Words of Wisdom: Peter Tanous
Mr. Tanous is Chairman of Lynx Investment Advisory, LLC. Mr. Tanous has spent his entire forty-year career in the field of finance and money management. Previously, he was Executive Vice President of Bank Audi (U.S.A.) in New York City. Prior to joining Bank Audi, he was Chairman of Petra Capital Corporation, an international investment bank which he co-founded. In prior years, Mr. Tanous was First Vice President and International Regional Director with Smith Barney. During his 15 years with the firm he was also manager of its Paris office and a Director and member of the Executive Committee of Smith Barney International.
Mr. Tanous is the author of Investment Gurus, (Prentice Hall/Simon & Schuster) a widely acclaimed book that explores the careers and theories of some of the greatest money managers and financial academics of the 20th century. Investment Gurus was chosen as a Main Selection of The Money Book Club as was his subsequent book, The Wealth Equation. Investment Visionaries was published in September 2003 and Mr. Tanous' latest book, Building a Winning Portfolio (Kiplinger's) was published in January 2008. Mr. Tanous received a B.A. in Economics from Georgetown University in 1960. He has served as a member of the Parents' Council and as a member of the Board of Advisors of Georgetown's College of Arts and Sciences. He is currently a member of the Georgetown University Investment Committee and is on the board of the Georgetown University Library. Other activities include: Director, WorldCare Limited, Boston, Massachusetts, Director, ChildFund International, Richmond, Virginia I grew up in a Lebanese American family, without really understanding my heritage as a child. Both my parents were Lebanese Americans, both born in the U.S., and both their parents had emigrated to the U.S. in the 1880s. My parents weren’t native Arabic speakers but knew just enough Arabic to communicate what they didn’t want us kids to understand. My paternal grandfather owned a shoe store in Long Island, NY, and he died before I was born. My maternal grandfather was Salloum Mokarzel who, with his brother Naoum, founded the first Arabic-language newspaper in North America, Al-Hoda. They became prominent in the movement to achieve Lebanon’s independence, and upon their respective deaths, the Lebanese government sent for their bodies. They are interred in their home village of Freike.
As we grew older, my sisters and I became more acquainted with our heritage while feasting on Lebanese food and were dragged to funny festivals called haflis and mahrajans, where people spoke a strange language and did goofy dances. We soon discovered that these were our relatives! This cultural awareness didn’t last long. As children, we moved to Paris where my dad started a business a few years after World War II ended. During those years, my sisters and I had little contact with our heritage as we absorbed the new French culture to which we were now exposed. Upon graduation from the American School of Paris, I went to Georgetown University, where my father had also gone to college. My two sisters followed, coming back to the U.S. a few years later than I. Helene became a medical doctor and Evelyn (who changed her name to the more Arabic sounding, Najla) became a lawyer and made her career with the Small Business Administration.
After college and a stint in the U.S. Army, Ann MacConnell and I got married. We have three children, Chris, Will and Helene, and four granddaughters.
Following my two year army service, I began a long career in finance which continues to this day, initially with Smith Barney where I became manager of the Paris office and then the firm’s head of International. I reconnected with my heritage in mid-career after I joined Joe Audi who was opening a new bank in New York, an affiliate of the Lebanese Banque Audi, now the largest bank in Lebanon. Ours was an American bank that would focus on the Lebanese-American community nationwide. It was an eye-opening experience. I attended the conventions of the Southern Federation of Syrian Lebanese American Clubs, where as many as two thousand of our people gather for festivities every July 4th holiday in different parts of the South. And I got to meet hundreds of fellow Lebanese Americans and marvel at their various achievements. I was hooked on my heritage!
In the early eighties, I was invited to join the board of the National Association of Arab Americans (NAAA), then the most prominent such organization, and while there, and with Joe Audi’s encouragement, I told the board that I wanted to focus on Lebanon. I was introduced to Tanya Rahall who was in charge of Congressional affairs at NAAA and we agreed to work together to enlist the Lebanese-American community in our effort. We were very successful! It seemed that many Lebanese Americans were wildly enthusiastic about joining an organization that focused on Lebanon. We called it The American Task Force for Lebanon. In fact, we were so successful that the board of NAAA wanted our group to also focus on their other Arab-American issues as a part of their membership. That became a contested issue that resulted in our little organization getting kicked out of NAAA. At that point, Tanya Rahall had an important career discussion to make: stay with the established NAAA or risk going out with a new organization with limited and unsure funding. She took the leap and became the first executive director of ATFL while I became its first chairman. We recruited members and grew the organization together in its infancy. We were succeeded a few year later by Ambassador Tom Nassif, who served as chairman of ATFL for 20 years, and George Cody, now a living legend in the DC community along with his associate, Deeb Keamy.
The Task Force today is under impressive new leadership. Its chairman is former U.S. Senator and Secretary of Energy, Spencer Abraham, and the new president is Ed Gabriel, former American ambassador to Morocco. What’s so convenient is that if you forget their names, just call them “Your Excellency”!
Of course, every boy needs a hobby. Mine was writing books. In the early seventies, I had some success as an author of novels, and later on began a new writing career as an author of investment books. To date, I’ve authored or co-authored six financial books, including a couple of best-sellers, and a seventh is on the way. I’m also secretly finishing a new novel.
On the professional side, I established Lynx Investment Advisory in Washington DC in 1992 and Ann and I moved from New York City to Washington. The firm has been very successful and is now majority owned by a senior member of one of the most distinguished families from Lebanon. As an old guy, I often get asked for advice by young men and women who are about to embark on their professional careers. Once while I was addressing a class at Georgetown, a student asked me how best to succeed in a small firm. I gave her an example of someone who has worked for me for 18 years: make yourself indispensable. Early in our firm’s history, Lara did everything at our firm. She prepared clients reports, kept the books, did the billing, greeted customers. Today, she is our Chief Operating Officer. And, yes, she is indispensable!
More advice: It’s in our genes that if we’re going to go into business, we want to own the place! Indeed, most Lebanese Americans are entrepreneurs, and many of them have done extremely well. Yet others went the corporate route and climbed the corporate ladder very successfully, to wit, leaders of Ford Motor, Morgan Stanley, Occidental Petroleum, Thomas Nelson Publishers, and many others. Others created their own corporate ladders, in companies like Jacobs Engineering, Haggar Apparel, Sensormatic, MPS Group, Nest (now owned by Google), Kinko’s (now owned by FedEx) and a ton of others I’ve forgotten. So if you want to go into business for yourself, consider working at a company for a few years to learn the corporate and business landscape, then strike out on your own. Don’t let failure scare you. Almost no entrepreneur succeeds the first time out. Success by another name is persistence. Don’t give up!
Another bit of advice: always say ‘thank you,’ even for the most pedestrian things. It’s gotten a lot easier to do thanks to email, but occasionally write a note and send it snail mail. The impact is greater than you think.
Finally, remember where you came from. There is nothing more important in life than family, and as we all find out, our Lebanese heritage comprises an extended family of unlimited breadth, support and love.