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Lebanon: Private-sector success cries out for public-sector reforms

Lebanon can boast something few developed economies have – growth and a well-capitalized banking sector. Sadly, this and the promise of a natural resource windfall cannot hide the dire need for structural reforms and leadership from the top to undertake them.

Jacques Jean Sarraf knows what he wants and has the courage of his convictions.

The tall and ebullient chairman of Malia Group, one of Lebanon’s largest companies, is the personification of an old-school, swashbuckling entrepreneur who equates high risk with high reward.

Since 2003 Sarraf has orchestrated the rapid expansion of the company his father founded as a pharmacy in 1936, taking the now diversified group from the streets of Beirut to Algeria, Egypt, Iraq, Kuwait, Jordan and Syria.

Malia Group today comprises some 20 companies operating in everything from pharmaceutical and personal-care products and bottled water, to consumer goods distribution, fashion and luxury, information and communications technology, advertising, engineering and contracting, hospitality and real estate.

The opening two years ago of the first five-star hotel in Iraq, the Erbil Rotana Hotel in the Kurdistan region, epitomizes Sarraf’s bold approach to regional expansion.

A public listing of the 77-year-old company in Lebanon, Dubai or London might be one of his boldest moves yet. It’s being planned for 2016.

But it’s in reflecting on his home country of Lebanon that Sarraf, a man of some clout who formerly chaired the Lebanese Association of Industrialists, is clearest of all about what he wants.

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