world’. It started out as a joke at London Business School. But it became a regular feature of calls and conversations. If this book is to do more than simply recount Rami’s life, we hope it’s this – that somehow, through your own journey ahead, you somehow ‘change the world’. We think Rami would like that.

Jacqueline Moore and Steven Sonsino
London 2012

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It never crossed my mind that I would ever be writing such a foreword. I have always looked to the future, with my beloved son Rami taking the lead, not only in business but for the family too, trusting that with his vision and judgment he would carry on the flame, so when I departed I would have peace of mind. But fate was stronger than dreams and hopes. God bestowed death on Rami for reasons that are beyond reasoning.

Ever since Rami took over the management of our family business when he was only 25, he had a vision of his own. He wanted to ‘build for tomorrow and not for today’.

My decision to appoint him as my successor was taken after a lot of thought and after watching him grow and perform in an increasingly mature and assured manner. Rami flourished with the responsibility, bringing passion, vision, ambition and great humanity to his administration of business.

At the time, some were hesitant and uncomfortable about my decision to promote Rami at such a young age to a senior role within our family business, doubting whether he had sufficient experience to succeed. Of course, as a new graduate he could not have managed without having experienced things first hand. He had to start from the factory floor and go up through all departments to understand the processes needed to complete our work.

Before graduating he always accompanied me to meetings and witnessed the negotiations of contracts and the purchase of companies, which gave him a firsthand experience that is not found in text books.

As well as this he accompanied me through my visits to world leaders. Even when he did his masters degree, he had it catered to the needs of the company so he was better placed to take a leading role.

Rami was conscious that it is a leader’s responsibility to set an example, so he lived his principles every minute of every day. I had faith in him and he did not disappoint me at all. I would encourage anyone faced with a similar choice to do likewise and embrace all that the next generation can bring to a business, and guide them through their first steps, then leave them to soar.

Rami’s approach to leadership was fundamentally centred on what he used to call ‘the core principles of listening, selfishness for selflessness, and clarity of goals’.

He was very much concerned that the business principles and values he had learned at business school were being implemented by our management team worldwide. ‘I found my calling in this organisation,’ he said one day.

He voiced his concerns at the outset, but later on became somewhat obsessed with the idea of proper governance: selection and de-selection, succession planning, independent directors, board committees, audits, controls and, most importantly, comprehensive transparency. These were the terms that he kept repeating until he managed, through the Evolution and Revolution processes that he had implemented throughout our group of companies, to instil the foundations of well designed corporate governance as he led the business through a period of exponential growth.

Rami was also committed to corporate social responsibility and believed that big business could be a beneficial, not detrimental, force in the world.

Thanks to Rami, Future Pipe Industries now has a robust culture of corporate governance, led by a board comprising both executive and independent non-executive members who oversee and guide all aspects of the group’s business. We also have ethics and social responsibility policies which are embedded in our corporate culture. I am convinced we benefit greatly from these initiatives.

Rami has written and lectured about these concepts. He rallied senior executives and board directors around his ideas and was so excited about these issues to the point that, had the day-to-day business not kept him from doing it, he would have dedicated his life to teaching people how to do things better.

He was perfectly conscious of the impact on a business of volatility in unstable economies and has always promoted the value of strengthening one’s ability to adapt from within to changes in the external world. For him, ‘Change is the constant force that is driving our industry into the future.’ We see now how right he was.

He wanted to do all this following the highest standards of ethics. Moral integrity and honesty would always be for Rami the driving values. Adopting moral values throughout his short life and being by nature a very humble person did not prevent Rami from being firm when it came to business. ‘Do it now and get it done’ is what he used to say.

He also said ‘Be humble, be accountable.’ He wanted to pass on the message that one can be firm and humble at the same time, but still be accountable and only then ‘share in the wealth, success and knowledge’.

As an active member of the Board of Directors of the Young Arab Leaders and also a member of the Young Presidents Organization, he shared with his contemporaries his great belief in the development of youth and the enhancement of their entrepreneurship skills. This was not only an end in itself; he felt this was the best way to change the misguided negative image of young Arab men and women propagated by the western media.

A descendant’s duties and obligations are to make known and preserve their forefathers’ legacy, heritage and traditions. This is to provide present and future generations with a heritage of honour that will help them in building a solid future on a base of knowledge, wisdom and farsightedness. It’s a tradition that Rami embraced, making documentary films about our family’s rich history, and with this book it is now our sad duty to share with you our son’s legacy, heritage and traditions.

Rami believed we should share stories we remember about the generations from whom we have received our heritage. From these stories we can see how their lives have influenced ours, perhaps in ways which we have not been previously aware. Through these stories, Rami believed, we keep our family virtues and values alive. This opens the pathway for us to make our own contribution to the story of our family, our children and the generations to come. And now, with this book, we can see how Rami’s life has influenced ours, perhaps in ways which we have not previously been aware.

This book will join the valuable texts that have been already written about our family by Dr Mahmoud Mustafa Halawi in Banu Makhzum. However, this book is not a documentary, a textbook or a manual, and it is not just a family heirloom. It’s a different kind of story.

When we selected Rami’s professor from London Business School, Steven Sonsino, to write this book, together with his partner Jacqueline Moore, from the London Financial Times, both of whom knew Rami, we knew that we would have a more intimate biography and a more journalistic story. It is a story of wide relevance to executives round the world, whether they knew him or not, and whether they are CEOs of their own businesses or the next generation of business leaders. I think Rami would have liked this and we hope you learn something relevant for your own life from these insights into Rami’s life, his vision and his success.

Finally, I hope this book will give pride to Rami’s girls – May, Yasmeena and Nour – his mother May and his sisters Tamara and Camellia, knowing that Rami’s vision is still carried on for future generations, and inspiring all of them to follow in his footsteps and hopefully to leave a mark in this world. For us, his parents, it will also be a step in our healing process, knowing that his untimely departure was not in vain.

Fouad Makhzoumi
Beirut 2012

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Where can I start? Rami my baby, or Rami my young child? Rami my teenager, or Rami my young man? He has left me with an abundance of memories from every stage of his life.

Rami was born in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, surrounded by loving family members who were excited about his arrival. He was to form a budding friendship with Karim Farra, my cousin, which kept growing until the end. He was such a lovely, happy baby, we bonded strongly and this bond grew stronger with time. We were very close; he grew up to be my best friend. He grew wiser with years, while experience and education refined his views – we always sought his judgment on family issues.

When we moved to London he was only three years old. He joined Hill House International School, where his personality was moulded as he mixed with people of many nationalities. There he grew up to respect people from different faiths and learned about all religions.

The most important thing about Hill House was the many friendships that started there and grew with him, including with his best man and closest friend Saif Alwan and later his work colleague Mustapha Al Rawi, along with many others. At 13 years old, many went to different schools; their friendship was not affected, but grew stronger. I have endless stories of the boys staying over in London: their first day camps, first sports day and, most fun of all, their first ball, when they all got suits and were well groomed for the adventure.

Rami’s birthday was always fun, being at Halloween; the themes for his parties were quite challenging every year. Who will forget his 21st birthday, when he wore a Scottish kilt? Well, the boys grew up, but I still saw them – for Rami, they were his brothers, and he was generous with his time, games and clothes.

There were so many adventures in those teen years: Rami wanted to discover everything. He was not very happy with me being strict or trying to monitor him, and there were times, of course, when school did not mean much to him, but he sailed through and got his A-levels. He went to the University of Buckingham and got his BA with Honours in two years.

He left Buckingham a mature man, though he decided to go wild before starting work. He told me, ‘Mum, I will not be able to do any crazy stuff once I start work,’ so he came home with a zebra design hairstyle!

The time came for Rami to go to Dubai to start working: I missed him terribly, but at that time internet and webcam were out, so we could communicate, see each other and he would show me his office and what changes he had made in the house. He wanted to immerse himself in all aspects of the pipe business, from the factory upwards.

He found a refuge in religion: in moderate Islam, which teaches love, virtue and principles to respect and help others. He became a different man: still cracking jokes and enjoying life, but he was committed to his rituals. I was blessed that he asked permission from his father to take me to Hajj (pilgrimage to Mecca) in 2000. It was such a great experience – at the time he told me, ‘We are going to go in a normal group; we need to be down to earth and struggle in Hajj as we will have more “ajr” [spiritual reward],’ and we did. It was such a lovely experience, to be with him in Mecca, in Arafat, repenting for all past deeds, in Medina, visiting the Prophet’s resting place. I could not have asked for more; I cherished every moment and I still do.

Later in 2001 Fouad and I celebrated our 25th anniversary, and Rami surprised us with a film production about us: he went to the trouble of going to three countries to interview family members and friends. He left us with a beautiful memory and made us cry as we watched.

He married and became a father, and what a great father he was: his three girls were his treasure, he loved them to bits, and they were his life. He had dreams for their future: he wanted them to be disciplined, responsible and proud to be Makhzoumis. His father a few years back had commissioned a historian to write about the origin of the family and its history and the prominent people along the years. Rami took this to a different level, and produced a great documentary which includes the history with maps and old films, interviews with family members and even included the children. He requested all our photo albums and scanned the pictures, so we could have a digital recording of them and later can produce a family book. I promise you, Rami, we will do that!

For every trip his family took, he printed a book with photos from that trip, keeping the memories alive. It is somehow as if he knew he was leaving us soon, for he did for us what nobody thought of doing before. He did a lot for his kids, guided them along, got them into all aspects of modern technology, took them to faraway places, and showed them the world. He always told me ‘I want to spend as much time as I can with them. I want to have balance in my life, give priorities to my family and give them as much time as I give work.’

He was a special person, everything about him was unique: his taste in clothes, in furniture, in music, in art. He had a special way of looking at life, enjoying it to the full but living with faith and respect. Everybody who met him, even once, felt he was different: people respected him, admired him, and loved him; family, friends, colleagues, employees – he touched their hearts. He was a good man and will be remembered for his good deeds.

Finally, he moved his family to live in Beirut; at last the family was reunited – us, our daughters and him. Finally the siblings were able to do things together: they had matured and begun to understand each other better than at any other time. A couple of years back or so, he told me, ‘I regret I did not spend time with my sisters as they were growing; I was at university, then work; we lived apart, but I want to compensate for that.’ Well, he did in his last year and was looking forward to spending time together. Me too – I was looking forward to such times. But alas, he left us too soon. Still, we are all together – from high above he is looking at us, joining in everything we do; he is alive in every breath, with every tear, with every smile; he lives in our hearts, in our minds, he will be present always.

The first year has passed, your first birthday without you. Not a day has passed you were not thought of, not a day without tears shed in your remembrance. Your memory lives with us, it keeps us going… your smile, your laughter, your glittering eyes greeting us as we come and go.

October 2012, your second birthday without you is approaching. You would have been 35 this year! Alas you are far, far away, not counting the years, not counting the days, but your spirit roams in Heaven, watching us, waiting for us. And we here await the day we will meet you again. But we’re keeping your legacy alive, for the sake of your kids…. for your sake, to fulfil all your dreams and aspirations.

The presence of your girls in our life has helped us grieve peacefully, patiently, lovingly, strengthened by faith, knowing God has ways of showing us the right way to accept fate, and do what is required.

Love you Rami, will always do…

May Makhzoumi
Beirut 2012

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