Gilbert R. Chagoury
« Philanthropy has always been at the core of my belief system and has defined my mission in many ways. » – Ambassador Gilbert Chagoury
Friend and confident to Presidents, Heads of State and business leaders around the world, insider of real-politics and advisor in policy matters and issues of diplomatic sensitivity in West and Central Africa, Ambassador Gilbert Ramez Chagoury is a family man at heart.
Ambassador Chagoury has built a career on acute business acumen with visionary leadership and humble philanthropic service that has made him one of the most highly respected industrialists in the world. But perhaps more than any other single attribute, Ambassador Chagoury has demonstrated a dedication to democracy, peace and the cultivation of healthy, thriving economic environments in which the average person can employ his full range of talents to reach his God given potential.
Born in Nigeria in 1946 to Lebanese parents, Gilbert witnessed the end of British colonial rule of the country and the dramatic changes independence brought to Nigerian life. He paid close attention to the rapidly shifting political situation in Nigeria and learned much about how political change affects the economic and societal destiny of people and nations.
As a young man, Chagoury studied at the Collège des Frères in Lebanon before returning to Nigeria, where he believed his entrepreneurial instincts could create opportunities. He started selling shoes but soon worked his way up to selling a slightly more complex mode of transportation – automobiles. His enthusiasm and leadership caught the eye of his employers, to the point that they promoted him to be the youngest regional and then national sales manager in the company.
During a visit to Lebanon in 1967, Gilbert met his lifelong partner and soul mate, Rose-Marie Chamchoum, daughter of a prominent Lebanese family from the same village in northern Lebanon as the Chagoury family. Like Gilbert, she was born in Africa, in the Republic of Niger. In 1969, Gilbert and Rose-Marie married. They have four children, Ramez, Gilbert-Antoine, Christopher and Anne-Marie. All of the children studied at the American University in Paris and both Gilbert-Antoine and Christopher graduated from New York universities. Gilbert and Rose-Marie have been blessed to date with five grandchildren and are looking forward to many more.
With his wife at his side, Ambassador Chagoury began to focus his energy on building on his sales and management experience and taking his and his family’s future in his own hands. Seeing great opportunities to build and invest in businesses in a number of emerging industries in quickly growing Nigeria, he founded The Chagoury Group in 1971, joined by his brother Ronald in 1974. The rest is history.
The Chagoury Group
The Chagoury Group is an industrial conglomerate with interests in construction, real estate, property development and hotels. The Chagoury Group own, as well, industries in agribusiness, flour mills, water bottling, glass, aluminum, furniture and other construction-related manufacturing. The Group is also owner of companies in telecommunications, IT, insurance, and international finance. The Chagoury Group’s approach to business was innovative for the time in that to ensure that its businesses had access to the best quality materials and services, the firm started enterprises to meet the demands of Chagoury high standards. From construction firms to meet the needs of the development business, to clean water for its agribusiness interests, the Chagoury Group spurred new business development and job growth across West Africa, setting the standard for firms in the African marketplace. Ambassador Chagoury requires that his companies operate under international safe-safety standards, and provides private healthcare, pensions and family benefits for his employees. The Chagoury Group is a leading Nigerian employer, with a workforce numbering tens of thousands of Nigerian and other African and international personnel.
Today, Gilbert Chagoury, with his brother and partner Ronald, is overseeing one of the most ambitious land-reclamation projects ever attempted: Eko Atlantic. In search of a permanent solution to safeguard Bar Beach in Victoria Island, Lagos, from flooding and the effects of severe coastal erosion, Lagos Governor reached out to experts and developers for a solution. But it was the Chagoury Group that provided the answer. Eko Atlantic, a 10 Million Square Meters city is rising out of the ocean, changing the face of Africa. With more than 25 million people expected to live and work in Lagos by 2015, Eko Atlantic will transform Lagos into Africa’s first mega-city and will become the new financial epicenter of West Africa by the year 2020.
Counselor, Diplomat, Humanitarian
Throughout his illustrious career, Gilbert Chagoury has been best known as an invaluable counselor to leaders at the intersection of politics, business, finance and humanitarian assistance. But he has always given special attention to the people of his beloved Africa. In 1996, Chagoury served as an economic advisor to President Mathieu Kérékou of the Republic of Benin, which had transitioned to a democratic government in 1990. Chagoury’s counsel to President Kérékou was an integral part of the country’s economic recovery process, and his service to the Republic of Benin was recognized when he was awarded the Ordre National du Bénin with the rank of Commander by President Kérékou in 2001. In 2006, when H.E. Yayi Boni was elected President of the Republic of Benin, he asked Gilbert Chagoury to continue on as his economic advisor. In 2005, the President of Tchad, acknowledging the services Chagoury rendered to Tchad in particular and Africa in general, bestowed on him the Ordre National du Tchad at the rank of Commander. In 2005 as well, he was awarded the rank of Commander in the Order of the National Cedar by the Lebanese President for services rendered to the country.
A faithful and devout Catholic, the Church has turned to him for personal and philanthropic assistance on many occasions. In 1990, Pope John Paul II awarded him the distinct honor of the Order of Saint Gregory the Great at the rank of Commander for his generosity to the Church and his unwavering faithfulness. In October 1998, the Holy Father honored Gilbert and his family with a private audience for their service and philanthropy, and in 2009, Pope Benedict XVI bestowed on him the Grand Cross, highest distinction of the Order of Saint Gregory the Great. Gilbert Chagoury helped restoring Notre Dame Maronite church in Paris, the Patriarchal cathedral in Bkerke, Lebanon and was of big help in subsidizing the Pontifical Oriental Institute at the Holy See.
In Defense of Christians
Lately, in September 2014, Gilbert instigated and funded a convention with an endeavor to keep Christians where Christianity was born. He was named Honorary Chairman of a young institution that had its first historic summit in Washington DC: In Defense of Christians. This summit watched the participation of more than 1200 attendees and an ecumenical gathering of all the oriental patriarchs, first time for them to meet under one roof since the sixteenth century. The Holy See gave its blessing to the summit and was represented by two Cardinals.
In addition to his service as an economic advisor, Chagoury has been involved in numerous diplomatic service positions. His service to the Catholic Church brought him to the attention of the government of the Caribbean island of St. Lucia, whose government appointed him Ambassador, Permanent Delegate of St. Lucia to UNESCO and to the UN in Geneva in 1995.
In keeping with his dedication to national economic growth and development, he worked tirelessly to ensure that St. Lucia maintained representation at the UNESCO headquarters in Paris. As Ambassador for St. Lucia, Chagoury’s diligent work representing and protecting the island was so significant that when he sought a place for St. Lucia on the Executive Board of UNESCO, St. Lucia was elected with the highest number of Caribbean and Latin American votes in history. Under the patronage of Chagoury, the Saint Lucia Pitons, two mountainous volcanic plugs, were and are still registered as a 2,909 ha World Heritage Site, located near the town of Soufrière. Saint Lucia occupied the following positions since the appointment of Ambassador Gilbert Chagoury as a permanent delegate to UNESCO:
- Member of the Executive Board (2012-2013);
- Chair of the Preparatory Group of the Executive Board (2012-2013);
- Presidency of the Ad Hoc Group on the Independent External Evaluation of UNESCO (IEE) (2009-2010);
- Member of the Executive Board (1997-2001);
- Vice-Chair of the Executive Board of UNESCO (2000);
- Chair of the Group of Experts on Finance and Administration Matters (2000-2001);
- Presidency of the extraordinary session of the States Parties to the World Heritage Convention (2014)
- Member of the Intergovernmental Committee for the Safeguarding of the Intangible Cultural Heritage (2014-2018);
- Member of the Intergovernmental Committee for the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions (since 2013);
- Chair of the Intergovernmental Meeting of Experts for the negotiation of the Recommendation on the “Historic Urban Landscape” (2011);
- Member of the Intergovernmental Committee for the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions (2007-2011);
- Chair of the Intergovernmental Committee for the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions (2009);
- Member of the World Heritage Committee (2001-2005);
- Vice-Chair of the 28th Session of the World Heritage Committee (Suzhou, China-2004);
- Chair of the 27th session of the World Heritage Committee (2003);
- Chair of the Drafting Group of the International Convention against Doping in Sport (2003)
To recognize Ambassador Chagoury’s dedication to St. Lucia, the government appointed him its official representative to the Vatican. He remains to this day Ambassador of St. Lucia to the Holy See.
Gilbert Chagoury also represents Saint Lucia Prime Minister to the International Organization of La Francophonie in which Saint Lucia chaired in 2010 the Ad hoc working group on the reform of the governing bodies of La Francophonie.
Such contributions have ensured that Chagoury is perhaps as well known for his philanthropy and humanitarian involvement as for the business acumen and success that allows for such generosity. An avid supporter of children’s causes, Ambassador and Madame Chagoury have for years been heavily involved in St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital. Since 1980, after meeting St. Jude’s founder, Lebanese-American entertainer Danny Thomas, the Chagourys have given generously of their time and resources to the world-renowned organization. In 1985, the Chagourys were honored when the hospital, which provides research and treatment to children with terminal illnesses, and does so free of charge for families unable to pay for treatment, bestowed its highest award, the Founder’s Award, on the couple for their unwavering commitment to help treat and cure childhood diseases. In 1988, Rose-Marie was named, ”Woman of the Year“ by St. Jude’s, and in 1990 Gilbert was named ”Man of the Year” for their extraordinary contributions. The couple has continued to support St. Jude’s by helping to underwrite “Runway for Life,” the hospital’s premier, annual Los Angeles fundraiser.
The Chagourys are also committed to providing and expanding educational opportunities. In 2008, they offered a very generous gift to the Lebanese American University (LAU), the Gilbert and Rose-Marie Chagoury School of Medicine and its Alice Ramez Chagoury School of Nursing, named after Gilbert’s mother. In June 2011, Gilbert and Rose-Marie Chagoury were the Honorary Degree Recipients of Doctorate in Humane Letters, at the LAU Graduation Ceremony. On July 1st, 2011, the Chagourys were the honor guests in the White Coat Ceremony of the first Class of Medical Students in this school of medicine. In this ceremony, Gilbert gave a very emotional speech, giving no alternative to the new medical students, but to succeed in their studies and in their life, if only because they will be the first graduated medical doctors of Gilbert and Rose-Marie Chagoury Medical School.
In 2011, the openhanded Chagourys offered, to the Notre Dame University (NDU) in Lebanon, its Gilbert and Rose-Marie Chagoury Faculty of Architecture, Arts & Design. During the 2011 Graduation Ceremony, the NDU Board of Deans presented to Gilbert and Rose-Marie Chagoury an honorary degree of Doctorate of Humane Letters, after acknowledgment of their accomplishments for the economic development in several countries around the world and reviewing their outstanding achievements in social affairs and philanthropy as a committed couple. Gilbert gave the Commencement Speech in this NDU graduation ceremony.
Continually committed to the welfare of his Lebanese community and his heritage, Chagoury is devoted to supporting the health, education and infrastructure in Miziara, Lebanon, his familial family seat. After donating substantial funds towards infrastructure development in the village, the town’s center was renamed Ramez Chagoury Square in honor of Gilbert’s father. To promote educational development within the village, Chagoury has created a foundation that funds several educational scholarships. Ambassador Chagoury is a well respected figure in Lebanon and is considered one of the best representatives of his community, area and country around the world. In 2005, he was awarded, by the President of the Lebanese Republic, the National Cedar Order with the Rank of Commander for great services rendered to Lebanon.
An avid lover of the arts, Chagoury became a benefactor to the Louvre Museum in Paris, and donated a famous 16th-century six-part tapestry, which was commissioned in Paris for Colbert de Seignelay, then Secretary of State for the Navy. By purchasing the piece, Gilbert ensured this national treasure will not leave France. In September 2000, the Louvre Museum dedicated the “Gilbert and Rose-Marie Chagoury Gallery” to display these tapestries and more works of art donated by the Chagourys, like an exquisite pair of pink-ground Sèvres vases that formerly graced the Palais Bourbon under the reign of Louis XVI. In May 2010, Ambassador Chagoury was honored by the French Government with the distinction of Commander at the “Ordre des Arts et des Lettres” to recognize significant contributions to the arts and literature.
Recent Awards and Recognition
It is also worth mentioning that in addition to the many aforementioned accolades, Mr. Chagoury has been honored with the following:
- Georgetown Hospital Board Member as from November 2014.
- Life Time Achievement Award in the 2014 annual gala of Takreem that was held in Morocco (Read the speech).
- Honoree at the Northern Ohio Lebanese American Association in Cleveland in November 2014 (Read the speech).
Always Looking Forward
It is in his family that Ambassador Chagoury finds his greatest joy and inspiration. Throughout his life, the values grounded in family, faith and heritage have informed Ambassador Chagoury’s business, humanitarian and philanthropic efforts. Today his efforts in all facets of his life remain bound to those core values, respecting and honoring the past, while always keeping an eye on the horizon, where he sees a world with greater freedom and opportunity for future generations and the countries he loves.