Rich List-Issam Fares
The 71-year-old former deputy prime minister of Lebanon, and multibillionaire, grew up in the farming region of North Lebanon, but always knew that he wanted to be a successful merchant.
In 1954, at the age of 17, Issam Michael Fares left his homeland and landed a job as a clerk at catering and food services firm in Qatar. Two years later, he was heading Abela Group's finances and subsequently managing its operations in Pakistan, Kuwait, Iran, and Saudi Arabia. When he turned 38, Fares went into business for himself and established a civil engineering and construction firm, and completed many notable projects including the world's longest international bridge, which connects the island Kingdom of Bahrain to Saudi Arabia.
He then sold the company to British Aerospace, and used the proceeds to buy up Houston-based investment firm, Wedge Group, a company that he heads today. The Wedge Group has major interests in oil and gas field services, real estate, financial services, and warehousing, concerns which have been very profitable over the past few decades and netted Fares billions of dollars.
But unlike many Lebanese expatriates who struck it rich abroad, Fares decided to return to his homeland and enter the political realm. He was elected to parliament in 1996, and served as the deputy prime minister until 2005.
Over the years, the outspoken financier has made his fair share of enemies, as could be expected from a multibillionaire politician, yet it is his connections and friendships that are more compelling. During his time abroad, Fares was involved in American politics and had the ears of president Bush Sr, and James Baker.
He also hobnobs with European royalty and politicians, and powerbrokers in the Middle East.
These days, Fares spend some of his time building his company through acquisitions, but it seems that his interests have drifted towards philanthropy. His passions lie in education; he has endowed prominent universities such as the American University of Beirut and Tufts University in Boston to promote further study of the Middle East; and he has sponsored thousands of Lebanese students to study abroad. His foundation in Lebanon also provides access to healthcare in rural parts of the country and supports civic organisations promoting the creation of a democratic, non-sectarian civil society.
Despite his detractors, Fares is a self-made billionaire who remained committed to his homeland, and his hard work is benefiting his compatriots every day.