This is the first piece in our new series, BarakaBits Portraits: #AmazingArabs Like You’ve Never Seen Them Before.
Search “Omar Christidis” and 3 facts are all over the page: “Yale graduate”; “Lebanese-born”; “Founder and CEO of ArabNet, source of the largest digital gathering in the MENA region”. He’s technically based out of Beirut, but spends at least 120 days per year traveling.
Christidis has an expressive voice; it rises, falls, and changes timbre in perfect syncopation with the context of his conversation. The man you see on stage at the ArabNet Digital Summit or in front of the cameras on MTV Lebanon has a nuanced philosophical side, visible when you unplug him from the entrepreneurial media machine. We threw him questions about everything from the arts and sports to identity and inspiration.
BarakaBits: What place do you culturally identify with?
“I’m Pan-Arab. An Arab national. If you forced me to pick one place, it would be Lebanon. But my mom is Palestinian-Syrian, my dad is Syrian-Greek-Armenian. I was raised in an Arab nationalist household. Now that I think about it, it has really translated well in my career. I find that compared to more insular competitors, I am genuinely interested in the diversity of Arab markets and I am more malleable in dealing with the differences between them.”
BB: If you’re sad and listening to music, is it happy music or sad music?
“Sad music. If I’m feeling sad, I want to feel. I don’t want to push it away. I want to live it and experience that moment of cathartic cleansing. It can refresh you, give you new perspective. Plugging it up with a happy song doesn’t work for me.”
BB: What’s your relationship with sports, teams, exercise, etc?
“Well, first: since I started a company I’ve gotten a lot worse at exercising! But yeah, I don’t enjoy sports, I don’t watch them, I don’t play them, I have poor hand-eye coordination. I’m a musician at heart. A musician who used to sing in front of crowds of 1,000-2,000 people. If you consider acapella a team sport, that was something I spent quite a lot of time doing. It taught me a lot, it was one of the most important things I got from my time at Yale.”
BB: So your Ivy League acapella group is one of the secrets to your success in the global digital arena?
“Honestly, yes. We operated at a huge scale with international performances. Everyone in the group had responsibilities, we ran it ourselves, and we were responsible to our peers. It was a challenge when I went into running a business because I had to somewhat shed this horizontal approach. But everywhere in business, I see people who are able to work with their managers, and their board, but their peers…there’s nothing. If you can understand the importance of the peer framework in business, you have a huge advantage. You can start applying it in your career right away with just two steps: 1) pick your battles and 2) aim to build a personal rapport no matter what you need or how you feel.
BB: Anything to add?
“I do a lot of media and rarely get asked challenging and interesting questions like this. Thanks for the mental workout, BarakaBits!”
And that’s #goodnews.