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French Version


Trump's latest apprentice has 'Lebaneseness' on his side

A British citizen of Lebanese origin, Sean Yazbeck, skewered the competition on the fifth season of Donald Trump's reality show, "The Apprentice," scoring another victory for the Lebanese diaspora.

The 33-year-old Miami-based recruitment consultant told The Daily Star that his diverse background helped him win a $250,000 contract in New York City with the Trump Organization, a luxury apartment and a new car.

That and fellow Lebanese and former opponent Tarek Saab, who was eliminated during the 10th round but came back in the finale at Yazbeck's request.

"I think coming from mixed parentage gives me a leg up in business because I understand a lot of different customs and can conduct business in different environments," Yazbeck said over the phone from Miami at 5.30 a.m. on Tuesday, the only time in his jam-packed day that he could schedule an interview. Yazbeck was in town to "hand off" his old job to a former colleague and to attend a ceremony where he was handed the keys to the city by Miami's mayor - part of the "amazing Apprentice publicity machine" - before jetting back to Manhattan to begin work on his first project, developing the tallest building in Soho.

Yazbeck, whose mother is Irish, has always identified with his Lebanese heritage thanks to his father, a Maronite Catholic from the Chouf and a "heavyweight champion in Lebanese history" who raised him on a "diet of 'Lebaneseness.'"

Though Yazbeck says he only speaks enough Arabic to talk to his grandmother on the phone once a week and has not spent much time in Lebanon, his connection to the country is genuine. He called his last visit, in 2001, "one of the most amazing experiences of my life."

"The main thing I took away with me was the generosity and hospitality of the Lebanese people; it's really unparalleled anywhere in the world. And I think there is definitely something inherently entrepreneurial about Lebanese identity."

When asked why Lebanese people enjoy so much success in business abroad, Yazbeck referenced his father yet again.

"My father is more romantic about it. He's always talking about entrepreneurship and how it's a Phoenician trait. Give a Lebanese man a dollar and he'll come back with a hundred," he said. Such a mentality obviously appealed to Trump, the personification of the American dream.

Saab, a fellow Maronite who lived in Lebanon as an infant but went to the US in 1979, agreed that certain Lebanese traits are conducive to success in business: "Lebanese people are very strong-willed, determined, and educated; it's almost as if success is ingrained in our blood."

The two men bonded over their shared heritage immediately during the taping of the show, even though they were on separate teams. In the last round, each contestant chooses one of the eliminated contestants to organize the final task - in this case a charity concert for the World Wildlife Foundation headlined by the Barenaked Ladies - and Yazbeck picked Saab.

Though taping is over, the two remain close. Yazbeck just returned from Saab's wedding, and when asked if his friend would be interviewed for the story, he joked that "of course Tarek would love that; his ego is bigger than mine."

Joking aside, Yazbeck respects business acumen first and foremost, which is why he looks forward to working for his new boss, whom he calls "one of the most amazing business minds in the world."

Confident about Lebanon's investment climate, Yazbeck insists that Trump, who announced a deal to develop a casino and resort in Dubai earlier this year, would certainly consider Lebanon if a sensible business proposal to build a hotel or casino were presented to him.

"I think Beirut is returning to what it was before the war and a lot more money is flowing into the country. Since September 11, people in the Middle East prefer to go to Beirut for vacation rather than Europe because they don't get hassled at customs," Yazbeck said. Perhaps when his apprenticeship is over, Lebanon may see more of him.

Beirut 27-06-2006
Lysandra Ohrstrom
The Daily Star



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