On TV, Kevin O’Leary is a staunchly money-driven businessman known for his big investments and blunt off-the-cuff remarks. But when the cameras are off, the multimillionaire is a proud family man who has passed down his Lebanese values to his children.
O’Leary is best known for his role in the ABC television series Shark Tank, where he is one of five ‘shark’ investors who listen to entrepreneur pitches and choose whether or not to invest in their startups. He is also the co-founder of the billion-dollar tech company SoftKey Software Products.
The Canadian-born businessman was raised by an Irish salesman father and Lebanese businesswoman mother. He spoke candidly to Lebanese Examiner about his rapid success in the world of business, and how his Lebanese values still carry on to this day.
“Lebanese culture is one of the most successful entrepreneurial cultures on earth,” O’Leary says. “I’m very proud to say that because it’s true.”
All In the Family Business
Growing up, O’Leary was surrounded by business and hard work. His grandfather immigrated to Montreal, Canada from Hasbaya, Lebanon and built a successful clothing manufacturing company called Kiddie Togs.
“That’s how I learned family values, and I think those things are very important,” O’Leary says. “You don’t realize that until you get older. The work ethic in Lebanese families is legendary.”
O’Leary’s mother, aunts and uncle all worked hard to keep the family business running, but they always made time for family. His mother Georgette Bookalam died in 2008, and her sons credit their successes to her teachings.
“My mother Georgette was one of the most influential people in my career,” O’Leary says. “To this day, her wisdom and advice guide me in almost every business choice I make.”
The O’Leary home valued family. Sunday dinners were an important part of his life growing up, and it started a special tradition that continues today.
“I remember every Sunday if you didn’t show up for dinner that (my grandmother) prepared all day long, you would burn down in perpetuity,” he says. “I appreciate that because I have those same rules now. I try to get my family together no matter where we are every Sunday to keep that tradition going.”
O’Leary once lived in Cyprus, and would visit Beirut often in the sixties before troubles broke out in the region. His experience in global investments have taken him around the world – and he always finds a Lebanese friend with an incredible business story.
“Lebanese are very smart investors,” he says. “If you go to any city in the world, you’re going to find that the core Lebanese community is very successful. Very often, they own all the real estate in town and lots of different businesses.”
Through his travels, he always finds a good Lebanese meal, too.
“It’s no surprise to me when I go to South America, Cambodia, Europe, wherever, I always go for a good meal,” he says. “I look for a good Lebanese restaurant.”
The entrepreneurial spirit flows through the Lebanese blood, he adds. Today, when he lectures at universities all over North America, he shares these stories with American and Canadian students.
“Some of us are born to create wealth, and others are meant to work there,” O’Leary says. “That’s just the way it is. They are both noble pursuits, but Lebanese have built businesses, they take risks and they support their families – they have a cultural disposition to do that.”
O’Leary believes his grandmother and mother played a central role in his career. He calls them “powerful matriarchs,” and says they exist in every Lebanese family.
“I’m a big supporter of women entrepreneurs – women are very good at business,” he adds. “I think the Lebanese culture was one of the first to support the concept of matriarchal values.”
These values, he says, are part of his career decisions, every day.
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Tommorrowland is the largest music festival in the world. It takes place in Belgium every year and draws thousands of people.
Lebanon is one of seven countries that will be a part of the Tomorrowland’s international festivals. The special effects at the festival will be synchronized with the show in Belgium “adding value to the global connection,” the official website says.
The Lebanese Forces, Progressive Socialist Party, and Kataeb Party issued a joint statement urging Lebanese President Michel Aoun to nullify his controversial decree granting Lebanese citizenship to over 400 foreigners.
The decree grants Lebanese nationality to mostly wealthy Syrians, some of which are considered close to the Syrian regime, the Daily Star reports.
In the statement, the parties called on the President to “abrogate the decree” and later added that a reasonable decree would include special cases only.
“(A reasonable decree) includes people with very special cases and have specific humanitarian conditions that are consistent with the Lebanese Constitution provisions and the criteria for granting the Lebanese citizenship,” the statement added.
Kataeb MP Sami Gemayel requested the Lebanese Interior Minister release “full text and names” so that “we can study it and give an opinion about it in order to take any legal or constitutional steps we need to.”
Lebanese Foreign Minister-elect Gebran Bassil defended the naturalization decree, saying the President and the foreign ministry are “not involved in any suspicious acts regarding the controversial naturalization decree,” wires reported.
Although Saad Hariri is a part of the March 14 alliance with the LF, PSP and Kataeb, he sided with Aoun and signed the controversial decree into law.
Casino du Liban president Roland Khoury projected the net profits for the establishment to be over $10 million for the fiscal year of 2018.
In 2017, the casino rebounded after Khoury took over with a $3 million profit after years of experiencing losses, the Daily Star reports.
The casino is majority owned by the government through the Intra Investment Company and is managed by London Clubs International, a subsidiary of Caesars Entertainment Corporation.
As a result, the establishment pays lots of taxes on most of their games inside. Khoury said “We pay nearly $40 million in taxes on the slot machines.”
He called on tax reform in the country so that the casino will be able to better compete with casinos in Cyprus and around the world.
Despite his grievances, many analysts have noted that the expected revenue for 2018 is promising given the small size of Lebanon’s population and where a significant percentage of people do not gamble.
Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri has responded to an Iranian General’s comments about the most recent parliamentary elections in Lebanon and Iraq.
Video on Lebanese social media circulated of General Qassem Soleimani, the head of Iran’s elite fighting Quds Force, praising Hezbollah’s electoral gains stating that “Lebanese elections turned Hezbollah into a resistance government.”
Soleimani added that these victories “came at a time when some Arab countries labeled it and its leaders as terrorists.”
The Iranian-backed militia group Hezbollah and allies gained a total of 29 seats in the most recent Lebanese parliamentary elections.
Hariri told reporters on Monday the statements by the general are “regrettable” and added that interfering in Lebanon’s internal affairs is “not in Iran’s interest, nor those of Lebanon or the region,” according to the Associated Press.
According to a UN-backed tribunal, five Hezbollah members were allegedly involved in the 2005 assassination of Rafik Hariri, Saad Hariri’s father. Hezbollah denies the allegations.
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Kids can be extremely picky eaters, especially when it comes to trying unfamiliar dishes from other parts of the world.
That’s why it’s no surprise there were mixed reactions when a group of kids tried Lebanese food for the first time!
WATCH: Kids try Lebanese food for the first time!
The YouTube channel HiHo Kids sat down with five American kids to taste-test an array of Lebanese dishes, including a zaatar manoushe, shish tawouk, a smorgasbord of mezze and halawet el jibn for dessert.
Their reactions were priceless!
The kids were first given a zaatar manouche to munch on.
“It’s the same size of my face,” said one girl.
Everyone loves chicken!
No surprise — the kids liked the shish tawouk the most.
“No really, it’s good, it’s good,” said one kid. “It’s not bad.”
Next came the mezze.
“Whoaaaaaaaaaaaaa!” the first kid exclaimed.
The mezze platter featured hummus, cheese, olives, grape leaves and kafta.
The olive seeds may have come as a surprise to some kids.
Halawet el jibn can make anyone smile.
But not these kids! Only one kid liked this dessert.
“I didn’t like it at first, but now I like it,” he said.
The HiHo Kids YouTube channel taste-test foods from all over the country, including Jamaica, Korea, Australia and Greece, among others.
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