Greek Business File, September-October 2019, No 122
Interview by Lalela Chryssanthopoulou
Tawfiq Khoury, Executive Vice President of the Lebanese multinational giant CCC based in Greece since 1976, in this exclusive interview focuses on the rules to be followed for a new growth model in Greece, explains how CCC has contributed to the development of the Greek economy and infrastructure over the last few years and prioritized the projects for regional cooperation.
CCC, founded by your late father and uncle back in 1952, is the 18th biggest international contractor in the world and has the top place in the Middle East. Yet, your global headquarters are not in Dubai, Doha or Abu Dhabi, but in Athens, where you relocated back in 1976. Why Athens?
CCC was headquartered in Lebanon prior to the move to Athens. During the Lebanese civil war, the situation in Lebanon became untenable and moving out was a necessity for the continuation of our business. My uncle, who was stationed in Lebanon decided that Athens would be the best location to move to due to many factors such as proximity to Beirut, similarity the of landscape, culture, and climate, the location between the West and the Middle East for meetings with clients and partners and for international procurement as well as the connectivity of Athens with the whole world and ease of access, in particular the stable visa policies of Greece which facilitates ease of entry into the country of all our clients and partners as well as our employees of different nationalities.
A robust family business
CCC is a multinational giant, with 120.000 employees from 80 nationalities and offices all over the world. Yet, it is still run like a family business, with yourself and your two brothers at the helm. Does that give you a competitive advantage over a “typical” multinational? What does it mean for the corporate culture of the group?
Absolutely. The family ownership and engagement provides for many competitive advantages. To name a few, the form of ownership provides for the adoption of a stable long term strategy which also provides for employment security for our staff and enhances employee loyalty as a direct result. Moreover, with a small Board of Directors, major decisions are taken quickly when needed. I can provide you with many examples, but to be brief, one example is our entry into Yemen in the early 90s when most other international companies shied away. A smart and quick decision by my late father landed us an excellent construction opportunity and the first oil concession. Our long term strategy also protects our assets and human resources when the markets are down and puts us in a strong position when the markets turn around. Most multinationals lose good resources and cannot react as fast in response to market volatility.
There are many other advantages that are typical of family owned companies such as risk taking, no agency problem with management, focus on asset protection and growth rather than on short term profitability, personal relationship factors, agility, and many more; too many to list.
Contributing to the Greek economy
How has CCC contributed to the development of the Greek economy and infrastructure over the last few years? Can you give us some examples of projects where you have been involved?
CCC in Greece is established under Law 89 which does not allow us to carry out business in Greece to generate income. This has not stopped us from contributing to the Greek economy in many other ways. We recruit a great number of professionals from Greece, engineers in particular for the most part. I believe that we have nearly 2000 engineers from Greece now working for CCC worldwide. We also have BIM School in Athens and, so far, around 80 Greek engineers have graduated from this centre of excellence. Many are working on our projects. In addition to recruitment, CCC in Athens has invested in offi ces and homes and is always working with local suppliers, manufacturers, and subcontractors to the maximum extent possible for our projects, which is basically an export of local capabilities and resources.
Can Greece act as a bridge and a catalyst for closer dialogue and cooperation between the European Union and the Arab World, especially in these turbulent times? In what way?
This is a natural consequence of the presence of CCC in Greece. We sponsor several major Arab-European events in Athens that focus mainly on creating relationships to enhance cooperation and foster closer ties. Two major events that we have recently supported are the Arab-European Summit, now in its third year, and the recently planned Iraq European Summit as well as support of the Hellenic Arab Hellenic Chamber.
Can you elaborate on the initiatives you have personally initiated, as one of the ‘founding fathers’ of the annual EU – ArabWorld Summit?
My later father initiated the Iqtisad and Al Mal organization (Economy and Finance) – which is published monthly and distributed in 40 countries – and held conferences in all Arab Countries. When my father passed away, I was elected chairman in his place. Since then I initiated the introduction of this organization into Europe by the Greek gateway through the annual EU-Arab World summit. I have personally traveled and invited heads of governments and ministers in the Middle East to the Greek conferences to garner support and ensure substantial participation.
Prospects for regional cooperation
In which sectors do you see more prospects for regional cooperation? Which projects should be prioritized and why?
Greece has a unique location, truly in the middle of the most active trade routes between East and West (past and present). Its shipping industry is a living testimony to the success of the exploitation of this position. With oil/gas being discovered in the East Mediterranean and off -shore North Africa, Greece can play a major role in the transportation of the hydrocarbon to Europe, refining, as well as the expansion of a sizable petrochemical industry. There is a regional dynamic that I see will benefit Greece immensely, God willing. In addition, Greece is also gifted with a great climate, year round, and fabulous scenery. This has attracted a vast number of tourists but, I think, not enough from the Middle East. This may be due to regional competition, mainly on cost. I believe that some effort is needed to further enhance Greece competitiveness in this sector and to open up more areas for tourists beyond the most well-known locations.
Innovation and Sustainability are at the heart of your business model. How do you imagine CCC in 10 years from now?
I believe that the path that my father and uncle have charted for CCC, which is based on a unique corporate culture anchored to family values, is to be maintained indefinitely. Long term view of the markets, incorporation of local staff in every country we operate in, social responsibility, and technology adaptation to our industry are but some of the basic tenants of success in the future. Retaining our high performance employees and incentivizing excellence in every respect, I believe, will guarantee success. In 10 years I imagine CCC to be in an even better position amongst the top Engineering and Construction companies in the world and a major developer and investor in infrastructure, power, water, transport projects, and oil/gas exploration and facilities developments.
In one of his last interviews before he passed away in 2014, your late father Said Khoury said that “I had dreamt of achieving something. I had big hopes that I would succeed but I had never imagined that I would reach what I have got now”. What is your dream and vision for CCC, as a prominent member of the second generation of leaders?
As I mentioned earlier, CCC is in a good position to make and follow long term plans. My vision for CCC is to continue to be a well-respected diversified global business with a clean reputation for quality service, reliability, socially responsible, and environmentally friendly. My vision, which is shared by my brothers and our children is to continue to grow at a reasonable and sustainable rate and to continue to plan our business portfolio to be diversified geographically (40-50% from the Middle East and 50-60% from other regions), by service oil/gas fi eld developments 10-15%, 40-50% from construction and EPC, 20-30% from Development and Investment Projects, 5-10% from more sophisticated services such as Project Management, Construction Management, or Development Management. At the same time, I am hoping that with the third generation development, new specialist subsidiaries will be initiated to include advanced services in many other fields, related or unrelated to the mother company’s business.
Promote education, youth employment, and entrepreneurship
Over the course of the last 43 years, you have engaged with successive Greek governments to promote education, youth employment, and entrepreneurship among other things. What would you advise the newly elected Government to do?
Young people need education and then work (through apprenticeships, practical training, transitioning from education to employment) to be able to live well and to integrate in society but also to contribute to economic recovery and growth. It is a fact that Greece suffers from a “brain drain” – promising, bright young people leaving to study (or after their studies) and live abroad instead of staying in Greece.
It is imperative and of immeasurable importance that the Government takes coordinated actions and measures to tackle the problem of high youth unemployment in Greece, capitalizing on young people’s creativity and innovative ideas.
Thankfully, we have seen many Greek banks and larger companies supporting youths through their corporate responsibility programs.
It is also equally important to focus on young people with low formal qualifi cations: creating opportunities for apprenticeships and traineeships, establishing transition programs from education to employment, supporting in this way the acquisition of a first working experience and promoting entrepreneurship. Counselling and mentoring services should also be offered to support young people in their transition to the working/business environment.