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French Version

Flour miller rolls with Lebanon's economy

Sinno describes the dora mills 'a family enterprise'

Business in person

Arslan Sinno, President of the Dora Flour Mills, the most prominent of his many titles, gestures out of his office window to two beat up cars covered in white in the parking lot below.

Asked if the powder is flour, he says mischievously "No, no its just dust, but one of those is a Jaguar that I am going to restore soon". "I like nice cars [of which he has 10], fast boats, skiing, you know, fast sports."

It would have been appropriate if the dust were flour, since Sinno's passion for playboy-style pastimes is rivalled only by his commitment to the Dora Mills, which he describes as 'a family enterprise.' His penchant for flashy toys, seems incongruous given the shabby run-down appearance of the warehouse that houses all four of his mills, but his meticulous, modern office projects another version of Sinno. Various diplomas hang on the walls, including the Masters Degree he earned just a few years ago so he could update his management techniques.

Sinno hopes his two sons will succeed him and become the fourth generation of his family to run the Dora Flour Mills, which was established in 1960 by his grandfather, who had been a grain broker, selling corn and wheat imports to milling companies to be refined into flour.

"The flour millers had a type of oligopoly so they decided to squeeze grain traders and not to buy the imported wheat. So he was left with two choices, either to submit to their pressures and sell to them at a cheaper price than intended, or to mill the wheat himself, so he bought equipment and went into the flour business."

The Dora Flour Mills have expanded and diversified their activities under Sinno's leadership. In addition to the 40 employees at the Beirut mills, the company now refines vegetable oil at their plant in Zouk Mosbeh with a staff of about 45.

Though the Dora Mills is not among the larger flour producers in Lebanon, it is one of the most adaptive. After a trip abroad where Sinno gathered information on modern milling techniques, the company became the first in Lebanon to install a bulk delivery system for bakeries. Following in the footsteps of his grandfather, Sinno cut out the middle-men in the grain industry by equipping his trucks to transfer milled flour directly to bakeries. Though the new system is more cost effective, sanitary, and environmentally friendly, Sinno says it has been met with opposition from both grain distributors and competing companies who "prefer to keep things as they are."

Along with his primary occupations-flour milling, vegetable oil processing, and grain trading-Sinno has taken on a hefty load of extracurricular positions, all of which are geared towards making Lebanon a more attractive venue for foreign investors and helping farmers and food producers evolve instead with economic liberalization.

He sits on the boards of the Beirut Traders' Association and the Lebanese Canadian Business Association, of which he is founding member, and is the Vice President of the American Lebanese Chamber of Commerce, and President of the Syndicate of Agri-Food Traders in Lebanon (AFTL).

Sinno also supports small Lebanese farmers by purchasing their shrinking grain yields.

"There is a small crop of 50-60 thousand tons of local wheat, but it is a hard type that is not suitable for bread. We-the syndicate of Lebanese flour millers-have made a deal with the Economy Ministry and the grain board that we will buy local production and blend it with imported grain."

Sinno maintains that reform is imperative for Lebanon's small and medium businesses, and the agricultural sector specifically, qualifying the latter euphemistically as a "mature" industry, meaning it is peaking.

On Tuesday, Sinno met with Prime Minister Siniora, who he calls "the most realistic politician I have ever met," to discuss these issues and left optimistic that Siniora recognizes the need for reform.

"We have missed so many opportunities in Lebanon. The Europeans are trying to help us, but SME's [small and medium enterprises] need to get together. We need to be more transparent and more accountable, so foreign companies will partner with us. Foreign investment will help us, but international companies should have to partner with companies who have stuck it out in Lebanon, through high interest rates, and the Civil War, and recession," Sinno says emphatically.

Sinno proved his resiliency by making the trip from West Beirut to Dora throughout the Civil War, and there is little doubt that he will stick it out for a long time to come. The only question is whether the Jaguar will not be making the transition from junk to vintage in the foreseeable future.

Beirut 28-11-2005
Lysandra Ohrstrom
The Daily Star

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