My name is Jonathan Petitpierre.
I am one of the two Englishmen mentioned above in the title of this piece.
You may wonder why an Englishman has such a very French name.
My grandfather -Jules Petitpierre - was born in Lyon in France.
As a young man he went to Kochin China (now Vietnam) where he started a trading business.
Fifteen years later he moved back, not to France, but to the UK where he set up an import/export business in London in 1903.
My father was born in London.
So I am a second-generation Englishman - with a French name!
I first met Michel Nassif - CEO of MNF - more than 20 years ago.
We come from very different backgrounds, but struck up an immediate rapport.
It was a classic case of:
‘Les extremes s’attirent’. ‘Opposites attract’.
Michel is a Lebanese gentleman blessed with a great mix of common sense and emotional passion.
I am more reserved. A typical Anglo-Saxon.
Although I like to think I do have moments where emotion plays a role!
But it’s not just our personalities and temperaments that are different.
So are our business experiences.
Michel is the third generation CEO of a classic Lebanese family business.
A company founded in 1907 by his grandfather and which has successfully navigated 114 turbulent years -
two World Wars, the Lebanese Civil War, constant Middle East unrest and recently a major economic and financial crisis in Lebanon as well as the Covid-19 pandemic.
My business experience has been in the slightly calmer waters of the world of marketing and advertising with Ogilvy - the international advertising agency.
Another significant difference between the two of us is that MNF is a small national company in a small country, but enjoys all the benefits and flexibility of ‘small is beautiful’.
Whereas Ogilvy is an international company with a predominantly international client base in which the ‘one size fits all’ business approach tends to dominate.
None of these differences has made the slightest difference to our relationship.
Quite the reverse.
They have enhanced it.
And there is a very important point of similarity between us - the belief in the power of Brands.
MNF has worked with and continues to work with companies that believe in Brands.
Companies like Unilever, Zwanenberg, Royal Canin/Mars, Ecotone/Bjorg.
And I have worked with companies like American Express, Nestle, Mars, Shell, GlaxoSmithKline.
Their businesses are built on Brands.
More on Brands a bit later in this Story.
Back to the first meeting between Michel and me.
Everything just fell into place.
And we agreed to start a business relationship where we would bounce ideas and strategies off each other - and I would make regular visits to Lebanon and get to know the country, the MNF company and all those who work for it.
In the process Michel and I have also become great friends - and I like to think that is also the case with all those I’ve had the privilege to meet who are employed at MNF.
The second Englishman in the Story is a colleague and friend of mine for 30+ years at Ogilvy.
His name is David Brown.
He had a stellar creative career with Ogilvy.
He was a truly great copywriter.
His name is linked to many of the best known campaigns produced by Ogilvy.
Campaigns for companies like American Express, Unilever, Shell, Guinness, British Steel.
The founder of the Ogilvy advertising agency was another David - David Ogilvy.
He is rightly revered as one of the true greats of the modern advertising world.
The two David’s had huge respect for each other’s creative talents.
And they became great friends.
Both understood that creativity can only flow from a true understanding of how business works - and what the business needs are at any given moment.
There is an expression - coined by a previous international creative head of Ogilvy by name of Norman Berry - that summarizes this point perfectly.
‘Give me the freedom of a tightly-defined strategy’.
Both David’s were ‘mavericks’ in the most positive sense.
And neither ‘accepted fools gladly’!
An exceptional pair.
The first thing I did after meeting Michel Nassif in Beirut was to pick up the phone to talk to David Brown.
He was instantly smitten by what I told him.
Very soon I’d introduced him to Michel and David became immersed in Lebanon, in MNF and its history, in its business partners down the years - and above all in its success with Brands.
Over a period of several years David wrote advertising campaigns for the MNF Brands, designed Website content, created ad hoc creative solutions for above and below the line Brand needs - and was always on hand for creative advice and to provide a creative business ear.
He also developed a written history of MNF, accessing MNF archives and files and delving deeply into internet published source material.
The picture that David painted in this history was that of a business that has been led throughout its 114-year history by three generations of the Nassif family in the best traditions of Lebanese family businesses.
The characters and personalities of the three CEO’s and their families came to life.
As did the good times, the difficult times and the range of businesses that have been nurtured by MNF down the years.
Above all the history bore witness to the unbreakable spirit, imagination, business values and professionalism of MNF.
David called this history of MNF:
‘A Lebanese Journey’.
But perhaps David’s most enduring legacy to MNF is the claim:
‘Michel Nassif & Fils.
Building Businesses and Brands since 1907’.
This is the perfect summation of what ‘Brand Nassif’ has stood for throughout the 114 years since its launch in 1907.
Which brings us neatly back to today’s MNF.
All three generations of the Nassif family have had to contend with very difficult times, as well as more prosperous times.
The company run by the current CEO Michel Nassif is today confronted with the twin problems of a major economic and financial downturn and Covid-19.
But following the example of Lebanese family businesses down the years Michel is determined that ‘The show must go on’.
The current Brands - Zwan, Ecotone/Bjorg, Royal Canin and Tanoshi - are doing what real Brands always do.
They adapt to whatever life throws at them and so are ideally placed to move on to greater success when better times return.
Throughout the current turbulence in Lebanon the MNF company has continued to do what it has always done.
It has applied intelligence, common sense and sheer ‘bloody-mindedness’ to ensuring the business carries on.
In all of this Michel knows he can rely on the loyalty, efforts and professionalism of all who work for MNF - some of whom have been colleagues for many decades.
Michel also knows he can rely on the loyalty and support of its Suppliers and of the Lebanese Retail Trade.
Above all he knows he can rely on the loyalty of the currently financially hard-pressed Lebanese Consumers who recognize the efforts MNF is making on their behalf in very difficult times
Better times will return.
And the enduring MNF business qualities of loyalty, strong relationships, ethical business practice, imagination, common sense and doing business with a smile will prevail.
Qualities that MNF’s Phoenician business and cultural ancestors of c. 4000 years ago would recognize and applaud.
Michel Nassif & Fils is an extraordinary company.
David Brown and I consider it a privilege and a pleasure to have been part of the ‘MNF Lebanese Story’.
Thank you MNF.
David Brown and Jonathan Petitpierre.