Leadership in an Uncertain Environment: The Case of Fouad Zmokhol

Performing the basic managerial functions might be within the ability of any individual who climbs the organizational ladder. However, exhibiting the ability to lead is exclusive to the select few who can stand out and have an impact. Some environments impose more challenges on leaders, especially those fraught with uncertainty, ambiguity, and complexity. Lebanon is par excellence one of those countries passing through constant turmoil, and Dr. Fouad Zmokhol is one among the few who were able to survive, adjust, and grow in such an environment. President of the Lebanese Businessmen Association for six consecutive years, CEO and founder of successful businesses, and a professor of management and entrepreneurship at several universities, Zmokhol says that leadership is an integral part of all the roles he assumes, even as a father.

Being left with the responsibility of running a business after the death of his father at the age of 19 and being faced with the challenge of sustaining and growing this business made entrepreneurship an integral part of his soul. “Such a challenge accelerated my entry into adulthood and triggered my sense of self-actualization,” Zmokhol says. Dr. Zmokhol finds that living a life of leadership is necessary to be a good academic, nurture a family, have an impact on the public sector, and grow a business diversified in terms of both geography and products and services. He quotes Lao Tzu who says, “A leader is best when people barely know he exists, when his work is done, his aim fulfilled, they will say,‘we did it ourselves.’” Gaining acceptance and being trusted are prerequisites for exercising your leadership style.

Zmokhol adds that flexibility and agility are highly required in an environment characterized by uncertainty, ambiguity, and complexity. “My strategy is built on clear objectives. It starts with where we are now and where we want to be at a certain point in time, based on the tangible and intangible assets we have.” People are the primary assets, according to Zmokhol.  He emphasizes that strategies can fluctuate based on the environment, but direction shouldn’t. With such an environment, your style of leadership should be based on being responsive and adaptive.

Zmokhol, whose company is a major player in the printing and leather industries in Lebanon, and who owns diversified businesses abroad, says that Lebanon is a business laboratory. Through this lab, one can test their rivals, other people, and the uncertainties one faces.  Zmokhol believes in a “3 Ds Strategy”. The first “D” stands for the development of oneself, other people, and one’s products. The second “D” is diversification based on the opportunities that emerge and should be seized. As for the third “D”, it is delegation. Talking about delegation, Dr. Zmokhol believes in distributed leadership based on the fact that a leader creates leaders who might emerge from any hierarchical level based on the power of knowledge, innovation, and expertise. Based on this belief, Zmokhol deals with his team after gaining their trust and acceptance.

Walking the talk is very challenging with the temptation of abusing power always looming large. However, the success story of Zmokhol in all the areas in which he is involved and his being looked up to as an exemplar of practicing what he preaches makes him a true and influential young leader.

Onlivery: A leading Lebanese Appreneurial Story

Like any other startup, Onlivery’s main trigger was the massive need that was in the market. Everyone was caught up in the old traditional food ordering tools, facing the same question day by day when lunchtime strikes, “what’s for lunch today?”

Although almost everyone says they want to try something new every once in a while, the problem is that a lot of people don’t even have the needed information required to try out new places, be it about nearby restaurants that deliver to where they’re at, restaurants’ price range, cuisine type, or any other prerequisite for any customer to take this leap of faith and try out something new.

There, the Onlivery Guys saw a need! And their main objective was, still is, and will always be to fulfill this need and help every Onlivery user to have all the needed information available whenever, wherever.

Providing convenience, Onlivery’s main USP as a concept is not only limited to instant access to hundreds of up-to-date menus whenever needed, but also providing a tool where customers can hand over their “food ordering mission” to someone else.

“Without knowing it, every time you order food, you’re on a mission; Onlivery makes sure your whole mission is taken care of; every time… From A to Z,” says Abed Majzoub, COO of Onlivery.

It starts from searching for menus, figuring out if the needed restaurant delivers to your location, getting the restaurant’s phone number, calling the restaurant, which will most likely take a lot of time as restaurants’ lines are almost always busy, until at last you order and have your food delivered to you. Order your food online and leave the rest to us!

Although they do provide an easier way for people to order food, yet they are changing trends and breaking habits.

“One of the hardest challenges we opt to face is getting people to step out of their comfort zones and try this new ordering tool! Our main challenge is to get people to shift from a tool they’ve been using ever since they started ordering food to a tool introduced newly to the market; Overcoming this is our main challenge,” says Daniel Kofdrali, CEO of Onlivery. Kofdrali, one of the leading appreneurs in Lebanon, developed this friendly and innovative application that is available on the mobile phones of more than 200,000 users, with a great monthly increase in the number of users and market value. “Enhancing user’s offering, convenience and geographies” is the next milestone according to Kofdrali.

A Lebanese success story founded by an appreneur who has resigned from leading positions in MNCs and resisted the temptations of stability and steady paycheck to implement his vision, talking with Kofdrali, you immediately discover that many ideas are being cooked and a serial entrepreneur is being born.

Nicolas Sehnaoui: Guru of the Lebanese Digital Economy

An entrepreneur by nature and a change catalyst who aims at creating and pivoting ecosystems capable of accelerating the sought change, he assumed several position in the private and public sectors, leaving the numbers to speak on his behalf. Nicolas Sehnaoui served as the Minister of Telecommunications of the Republic of Lebanon between June 2011 and February 2014. He successfully upgraded Lebanon’s telecommunications infrastructure, rolling out 3G and 4G, securing redundancy on international connectivity, launching a national Fiber Optic Backbone and Beirut Digital District, to name only a few of his accomplishments.

His efforts were crowned by the United Nations International Telecommunication Union that ranked Lebanon in the first place regarding progress out of 157 countries in the 2012 ICT Development Index, all while reducing Internet and mobile costs by over 80%. By June 2013, with the infrastructure well on its way to recovery, Sehnaoui turned his attention to Lebanon’s knowledge economy, more specifically its digital economy. While actively working on elevating the entrepreneurial spirit in the digital economy, Sehnaoui was instrumental in the lobbying that helped bring about Banque du Liban Circular 331, a groundbreaking $400 million equity investment guarantee initiative that transformed Lebanon’s banks into VC-oriented institutions. He now chairs the UK Lebanon Tech Hub, a Banque du Liban and UK Embassy common initiative that aims at creating a corridor between Lebanon and England to allow Lebanese Information and Communication Technology (ICT) entrepreneurs to access the world supply chain through the London platform.

Listing the achievements of the UK Lebanon Tech Hub, Sehnaoui says,

We have contributed to the creation of 138 new jobs, $7.4 million additional revenues to the companies we supported in 2015 and 2016. Our accelerated companies have secured $4.4 million in funding and additional Investment. Our workshops, events and signposting services have helped 482 companies and 1,338 individuals, between professionals and students.

 Sehnaoui helped in internationalizing Lebanon’s entrepreneurial momentum. The Hub helped to engage sixty key members of the diaspora, acted as Lebanon’s National Team for the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor, and ran nationwide surveys as per the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor (GEM) methodology. Sehnaoui proudly says that the GEM index for 2015 identified Lebanon as one of the top 20 entrepreneurial countries in the world.

 “Our ecosystem is beginning to be noticed on the global map and I am confident it will soon shine like a beacon of success, which brings a lot of joy and satisfaction to the teams of the many enabling entities working relentlessly to make it happen,” he adds. With the aforementioned infrastructural changes, Lebanon aims to become the tech gateway of the Middle East. A blueprint has been prepared to create 25,000 ICT jobs and a $7 billion boost to GDP by 2025. Lebanon is identified by its huge growth potential in financial technology (FinTech), well-being (healthcare, fitness and food lifestyle), and retail “visualization” technology. Finally, since its establishment in 2012, the Beirut Digital District has nurtured a generation of tech entrepreneurs. The tech sector, which has grown 8% a year, has been labeled the “Silicon Valley of the Middle East.”

Rima Frangieh: An Avant-Gardiste in Social Responsibility

A new chapter in her life started in the year 2003. After a media career which introduced the audience to a charming lady, a U-turn in the life of Rima Karkafi took place back then after she officially became Rima Frangieh. Being married to one of the major political players in Lebanon and being a celebrity in her own right, the camera could not get enough of her, and anything related to her became an instant hit that was eaten up by the voracious media. Frangieh wanted to leverage on these factors to unveil her socially responsible character in a marginalized Lebanese region.

Believing in the organic approach and having faith in the enthusiasm and innovative ideas of the youth of the north, Frangieh decided to create a spontaneous think-tank or a series of brain storming sessions with five hundred fresh graduates whose interests varied but who all had ideas that would contribute to changing the status quo of their northern hometowns. The graduates were divided into groups based on their fields of specialization and interests, and they set out to answer Frangieh’s intriguing question, “how can I make things better?”

The different ideas that materialized were gathered under the umbrella of a newly developed NGO, “Al-Midan.” This NGO covers a wide array of activities, and since its emergence, many innovative ideas and initiatives have popped up.

Another very well branded program that aims to celebrate life was the Ehdeniyat International Festival. This festival focuses on developing rural areas, attracting more tourists to the fabulous area of Ehden, and bringing people together around music, in addition to introducing culture and art to the region. All the profits of this festival go to different humanitarian causes in Lebanon. Ehdeniyat 2016 was a green festival introducing the 3,500 attendees of every concert to sorting at the source.

Cinemaiyat, a student film festival that started out of Frangieh’s belief in the cinema as an industry in general, and in the Lebanese talent in the seventh art, which, according to her, can “charm the world.”

Christmas by the Lake Festival is one of the initiatives to celebrate the Christmas season around the astonishing lake of Bnachii. The Christmas tree of the year 2015 was voted as the sixth most beautiful tree around the world. This is accompanied by initiatives like “Let’s Green,” an environmental program that spreads environmental awareness, implements ecological projects, and initiates environmental practices. For instance, sorting at the source will start September 2016 in twelve villages, targeting 1,700 households and 300 commercial institutions over a period of six months to implement the concept of waste management. The North Autism Center (NAC), which is a specialized autism educational center, is an indispensable initiative that started after an assessment of the needs of the region. Besides raising awareness in the north and all over Lebanon, a new milestone in the center is launching a sensory gym that kids with autism could benefit from in unprecedented ways.

When asked about the networking efforts that take place between NGOs and corporations, Frangieh considered that a lot more could be done, as this kind of synergy is not mature yet. This does not negate the fact that there are a few networks established with embassies, international NGOs, ministries, and some corporations, in addition to the sponsorship provided by some banks and companies to the big festivals and events or even to the above-mentioned sensory gym. “However, the present needs require further networking,” says Frangieh. Listing some examples about this kind of cooperation, Frangieh mentioned the partnership with Grand Cinemas that opened its cinematic theaters for three weeks for screening the winning film in Cinemaiyat’s competition, supporting the talent of Lebanese fresh graduates on the national level. “Let’s Green” is collaborating with local and international NGOs and receiving grants from international donors such as LRI, which is funded by USAID, and Mercy Corps, which is funded by Ukaid.

Rima Frangieh has become an exemplar in Lebanon for starting innovative social initiatives that have an impact. Such initiatives can be even more impactful when NGOs rub elbows with corporations, who, in their turn, have solid CSR programs. Such cooperation is indispensable to offset the government’s deficient role and to soothe the needs of many communities.

Communication: Hillary Clinton in Action

This present case study intends to focus on Hillary Clinton as one sample of how social media is being utilized to communicate on a large scale in our world today. It aims to show how the Clinton campaign perceives itself and how views its rivals when it comes to social media, regardless of whether this self-perception has always been echoed in the views of the target audience.

 The rivalry between the Republicans and Democrats in the race for the American presidency has been manifesting itself in the virtual and the real worlds alike.  Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton both rely on social media to appeal to American voters while promoting themselves and offending one another in a very well-established social media strategy.

Jenna Lowenstein, digital director for the Clinton campaign, works with a team of more than 100 content creators and social media strategists. The campaign closely follows the debates, appearances, and political stances of Clinton, as well as her counterarguments to the very controversial Trump.

The heated tweets between the two sides reached their peak when Hillary tweeted, asking Trump to “[d]elete your account.” At the time of this writing (July 2016), the tweet had gained 636,000 likes and 482,000 retweets. Her tweet, which was seen around the world, was only one of the most viral examples of her newly adopted aggressive strategy to take the 2016 fight directly to Donald Trump on his favorite social media platform. Lowenstein says the tweet reflects the efforts of a talented staff of writers who love the art of riffing—and know how to cultivate a voice on the Internet.

The social media efforts of Hillary’s campaign aim to bring forth donations, volunteers, and voter turnout. In July 2016, the campaign launched a Spanish-language website and Twitter account, a Facebook Live of staffers reading the case names of more than 5,500 lawsuits associated with Trump, a Snapchat filter trolling the Republican National Convention, and a social media tool called “Trump Yourself” that allows users to overlay Trump’s most controversial statements on their Facebook profile photos.

Even the “Trump Yourself” tool—a smart way to produce user-generated content with an oppositional message—captured demographic data and email addresses. In a few weeks, TrumpYourself.org had been viewed 1.2 million times by 800,000 unique visitors, half of whom imported their photos to the website.

 “What we’re seeing is a shift toward political attention being driven by social sharing processes. I think the Clinton campaign is very clearly aware of these new dynamics and has worked very hard to be on many different platforms,” says Daniel Kreiss, associate professor in the School of Media and Journalism at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

When content is not directly written or assigned by Clinton, Lowenstein’s team channels her personality by focusing on their candidate’s values, sense of humor, and communication style, which is direct and to the point.

“There are two ways to get compelling content out on social media,” Clinton’s campaign spokesman Jesse Ferguson said in an interview. “One is to be over the top, insulting, and saying outrageous things—otherwise known as the Trump strategy. And one is to be fair, accurate, targeted, and informative. That’s very much what we’re doing.”

In any case, these two viral campaigns leave the world with two critical questions. Does media generated by campaigns come at the expense of traditional media outlets? Does the candidate who wins on Twitter and other social media platforms win in reality? The results would definitely be an indicator of the extent to which the real and the virtual have become intertwined!