Leadership and the American University of Beirut


In 1968 I spent my junior year of college at the American University of Beirut.  For those of  you who don’t remember, Beirut, Lebanon was once aptly described at the “Paris of the Middle East” and was by far the most modern, international, and economically important city in the Middle East.

All the major global banks had their Middle Eastern headquarters in Beirut. (It was such a memorable time for me that I based one of my thriller novels, Game Changer, on the events of that year.)

And at that time the American University of Beirut, founded in 1866 by Protestant missionaries under a charter from the State University of New York, was the place where the wealthy and educated of the islamic world sent their sons and daughters for an advanced Western-style education.  At the time AUB had a medical school, nursing school, pharmacy school, law school, as well as some of the finest professors in all the major university subjects. At the end of June 2011, the number of degrees and diplomas awarded since 1870 have totaled 82,032.

For me AUB was a multicultural paradise of open dialogue and many different cultures interacting in the pursuit of higher education.  In all of my classes there were numerous American students, Canadians, Turkish, African, and from nearly every country in the Middle East.  All the classes were taught in English and many of the professors had Ph.D. degrees from major western universities, like Cornell, Harvard, Yale, and others. It seemed to me that AUB was not just turning out educated graduates, but people who could some day step up into global leadership positions, and some of those I knew personally during that year did become recognised political and business leaders.

But something significant happened on Dec. 27th, 1968 during our semester break at AUB.  Israeli commandos came ashore late at night and stormed the Beirut International Airport, blowing up planes on the tarmac and shooting up the terminal buildings. The commando raid was in “retaliation” for the Lebanese government supposedly harbouring known terrorists in the Palestinian refugee camps in southern Lebanon. The tit-for-tat war of escalating terrorism had begun and Lebanon became the crucible.

Lebanon, and especially the city of Beirut, has never been the same.  During the rest of the school year we put up with armed guards, nighttime patrols in the streets, student protests and riots, cancelled classes and a general escalation of violence.  And in the ensuing years things got much worse, culminating in the civil war in Lebanon and the strong influence of Syria in the government of Lebanon.

In April,1983 the US Embassy, a few blocks from AUB, was destroyed by a car bomb and 60 people died and then in October, 1983 the US Marine Barracks in Beirut was destroyed with two car bombs, killing 299 American and French servicemen. In 1984 the President of AUB, Malcolm Kerr was assassinated, and in 2005 the Prime Minister of Lebanon, Rafic Hariri was assassinated.  For many decades Beirut and Lebanon have been a war zone of political and religious hatred, violence and terrorism.

Only recently have things begun to calm down and has Lebanon begun to emerge into some sort of social and economic stability.

A Time for Leadership: A School for Global Leadership at AUB

I believe it is time for the American University of Beirut to step up to the challenge of not just advanced education, but the important job of leadership education.  I am not talking about turning out more Masters or Ph.D. students in the usual and important subjects.  I am talking about the establishment of a School for Global Leadership at AUB.

Where better to focus the world’s attention on the importance of leadership than in the heart of the troubled Middle East?  The Middle East situation has impacted every nation on the globe and has been responsible for much of the violence in the world today.  Today, more than ever, the world and particularly the Middle East needs leadership. People with the skills, understanding, compassion and courage to take a positive stand for peace and prosperity for all.

And a leadership curriculum is not just academic study, although that is part of it.  Real leadership education entails a balanced approach to academics, practical experience, stewardship, statesmanship, communications, shared values, tolerance and courage.  I know of no better institution than AUB to take on this challenge and begin a real dialogue about leadership and peace.  They have the knowledge (and more can be brought in), they have the mandate (the Middle East needs leadership and reconciliation), and they have proven that they have the courage (through all those years AUB has remained open for the students).

A Call to the Global Lebanese Community

I know there are enough successful Lebanese and AUB graduates in countries around the world, including Lebanon, who would support and donate to this effort.  I urge you to send this blog to anyone you can think of who might have the courage and compassion to make a School for Global Leadership at AUB a reality.

Feel free to get in touch with if you want to talk further.  It’s time for leadership!


John R. Childress

Author of LEVERAGE: The CEO’s Guide to Corporate Culture, and FASTBREAK: The CEO’s Guide to Strategy Execution, available from Amazon in paperback and eBook formats.

See the review of LEVERAGE in The Economist (January 9, 2014.

John also writes thriller novels:  novels.johnrchildress.com

E | john@johnrchildress.com

About johnrchildress

John Childress is a pioneer in the field of strategy execution, culture change, executive leadership and organization effectiveness, author of several books and numerous articles on leadership, an effective public speaker and workshop facilitator for Boards and senior executive teams. In 1978 John co-founded The Senn-Delaney Leadership Consulting Group, the first international consulting firm to focus exclusively on culture change, leadership development and senior team alignment. Between 1978 and 2000 he served as its President and CEO and guided the international expansion of the company. His work with senior leadership teams has included companies in crisis (GPU Nuclear – owner of the Three Mile Island Nuclear Plants following the accident), deregulated industries (natural gas pipelines, telecommunications and the breakup of The Bell Telephone Companies), mergers and acquisitions and classic business turnaround scenarios with global organizations from the Fortune 500 and FTSE 250 ranks. He has designed and conducted consulting engagements in the US, UK, Europe, Middle East, Africa, China and Asia. Currently John is an independent advisor to CEO’s, Boards, management teams and organisations on strategy execution, corporate culture, leadership team effectiveness, business performance and executive development. John was born in the Cascade Mountains of Oregon and eventually moved to Carmel Highlands, California during most of his business career. John is a Phi Beta Kappa scholar with a BA degree (Magna cum Laude) from the University of California, a Masters Degree from Harvard University and was a PhD candidate at the University of Hawaii before deciding on a career as a business entrepreneur in the mid-70s. In 1968-69 he attended the American University of Beirut and it was there that his interest in cultures, leadership and group dynamics began to take shape. John Childress resides in London and the south of France with his family and is an avid flyfisherman, with recent trips to Alaska, the Amazon River, Tierra del Fuego, and Kamchatka in the far east of Russia. He is a trustee for Young Virtuosi, a foundation to support talented young musicians. You can reach John at john@johnrchildress.com or john.childress@theprincipiagroup.com
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3 Responses to Leadership and the American University of Beirut

  1. ohaness nersissian says:

    Without going into further details, I suppose Leadership is a ‘skill’ that could not necessarily and/or wholly be ‘acquired’ but it is somehow an ‘inborn expertise’ that has its own DNA characters…
    However, to be further effective in its sincere concept, the leadership that we need should be ‘unaffiliated’ and locally constructed but never imported!! That’s the very simple and the most essential tip to make us consider a “MainGate” alumni leadership that can target the visionary future of the country, where we all alumni have faithfully launched our loyalty to the land that inspired us to become ‘regional’ leaders.
    Let’s Lead the generations as loyal humans and make them highlight the fact: Are we the right alumni to deserve this affiliation??
    I suppose we are!!
    All the best, dear leaders, for this great Leadership….educational and human!!
    Ohaness Nersissian


  2. Pingback: Why the American University of Beirut? | John R Childress . . . rethinking leadership

  3. Pingback: COLLEGE PORTAL » american university of new york » COLLEGE PORTAL

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