Musings With... Dr Mohamad Fakih

Style Observer

Musings With... Dr Mohamad Fakih

President & CEO, Paramount Fine Foods; Recipient of the 2019 UWI Toronto Benefit Gala G Raymond Chang Award

Sunday, February 23, 2020

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What is your earliest philanthropic memory?

My earliest philanthropic memory started with a shoebox at home (in Lebanon). My mom placed a shoebox at the entrance of our home and every day she would ask us to put a coin in the box when we left the house. The box was labelled “Sadaqa”, which means “voluntary giving”. The money would then be given to the poor and needy.

Another memory was during religious holidays. Our family would cook large pots of food with the money we collected from our savings, gift certificates and pocket money. We would cook it ourselves and then distribute it to the poor and needy at schools, mosques or churches.

Why has it [philanthropy] remained your cause célèbre? 

I have been a refugee and an immigrant during my life in Lebanon and I had to prove myself to the world because my name is Mohamad, a Muslim from Lebanon. I wanted to stand up with people who have no one to stand up for them. I wanted to be that voice for someone who didn't have a voice. To be a successful entrepreneur, I wanted to stand up with the minority refugees/immigrants and provide them with a platform to speak, for their voices to be heard. I needed to send a message that people going through difficult times are never alone. Hate is not acceptable to anyone regardless of their religion or colour. I personally get upset when I see people being hated just for the colour of their skin, or their religion, or for the way they speak, so I get involved. I am wired that way — I am wired to stand up against intolerance.

Your latest initiative is a C$1.5-million ‘Canada Strong’ fund-raiser. What prompted this? 

Me being a father, being a Canadian immigrant and most importantly, going back to the main principle of people not feeling alone in times of crisis. When the plane crash happened, I waited a few days hoping that someone would initiate something. And when I saw that no one did a thing, I shuddered thinking [what] if I got a call that one of my family members was on that plane, and no action was taken. So I decided to step up and send a message to the world that in times of difficulty, we Canadians come together to support one another, and that we do not leave our family behind.

Minority communities are generally proud communities and do not accept help from others. But I wanted that minority community to know that we are not strangers, we are your family — Canadian family — and we are in this together. I wanted to prove that Canada is truly Canada Strong. We are all Canadians, whether we came here one year ago, or 100 years ago.

What has been the response? 

Great response! Canadians have shown their love and support. Corporations and individuals have supported financially and used their platforms to spread the word. Media has played a major role and did amazing work. The Government has supported us by matching the funds. We got great support from the community, as well.

You are the recipient of the 2019 G Raymond Chang Award. How has that impacted your life? 

It was a great honour to receive the G Raymond Chang Award, and to set an example that UWI has awarded a Canadian immigrant who came to this country with nothing. This shows that awards named after heroes like Raymond Chang are to be given to celebrate our successes, our philanthropy.

What words of advice would you give today to your younger self? 

Never forget where you came from. Never forget your roots. Be proud of your traditions, your heritage and your background. Do not let your success and ego come between you and what you do for humanity, as there is no success worth celebrating if it only benefits you. It has to be for the betterment of all.

What has been your most humbling experience? 

I make mistakes every day and have no problem admitting to my mistakes. Every experience is a humbling experience for me.

Where’s your happy place? 

Anywhere my family is or anywhere I'm doing something to benefit others.

Nature or nurture? 

Definitely nurture.

In your industry is it more important to be liked or 

Respected.

What is your greatest fear? 

Losing my dignity.

What lesson has been the hardest to learn? 

The hardest lesson was being hungry. I was once hungry for a day-and-a-half. Rent was due and payroll wasn't coming in for another 48 hours. So I had to use whatever money I had for rent, and had none left over for food. When the payroll finally hit my account at midnight I ran to the pizza place next door which was just closing up. I asked them for a slice of pizza and they were kind enough to open the store for me. It was more of a psychological pain than actually being hungry.

How would you define success? 

Surround yourself by a team that you cherish like family and a community that respects you and you consider them part of your family. Many people believe that business success brings happiness, but they are mistaken. Happiness is more than a bank statement, an asset or the bottom line. Immerse your company with a team who you value as a second family. Success is wonderful, but success surrounded by family is paramount.

What food sums you up? 

Italian food!

What have you never understood? 

Despite us as humans having a lot in common, why do we focus on differences. When I truly believe our differences are special and we should be praised for, not divided with.

What talent do you yearn for? 

The art of relaxation. I am someone who cannot sit, constantly feel that I am missing out on something that I could've done.

What’s the one business tip you got that you’ve never forgotten? 

Don't be afraid to fail.

Finally, if you could be remembered for one thing, what would it be? 

I want to be remembered for standing up and making a difference.


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