From Prime Minister's Office To Family Office - A Personal Story
Dr. Aiman Mansour was the first Druze in a leading position at the National Security Council within the Israeli Prime Minister’s Office where he was a senior director on strategic and security matters, specializing on the Middle East and Africa.
Aiman, thanks for talking to me today. Although my career isn’t nearly as impressive as yours, our developments show similarities. We both have a background in politics and international relations but ended up working in family offices. What has changed since you started working for a single family office?
I no longer need to leave home at 5am and my life in general is more relaxed. Since I left the National Security Council, I could somewhat drop my security state of mind, although not altogether. Once you worked in this environment it remains part of your daily routine. Almost military discipline and the need to be available around the clock were pre-requisites for working at the PM’s office. And although I take my current job very seriously, my current position allows me a more relaxed approach. In the past extreme changes to your schedule happened almost daily and order to fly to some remote part in the world came out of nowhere. In addition, I had to go through 3 major operations in Gaza and countless operations in the region. Constantly connected to the situation. That’s no longer the case today. Today I have time for deep planning and our emergencies are no longer life and death.
In my current role I am working on building a platform, an apparatus to engage with the Arab and Muslim community on behalf of my principle. This allows me to expand my network to an almost unlimited extend. Before everything was classified and I operated within a small community of security professionals. Now I can operate towards reaching the company's goal, with no bureaucratic strings attached, as the restrictions are fewer and the possibilities are more. The diversity in my stakeholders has increased dramatically and I am allowed to speak to anyone who is beneficial to our family office’s cause.
The quality of your life has dramatically improved, it seems. But what is still the same, if anything? Are there any parallels between the job at the Prime Minister’s Office and the new role at a single family office?
The diplomatic aspect, especially when dealing with Arab counterparts, is still pretty much the same and there are many similarities in the methodology of how I conducted my previous job and how I work today. In my previous position as Liaison Officer for the PM I learned a lot that is valuable to me now – and probably will be for any job I might have in the future.
While working for the government I often spoke to people with vast experience and incredible knowledge, but you always have to understand where they are coming from - their customs, their background and circumstances. It is important to put the information provided to you into the right context. And this remains a key feature of my job until today.
As a Druze I see my community as a bridge builder between the Jewish people and the various communities in the Arab world. We have a lot in common with both. Language helps me a lot. My mother tongue is Arabic. My capabilities of using nuances when speaking Arabic is important. I understand what is meant when people give answers in an indirect way. I can filter the needed message to bring both sides closer.
What’s so different about the nature of your family business?
We don’t just look for investment or money or projects. We look for partnerships built on mutual trust and belief in a common goal. If we create partnerships, we can contribute our experience and knowhow in the area and our partners from the Arab world can do the same and together we can do more than just business - whether in the Middle East or Africa. We want partners to stay with us for the long run. Building these relationships are important because they can change the face of the region. A bottom up approach, not vice versa, which is totally depended on political circumstances and considerations. Ordinary people from business, arts, civil society and sports etc can create the needed change and overcome the walls that are built by politics. Because this phenomenon is continuing to develop, these walls are crumbling as we speak.
What is this change that you mentioned? How does it manifest?
It manifests mainly in the business world. If the benefits are mutual then political hurdles can be overcome. Also if they see the advantage in getting access to and applying Israeli technology. Meetings are happening. But also in arts and sports. When Israelis compete in sports and win, then the Israeli anthem will be played in an Arab country that does not have a formal diplomatic relationship with Israel - this was unthinkable 10-20 years ago. In addition, and contrary to the common perception, religion doesn’t necessarily have to be a hurdle between communities. If co-existence and religious diversity was more embraced, then it would lead communities and companies to see the benefits. The more you enter JV’s in the region - not just Jews/Israelis with Muslims, also Christians and Arabs or Arabs among each other - once tolerance is embedded in the state of mind in communities the opportunities are sheer endless. Many others will join in and the whole region will benefit. The more this happens the less significant political/religious barriers will be.
When we met last, you had only just joined the Family Office world and many things were new to you. You could say, you were somewhat inexperienced. But what did your principal see in you?
To be honest, I never asked the questions. But probably it is my ability to engage with difficult-to-reach partners and my experience in the region. Don’t forget that my principle is Israeli, and he is looking for partners from the Arab world, as he believes that this is one of the most efficient ways to promote not just business but also regional coexistence. We can’t just go and knock at their doors like any European or American family office might do.
So would you say that your principle and his single family office face particular challenges that require someone with your skill set and professional background?
Our principle is doing amazingly well in terms of business and this is due to his was vast experience in Africa. He has been on the continent for decades. What he wants is to share opportunities and enable others, alongside him, to contribute to the development of the region (Africa) but also the Middle East. These are the challenges that require someone with the ability to communicate across cultures, traditions and barriers that prohibit communities from thriving and enjoying each other's benefits due to petty politics or other barriers.
What we try to do is to ensure that future generations can enjoy stability and prosperity. With our experience we contribute and help connect those who share our vision.
You were thrown into the cold water when it comes to the Family Office world. As a newcomer with no prior exposure to finance or the world of Family Offices, what is it that fascinates you most?
Generally I am fascinated by anything that is new to me. I love to learn and I soak up information like a sponge. Finance, banking, insurance – during my time at the PM’s office I never thought I would have exposure to these topics and deal with it. When I think of how countries secure loans to implement projects, or how we ensure the financing of our own ventures. Right now I am diving into the insurance part of our investments. It is fascinating to see the scope of activity behind the scenes, how a project stands or falls with the right insurance partners. No project gets done without the stars aligning, so to speak. It is a great revelation to realise that the set of tools I have now is far more significant.
What also fascinates me is how many new people I meet and their view points on certain matters. The political insights of some business men or investors, who are no officials and don’t have to stick to the official policy, are very interesting. So I certainly enjoy many of the discussions I have.
In the meanwhile you engaged with dozens of other family offices or UHNWIs. What could they learn from the way a Prime Minister’s Office is run? And maybe vice versa?
My professional background is purely political and I worked in a professional culture where everything needs to be done fast. Until today, my expectation is to receive an answer to my email within 5-10 minuets. I think I need to change but I left the PM’s office only a few months ago so probably I still need some time to adapt. And I don’t think I am in a position to lecture people on what to do or how to change. The PM’s office is a totally unique place and cannot be compared to anything. It runs strictly on the concept of time – its level of efficiency is absolutely unique. The job at the PM’s Office is very demanding. Today I work on building partnerships and relationships with people – and that needs time. I don’t work under the same set of circumstances. The time pressure at the PM’s office prevents many from being creative and thinking outside the box. It is often about following procedures and protocols. Although my job was exactly the opposite; my job was to think outside the box.
Do you think family offices would benefit from hiring more former diplomats, strategic advisors or chiefs of staff?
Again, I don’t like to lecture but I think yes. Discipline, efficiency, and ability to create personal relationships - that’s what every diplomate needs to be capable of. If you have more of these people in the family office world the communication between stakeholders will improve and will equally improve the development of their businesses.
Has your political background and tremendous experience ever influenced your principal’s decision and how so?
We have different backgrounds - business versus policy. So they are not comparable. And to make it short: no, we didn’t clash. I believe my perspective will not stand against but will add another dimension to my principal's decision-making process.
It is not a secret that the worlds of business, economy and politics are interlinked. Do you think family offices can contribute to a better and more peaceful world by investing in a certain way? And how so?
Absolutely. The future is social impact investments. Look at the demographic changes as well as the economic ones and you understand that the challenges in our world are getting bigger every day. It takes more than just generating profits. Investors have to be aware of their responsibility, as well as their ability to make a difference simply by investing, let alone realise that this is not a zero sum game but a system that allows to increase everybody returns when cooperating.
Those who succeeded in the past need to understand that changing their investment models is necessary to remain successful in the future. You have to create the economic and social groundwork for developing countries to ensure security, stability and hope for younger generations. Like Clinton said: ‘It’s the economy, stupid.’ With poverty come security issues. When people have jobs, economies and demographic developments will balance.
Aiman, thank you very much for your time and your insights. It was an absolute pleasure speaking to you.
You can contact Dr. Aiman Mansour by email: Aiman@Menomadin.com