Like all food stories, this one started in the kitchen. Unlike most food stories though, this one is a story of success. One born out of passion and now worth more than half a billion dollars. This is the story of Peter Rahal. The young Chicago entrepreneur of Syrian origins.
Rahal holds a bachelor’s degree in Economics from Wittenberg University, but he owes his triumph to more than the degree. With his childhood friend Jared Smith, Peter whipped up the recipe for the RXBar protein bars: egg whites, fruit, nuts and simple packaging. The result? 12 grams of protein in 120 delicious calories. 11 flavors and a simple packaging.
In no time, the duo was ramping up 400 bars a shift in the makeshift kitchen, delivering them to area gyms on consignment. Fast forward two months, Rahal and Smith were running their growing business from a facility on North Western Avenue in Chicago’s West Town neighborhood. Rahal quit his full-time job to focus on the startup. By 2014, with real employees and new offices, the company was doing $2 million in sales. In 2015 it expanded further. Today, RXBar employs 75 people, and the bar is distributed nationally at Whole Foods, Target and other major retailers.
In 2017, Kellog bought RXBar for six hundred million dollars. Rahal is still on board today as CEO, working hard as ever: “I get to keep my job,” he says, “and the whole company will remain intact. We’ll be a standalone company within Kellogg, so we’re excited to continue to grow and [move on to] the next chapter,” he tells the Chicago Tribune.
Under Michael Mussallem’s leadership, Edwards Lifesciences has established its position as a global leader in medical innovations, introducing lifesaving and life-sustaining therapies for patients from around the world.
As chairman and CEO, Mussallem has not only led the development and successful implementation of the company’s patient-focused innovation strategy, but he has also established Edwards’ commitment to philanthropy and corporate social responsibility: Since 2004, the company and Edwards Lifesciences Foundation have gifted almost $90 million to non-profit organizations around the world, supporting underserved patients and strengthening communities where its employees live and work.
In 2014, Edwards Lifesciences Foundation launched Every Heartbeat Matters, which has impacted more than 1.7 million underserved people and aims to improve the lives of 2.5 million additional underserved structural heart and critical care patients by the end of 2025. Edwards has been recognized among the World’s Most Ethical Companies by the Ethisphere Institute, an organization that defines and advances standards of ethical business practices. In 2019, Edwards was named as one of the Management Top 250 by The Wall Street Journal in partnership with the Drucker Institute, and was also cited as one of the 8 “all stars” achieving high marks in five dimensions of corporate performance.
Mussallem has been honored by the Harvard Business Review in its annual Best-Performing CEOs in the World list, including, most recently, in 2019. Mussallem currently serves on the board of the Advanced Medical Technology Association and is an advisory board member for the Leonard D. Schaeffer Center for Health Policy & Economics at the University of Southern California. He is a trustee of the University of California, Irvine Foundation and the Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology in Terre Haute, Indiana.
Cherien Dabis is a Palestinian American film and television director, a writer, a producer, an actress and an activist. For nearly two decades, she has been tirelessly paving the way for authentic Arab representation in Hollywood.
Born in the United States, she grew up between small-town Ohio and Amman, Jordan, spending her adolescence navigating the politics of identity, displacement and marginalization. Because she didn’t see herself authentically represented in popular media, she picked up the family camcorder at the age of 12 and began making movies.
A decade later, she moved to New York to earn her MFA in film from Columbia University. It was her 2006 short film Make A Wish that launched her career, quickly becoming a festival favorite and screening at Sundance, Berlin, Clermont-Ferrand and winning Best Short Film at the Dubai International Film Festival. Cherien went on to trail-blaze with her heartwarming first feature Amreeka. The film world-premiered to critical acclaim at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival and went on to win the coveted FIPRESCI International Critics Prize in the Director’s Fortnight at Cannes. It won a dozen more international awards, several nominations, and landed Dabis on Variety’s “Ten Directors to Watch” list that same year. The film broke records in its theatrical release by becoming the most-screened Arab-directed film in US-cinema history.
Dabis forged new ground with her second feature May In the Summer. Dabis also starred in Suha Arraf’s directorial debut Villa Touma which premiered at the 2014 Venice and Toronto film festivals. Most recently, she wrapped on Scott Z. Burns’ upcoming Apple TV anthology series Extrapolations opposite Tahar Rahim. She will next appear on the first ever Palestinian American TV series, premiering on Netflix later this year.
Dabis is highly sought after in television for her standout episodic directing work on Emmy and Golden Globe award-winning television shows like Ramy (Hulu), Only Murders in the Building (Hulu) and Ozark (Netflix) among many others. She has also worked extensively as a writer and producer on such shows as the original, groundbreaking series The L World (Showtime) and the hit series Empire (Fox).
It is difficult to fit both William Zughbi’s and Huda Zughbi’s achievements on a page. Huda Zoghbi is Professor of Pediatrics, Molecular and Human Genetics, Neurology, and Neuroscience at Baylor College of Medicine. She is an Investigator with the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, and the founding Director of the Jan and Dan Duncan Neurological Research Institute at Texas Children’s Hospital. William A. Zoghbi is a renowned cardiology, echocardiography and cardiac imaging expert.
William Zoghbi has developed noninvasive heart function and valve disorder evaluation techniques, and went on to oversee national and international heart valve evaluation guideline development. He has implemented the American College of Cardiology ’s international mission and worked closely with its chapters around the globe. He has also represented the ACC and the global cardiovascular community at the United Nations and World Health Organization, advocating for a 25 percent reduction of the world’s noncommunicable disease mortality rate by 2025, known as the 25 x 25 Initiative.
He is the Chair of the Department of Cardiology at Houston Methodist Hospital, and holds the Elkins Family Distinguished Chair in Cardiology, established in his honor. In 2005, Dr. Zoghbi joined the Houston Methodist Specialty Physician Group following his 20-year tenure at Baylor College of Medicine, where he was the John S. Dunn Professor of Medicine and served as Houston Methodist’s echocardiography laboratory director. Dr. Zoghbi has authored more than 300 publications and has lectured at every major cardiology conference worldwide.
Huda Zoghbi’s work in neurodevelopment led to the discovery of the gene Math1/Atoh1 and to showing that it governs the development of several components of the proprioceptive, balance, hearing, vestibular, and breathing pathways. Huda’s group also discovered that mutations in MECP2 cause the postnatal neurological disorder Rett syndrome and revealed the importance of this gene for various neuropsychiatric features.
Huda trained over 100 scientists and physician-scientists and is a member of several professional organizations and boards. She has been elected to the National Academy of Medicine, the National Academy of Sciences, and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Among Huda’s honors are the Pearl Meister Greengard Prize from Rockefeller University, the Shaw Prize in Life Science and Medicine, the Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences, Canada Gairdner International Prize, and Honorary degrees from Yale University, Harvard University and the University of Massachusetts Medical School, the Victor A. McKusick Leadership Award, American Society of Human Genetics, and the 2020 Brain Prize, Lundbeck Foundation and the Citation Laureate by Web of Science.
Huda values time with family and friends above all else. While she and William consider parenting Roula and Anthony as their greatest achievements, they are now having the most fun being grandparents to Camila, Tate, and Sienna. The couple’s individual contributions to the medical community and research have crossed borders, and will probably continue to do so for decades to come.
Assaad Razzouk is a Lebanese-British clean-energy entrepreneur, podcaster and commentator.
He recently co-founded Gurin Energy, a renewable energy development platform headquartered in Singapore which will focus on greenfield renewable projects across Asia. Before that, he was Chairman and CEO of Sindicatum Renewable Energy, a developer, owner and operator of clean energy projects in Asia.
Razzouk is the host of The Angry Clean Energy Guy podcast and a board member of ClientEarth, an environmental group using the law to protect Earth and its inhabitants. He founded South East Asia’s first Middle Eastern contemporary art gallery, Sana Gallery in Singapore and is a board member of EB Impact, a Singapore-based non-profit organization that provides trainings and programs to Asia Pacific’s underserved communities; and is affiliated with Washington, D.C.’s Middle East Institute as an Expert at the Middle East – Asia Project. Razzouk also serves on the Advisory Board of media group Eco-Business and on the International Council of the National University of Singapore School of Medicine.
In 2016, Assaad Razzouk was chosen among the world’s 20 most influential CEOs on Twitter by INSEAD, a list also including leaders such as Tim Cook, Bill Gates, Elon Musk and Richard Branson. Razzouk was also named among the Top 50 Low-Carbon Pioneers by CNBC Business in June 2007 and among the Top 600 Most Powerful People in Finance by Global Finance in September 1998.
Nijad and Zeina Fares have a history of success in both their respective fields, but it is their dedication to each other, to the family they built in Houston, and to the wider Lebanese community in the United States that defines their legacy.
In 1996, Zeina sat as President of the Lebanese Club of Houston. She is the Founding President of the American Foundation for Auxilia- a charity that supported children orphaned during the war in Lebanon - and she is a board member of the Arab-American Educational Foundation. Raising four beautiful children did not stop her from serving on the Board of Trustees of the Duchesne Academy of the Sacred Heart for six years. Today, she is also Trustee of the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston where she also serves on the Development and Art of the Islamic Worlds subcommittees. With her husband, she continues to reinforce the relationship of America’s Lebanese communities to their homeland.
Nijad served as the first president of the American Task Force for Lebanon. In 2006, he co-chaired, alongside President George H. W. Bush, the Host Committee of the U.S.-Arab Economic Forum in Houston which brought together over one thousand businessmen, government representatives, and academics. In 2011, Mr. Fares was named to the Board of Governors of the Middle East Institute. He was also a senior board member of Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, a trustee of Lebanon’s International College, and a member of Tufts University’s Veterinary Board of Overseers. Nijad Fares is also a member of the professional board of advisors of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. Today he is the director of WEDGE Group Incorporated and the Chairman of Link Group.
As a testament to their grand generosity and enduring commitment to philanthropic endeavors, in 2011 both Nijad and Zeina Fares were granted an audience with His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI to receive his blessing. Although the Fares family is not Catholic, the pope appointed Nijad Fares a Knight of The Papal Order of Saint Gregory.
Ghassan and Manal Saab have touched the lives of many, from America all the way to Lebanon. Milestones of success, awards, and accomplishments punctuate their careers, but it is their generous and continuous commitment to numerous causes that we celebrate today.
Ghassan worked his way up to the top, becoming the president of the contracting company Sorensen Gross Construction in 1971. Today, he is the CEO, building homes and schools in his community. In 2003, Ghassan Saab also formed the Uptown Development Group with his friends, to rejuvenate and rebuild the neglected and deteriorated downtown area of Flint, Michigan. Ghassan serves on boards of various influential organizations including the Lebanese American University, the Arab American Institute Board of Governors, the American Task Force for Lebanon, and the American Druze Foundation, among others.
Ghassan and Manal have a long history of giving. Together, they have contributed time and resources to charities and organizations in their local communities, both in the US and abroad. Manal is the CEO of Sorenson Gross Construction Services in Flint. She serves on the Board of Trustees with the Community Foundation of Greater Flint, which coordinated the Flint Water Crisis Response. She is also a patron and Emeritus member of the Board of Governors of ALSAC/ St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. After the August 4 blast in Beirut ravaged her city, Manal and her daughter coordinated a multi-million-dollar undertaking to deliver medical supplies to Lebanon. The effort was coordinated by the Ghassan and Manal Saab Foundation. Manal’s care delivered urgent medical supplies to the five largest hospitals in Lebanon, at a time of dire need. Lebanon remembers the support of the Saabs, and America remembers too. It’s not every day that you come across a family like the Saab’s, whose generosity extends across the Atlantic and back, and yet here they are pushing forward and inspiring us along.