Ghossoub prepares to take to the world stage

Joseph Ghossoub is about to enter the most stressful week of his life. Richard Abbott meets the IAA’s new world president

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By  Richard Abbott Published  March 19, 2006

Ghossoub prepares to take to the world stage|~|Ghossoub,-Joseph200.jpg|~|Ghossoub... ‘This is a big seal of approval of Dubai’s position in the advertising, marketing and media world’|~|With advertising’s big cheeses preparing to descend on Dubai for the International Advertising Association’s World Congress, the last thing Joseph Ghossoub needed was for his company’s Beirut office to go up in flames. He was forced to abandon his schedule in Dubai and board a plane to the Lebanese capital when the building his agencies share with the Danish Embassy was set on fire by protestors last month. “If I told you we had an emergency plan in place I would be lying,” says Ghossoub, who was at the Dubai Desert Classic golf tournament when a friend called to urge him to find a TV showing CNN. He made the trip to Beirut the following day to view the carnage for himself. And thanks to a series of phone calls to friends, suppliers and clients, the company was fully operational within 48 hours. A new office has been leased, into which staff are expected to move within a matter of months. Ghossoub is chief executive officer of The Holding Group, which operates advertising agencies Team Y&R, Wunderman and Intermarkets, media agency Mediaedge:cia, and PR firm Asda’a. And, as of today, he is the world president of the IAA, beginning his two-year tenure with this week’s World Congress at the Dubai Convention Centre. With more than 2000 delegates heading to the emirate, including luminaries such as WPP boss Sir Martin Sorrell and Procter & Gamble global marketing officer Jim Stengel, Ghossoub knows that expectancy is high. “It is humungous,” he admits. “I had no idea of the amount of work, the amount of preparation, the amount of trouble and problems you go through to get this congress package together.” But he adds: “We are very much ready. Everything is set.” Expecting 18-hour days and precious little sleep, Ghossoub has decided to book himself into the Novotel adjacent to the venue for the duration of the three-day event. He speaks with passion about the Congress but a level of trepidation. More than anything, he wants delegates to enjoy the experience, learn something, and leave as ambassadors of Dubai. “As soon as the delegate arrives at the airport he will feel the difference,” he says. “We will try our utmost not to have anyone leaving here with a bad experience.” Ghossoub may be Lebanese by birth but he has lived in Dubai for 22 years and is keen to cement the city’s reputation as a regional hub for media and advertising. “It is a big honour. This is a big seal of approval of Dubai’s position in the advertising, marketing and media world,” he says. With the city attracting headlines around the world for the scale of its ambition and the luxury of its hotels, many delegates will be extending their stay after the congress ends. Sounding every bit a Dubai tourism officer, Ghossoub talks of the “coupling of business and pleasure”. “Our job is to give them what they are looking for on the professional side but at the same time our duty is to give them a little bit of what this place has to offer so that they become ambassadors,” he says. Part of the Dubai experience will be a trip into the desert on Wednesday evening for a traditional Arabic dinner in a Bedouin camp setting. The Congress itself is headlined ‘Challenges of Change’. It’s the kind of vague headline that fills you with dread. It could be applied to any conference in any business sector, from air conditioning to marine biology. But Ghossoub explains that all of the delegates who will be attending, from 52 different countries are linked by the same issues — globalisation, building consumer loyalty, embracing new technology. All are challenges. And all present potential change. One of the key subjects of the Congress will be two debates on the subject of integration versus disintegration, one of which will look at the future of the relationship between advertising and media agencies. “I think the whole world is facing a similar situation. We are between integration and disintegration,” he says. A subject that Ghossoub says is dear to his own heart is the connected topics of sustainable development, self regulation and responsible marketing, or, as he puts it “how the advertising industry can contribute to a better world”. “Without sustainable development and without acting responsibly the future of our children is at stake and the future of our planet is at stake,” he explains. To this end, the 50m long concourse of Dubai Convention Centre will be used for an exhibition on public service advertising campaigns from around the world. “We want to encourage everybody to follow suit,” he says. “It shouldn’t be something you do when you are free. It has to take a share of your mind at all times.” The new IAA world president graduated with a degree in business administration in his native Lebanon 25 years ago. He climbed the internal ladder at Intermarkets but left after feeling there was no challenge for him anymore. So he joined Team Advertising as managing partner and chief operating officer in 1993. After serving as vice president of the IAA’s UAE chapter, he was elected president in 1995, before joining the IAA World Council a year later. Ghossoub is married with three children, the eldest of which, Nadine, is an account director at Team Y&R. He smokes several cigarettes during our meeting and on his office wall is a front cover of Cigar Aficionado magazine, on which he is pictured. An enthusiastic golfer, he plays off a handicap of 12. “ I play everywhere there is a game, with whoever is free for a game,” he says. He had a round of golf booked with singer Chris de Burgh during the singer’s recent visit for a concert in Dubai, but had to miss it due to his trip to Beirut. “Maybe it will happen again, who knows,” he says. The two years ahead promise excessive long haul travel and speeches to international audiences. It is something that many bosses would shy away from but Ghossoub is relishing the prospect. “I will carry the Middle East with me wherever I go. I will be an ambassador for the area,” he says. Will it affect the time he can spend on his business? “I have looked at that very carefully. I am surrounded by good people so I have no problem,” he says. “It’s more work and strain for me. But I’m ready.”||**||

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