guru sees Middle East as road full of opportunity
Taki's business is growing near 50 percent a year
By Will Rasmussen
Daily Star staff
Saturday, July 02, 2005
Business in person
Taki is Beirut's franchising guru.Taki matches Gulf
investors with Lebanese looking to franchise their business.
He sets the price, writes the contract, and ensures
that an exact copy of the Lebanese business is produced.
"It's a Catholic marriage," he laughs. "I
am the priest. Divorce is not an option. Both sides
know their duties and both sides are happy."
A trim, energetic 54-year old with
a square jaw and a light, graying beard, Taki has seen his
4-employee business take off in the two years since he founded
it. The September 11 terror attacks in the U.S. meant Gulf
tourists increasingly choosing to summer in Beirut, where
they became accustomed to Lebanese staples like Crepaway,
Zaatar wa Zeit, or the gift company Lily in the Box. When
Gulf Arabs began demanding these same companies in Jeddah
and Doha, Lebanese franchising surged.
"It's growing near 50 percent a year," Taki says.
"Exporting both the Lebanese know-how and labor, as Lebanese
workers leave for the Gulf region, is increasing. It will
rise even more if tourism increases."
Prime markets for Lebanese firms are less-developed countries
such as Bahrain and Qatar. Dubai and Abu Dhabi are crowded
with international firms and competition is fierce.
It's a pleasant convergence of factors for Taki, who stumbled
into his current consulting business a few years ago helping
his close friend, the owner of the Lebanese fast-food restaurant
Bliss House, develop a manual for opening new franchises.
After that, my business grew by word of mouth - client to
client," Taki says. "I didn't advertise at all."
Taki's clients now include, among others, the chocolate company
Alpina, the furniture store Vanlian, an Italian clothing store
called Atos Lombordini, and restaurants Bliss House, Substation,
House of Salads, and the U.S.-based Pita Delite.
"I don't just accept anyone," he explains. "There
has to be a uniqueness in your service, your product, or your
menu to succeed."
Despite his less-than-premeditated entrance into the consulting
business, franchising runs in Taki's blood.
During his teenage years, Taki's parents
returned to Lebanon from Mexico and won a franchise to open
"The Classics," an American furniture company, in
Taki, who was born in Mexico City, was by that time fluent
in Spanish, Arabic, and English and stepped into a management
role in the business. "My parents asked me to help out,
and I became the manager of 85 employees," he said.
In 1991, Taki won a franchise for an English furniture company
in Lebanon, which in the wreckage of the post-war years never
got off the ground. In the late 1990's, Taki managed the franchising
agreements involved in bringing Formula One Grand Prix auto
racing to Lebanon.
The allure of franchising for Taki stems both from brokering
deals and from a scholarly fascination with understanding
"In franchising, you have to know the norms and values
of the culture," Taki says.
Most of his business involves Saudi Arabia, which poses cultural
and religious obstacles for companies trying to do business
"In our training manuals for Saudi Arabia," Taki
explains, "we have to make provisions for praying five
times a day. We have to shut down and chain the door during
Restaurants also must be designed very differently in Saudi
"You have to have closed booths for families, where the
waiter can't enter. He has to knock on the door and wait for
the male to open it and get the food."
These observations led Taki to publish a book - one of his
five - called "How to Understand a Saudi Arabian."
He's penned works on Mexico's economy, the role of the Diaspora
in developing Lebanon, and most prominently, a recently re-released
biography of former Premier Rafik Hariri, co-written with
a German author.
"We published that book in 1995, when Hariri was not
so popular," Taki says. "My biggest sadness is February
14. That will be the saddest day for me ever."
Taki, whose family lives in London, settled permanently -
or so he plans - in Beirut in 1997. Although he says he avoids
politics at all costs, he does have a patriot's concern for
He displays prominently on his wall a plaque from President
Emile Lahoud recognizing his community service work at Roumieh
Taki built a 65-square meter computer center at the prison
and set up a school to teach computer skills to inmates.
"We're in our sixth year now," he says. "I
love to do humanitarian work and help these people recover."
As he explains his life history and his hobbies, Taki bounds
around his spacious Gefinor Center office space, gathering
various articles on his activities, pulling books he's written
off the shelves, and exhibiting photos of consumer products
he uses in franchising manuals.
Taki's industry is young in the Middle East. It started in
the early 1990's when some Kuwaiti businessmen wanted to open
"The Gulf only understands franchising because of the
West," Taki says. "They opened a road for us."
For Taki, it's a road full of many
"Every summer, people return from Beirut to the Gulf
and want the same services and products back home."
In the Family: divorced with three children, Rania, 24, Stephanie,
21 and Achmed Justin, 18
Last Vacation: "to England to visit my children"
Currently reading? "Foundation of Human Resources Development"
by Richard A. Swanson
Hobbies/Sports: walking at the American University of Beirut
or on the Corniche, swimming.