This extraordinary man has had the international business world talking about him as a “Conscious Capitalist with a global focus”, as a “Business Titan,”, as “One of the most highly regarded, influential CEOs in business”, according to analysts from The Motley Fool (2018), and as a “humanitarian at best”.
But this recently retired Chairman and CEO of the Middleby Corporation, a US leading company in commercial kitchen worldwide, did not have a smooth start during his schooling in war-torn Lebanon of the 70s. Not when he had to also endure dyslexia and ADHD, a school he hated so much, a series of failures, and a lack of financial means.
A graduate of Collège Notre-Dame of Jamhour in Lebanon, also known simply as Jamhour, Selim Bassil entered this week his former school, which he claimed several times to have hated so much, addressing the alumni with his story, and stunning them and the school with a totally unexpected gift. What he had to say is not to be missed!
“This school, which I never liked, which I really hated, and which has welcomed me for 13 years, honors me today. What a paradox! I never liked Jamhour because I was a turbulent, dyslexic, deficient, hyperactive, mediocre, not to say catastrophic, student.” This is how Bassoul started his speech to the alumni and the college’s body, in the presence of President Michel Aoun who was in attendance.
Rather unexpected that Bassoul expressed his dislike towards his school during his early stages. However, that was the starting point of his fierce determination at his most challenging stages in life, and he needed to share it for a purpose.
He described the difficult environment in which he was raised, “Coming from a modest family, surrounded by studious and rich classmates, I suffered a lot in this school. Socially maladapted to the needs and demands of the school, I accumulated failures, referrals, and disappointments. But despite this dark picture, there are people here who believed in me.”
In fact, Bassoul failed the Lebanese Exit Exams, known as the Official Exams, making his future look gloomy and hopeless. With the civil war raging at that time, and with no access to financial aid and no exit exam diploma, he was in a doomed state, or that is what he felt back then.
However, Bassoul was driven from that time by a passion to change the world, as he would come to reveal later in his life during his journey of supporting the unfortunate in the world, “I want to be able to, in a small way, change the world. It has always been my purpose.”
That was the force driving back then the young Bassoul who had refused to submit to his academic failures. He now advised all the youngsters who feel the same way to not give up on themselves.
He used himself as a prime example of a failing student who worked his way up, “I managed to turn a complete failure into outstanding professional success. Basically, there wasn’t a student worse off than I was. If I made it, you can make it.”
True as he said, Bassoul has made it when all seemed impossible. He managed to attend the American University of Beirut (AUB) where he earned a B.A. in Business Administration with Distinction and was the recipient of the David Dodge Scholar Award.
He remained committed to excelling, and moved forward, starting his career path with Ernst & Young, until he decided he wanted to do more of his life.
On his journey towards what would become the top position at the Middleby Corporation, Bassoul worked eight years in the healthcare industry for the American Hospital Supply and Baxter Healthcare, assuming various positions that included mergers and acquisitions, corporate planning, and the regional directorship of the Middle East and Africa.
He kept progressing, joining Premark Inc. of Illinois for eight years, excelling in commercial food equipment, until he climbed his highest level at the Middleby Corporation.
While referring to his own experience in his speech at Jamhour, he encouraged the youth to travel abroad and seek life-changing opportunities that could possibly pave the way towards greater success, similar to what happened to him.
With that being said, Bassoul believes that one’s roots are never to be forgotten. “My experience has taught me that the Lebanese can leave Lebanon, but Lebanon will never leave the heart of the Lebanese,” he said in his speech at Jamhour. “I traveled all over the world, from China to the USA … 40 years later, I never forgot where I came from.”
It is true; wherever and whenever Bassoul’s achievements or endeavors are talked about, there is always a mention of his Lebanese roots. This is one of those great achievers overseas who proclaims it proudly.
With the roots being remembered, he then points out to the importance of giving back after taking in so much. He cited his good friend, legendary boxer Mohamed Ali Clay, to quote him in what has been his own humanitarian drive, “Service to others is the price of your room here on earth.”
Bassoul has been indeed dedicated to giving back. While working as the Chairman and CEO of the Middleby Corporation, he founded the Bassoul Dignity Foundation, helping countless of unfortunate people around the world, especially in the Middle East and Africa.
And his “giving back” endeavors would not cease surprising us. He concluded his speech to the students and the college’s body, pledging a massive donation of one million dollars to the school that took him in and raised him to become the successful person who he has been today.
“To this school that I hated so much, but, deep down I love so much, I offer a million dollars,” he declared, astonishing the audience. “This donation, which will be added to the College’s Endowment Fund, will help many students and parents in need in the years to come”.
Evidently, Bassoul did not forget how much he struggled financially during his time at Jamhour’s college, and knew that there must be students now who are probably enduring the same.
His generous gesture expressed it, as it expressed his genuine desire towards the betterment of the academic institution that had embraced him during his struggles and kept believing in him when he didn’t.
Needless to say that his selfless action in affording such opportunity to those who wish to strive despite their lack of means is highly commendable, and humbling indeed.
Extraordinary and inspiring, Selim A. Bassoul is the recipient of several prominent awards, including the “Hero of Conscious Capitalism Award”, and the “Ernst & Young World Entrepreneur of the Year”, among others.
His Bassoul Dignity Foundation has been providing life skills and vocational training to those struggling to find work, including single mothers and former inmates with minor offenses.
As per the Conscious Capitalism organization, “Bassoul’s company worked together with Entrepreneurs Without Borders to invent and begin distribution of a solar-powered, affordable, and portable stove for refugees and the impoverished around the world. That stove also has the ability to purify water and charge a cell phone.”
From a dark time behind his class desk in Beirut, struggling with ADHD, Dyslexia, failures, and lack of means, that young Lebanese fellow back then braved himself and the world, carrying himself with his challenges and passion all the way to embrace all the opportunities there available. And the world embraced him.
He didn’t stop to blame his flaws nor his country’s war and system but went beyond them all. He wanted to change the world “in small ways”, to make a difference, and to count on himself to do so. And he did; not just in small ways.
A most admirable man with a most inspiring journey, Bassoul did know how to “pay for his room on this earth”. Determination, motivation, and self-discipline brought him to excel, yes, but he did not stop at his own personal success once he reached it. He wanted more for others as well and he made it happen, and still does.
And the most inspiring message we Lebanese in Lebanon can probably take from his story is: All is possible to attain whatever our environment and situation!
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