AM Bank chairman of the board and CEO Marwan Kheireddine grew up in Lebanon during its civil war. So he decided early on that he would do something huge to revitalize his homeland.
“I saw the disparity that wars create. I saw the lack of opportunity that a lot of my fellow Lebanese countrymen faced and the disadvantages that they had to go through because of the war,” Marwan Kheireddine says. “I was one of the very privileged people who had the opportunity to continue my education outside Lebanon. So I finished high school in Lebanon [before leaving].”
With his family having a business spanning more than three decades in Europe, he was able to leave war-torn Lebanon at that time.
“We were one of the few fortunate families that were able to leave, but the people who remained there were always on my mind,” Marwan Kheireddine shares. “I had high school friends who couldn’t go to university with whom I’m very good friends now. I had high school friends that went to university but did not get serious education because they were affected by the war. So it’s always weighed on my conscience that because I was privileged, I need to do something for my country when I can and if I can.”
This call to a nobler mission allowed Marwan Kheireddine to seek new business ventures to bring growth and prosperity back to Lebanon.
Marwan Kheireddine aims to revitalize Lebanon’s economy
“That has led me to explore a side of me, that made me make a lot of money in my previous years and made me lose a lot of money as well,” Marwan Kheireddine says. “My entrepreneurial side would inspire me to say, ‘OK, you know what? I want to invest in Lebanese talent. I want to invest in people that can do, but that are not privileged to do by themselves.’”
Marwan Kheireddine fearlessly became involved with more than 50 companies over the years. “Some of them made a lot of money, and some lost a lot of money, but overall, in terms of job creation, I managed,” says Marwan Kheireddine.
“When I looked over the group in Lebanon, we were barely 16 employees, maybe 17 employees. Today, we have more than a thousand employees. And this is, I’m talking about the direct companies that I manage. I’m not talking about jobs created by other companies I invested in or other companies to which I lend money to grow their operations.”
Marwan Kheireddine has spent 29 years building AM Bank and discovering ways to bring more economic opportunities to Lebanon.
“We’ve done amazing projects. For example, we’ve developed the container terminal at the Port of Beirut,” Marwan Kheireddine says. “I won the bid initially in 2004, then sold my shares to a U.K. company, but financed the port’s growth. And that project created about 1,500 jobs. And it put Lebanon on the map, and we got commended by the World Bank for being the most efficient container terminal in the eastern Mediterranean. We were more efficient than Israel, Syria, and Egypt.”
Expanding Lebanon’s economy remains a priority for Marwan Kheireddine
“In my position as a bank manager, I was able to identify certain investment opportunities that I invested in, but I was also able to identify certain lending opportunities that would help create jobs and help develop the economy in Lebanon,” Marwan Kheireddine says. “Today, if you look at the balance sheets of banks in Lebanon, we are the bank that has lent the most as a percentage of balance sheets to the economy. So we operate as a proper bank. Most banks in Lebanon have lived off financing the debt of the government. And that’s why they’re in big trouble today. And we are in less trouble, simply because we played the role of a bank. We would get deposits, and we would go and invest those deposits and projects that produce employment and produce income to the bank.”
Leading the charge with credit cards in Lebanon
Marwan Kheireddine brought Virgin Megastores to Lebanon in 2001 and introduced credit cards there.
“I came back to Lebanon from the United States, and there were no credit cards, not a single bank had a credit card,” Marwan Kheireddine says. “So I thought, ‘Oh my God, this is a greenfield.’ And I had been thinking about it obviously for a while before joining my family business. And I launched credit cards. I was the first bank in Lebanon and not only the first bank to launch, but the only bank to have credit cards for about five years. So that’s an achievement that I’m very proud of.”
Another innovation Marwan Kheireddine introduced to Lebanon is more flexible banking hours.
“Banks in Lebanon initially started serving clients at 8:30 in the morning and closing at 12:30 p.m.,” Marwan Kheireddine explains. “So essentially four out of 24 hours, we would serve our clients, and the rest of the day, we were closed to our clients. So I was the first bank to open until 5 p.m. And then all the banks in Lebanon followed me.”
By adjusting bank hours, Marwan Kheireddine was able to double working hours for employees, and clients loved the convenience of extended banking hours.
“Ultimately, banks that were 10 to 20 times my size followed suit, and until this day, banks open in the afternoon because I started doing that some 20 years ago,” Marwan Kheireddine says. “So a lot of these small things made a major impact. We were also at the forefront of technology. We set up our IT systems. We did not reinvent the wheel, but we got one of the world’s leading technology companies in banking in the U.K., and they set up all our infrastructure. And that allows us until this day to launch new products that are technology-based very easily.”
Thanks to Marwan Kheireddine, AM Bank was also the first bank in Lebanon to launch phone banking with an app. “Clients could then download an app and essentially do most of their banking transactions online,” Marwan Kheireddine notes. “So it’s these little things that we do every now and then that shakes the market. And then within the products, we create new products.”
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