Antoine Choueiri. 1939-2010

Antoine Choueiri, the man widely regarded as the founding father and chief architect of the Middle East’s modern media industry, has died following a long battle with cancer.

He passed away on 9 March in his native Beirut.

As founder and chairman of the Choueiri Group, the Middle East’s largest media broker, he was a modern day Colossus who, for nearly half a century, straddled the region’s media and advertising sectors.

Throughout his lengthy career he attracted various monikers, such as ‘the Godfather’ of advertising ‘Grandfather’ and ‘Media Mogul,’ In a rare interview, however, when asked how he described himself he simply replied: “Just a man from Lebanon.”

But such modesty belied his vast achievements. As a businessman he was hugely driven, possessed of great ingenuity and a shrewd strategist. He was also, say many, “exceptionally intellectual,” “very bullish,” and “a fighter.”

The man from Lebanon was born in Beirut on 3 August 1939, although his family roots are deep in The Cedars hillside town of Bcharre.

The eldest of three sons, Choueiri’s father was a railway mechanic.

Limited funds prevented his attending university, but a focused determination that was to become the hallmark of all his dealings saw the 15-year-old school-leaver enroll for night school. He studied accountancy and attained the highest qualification available in Lebanon at that time.

His first significant job was with Beirut-based luxury goods group Abou Adal Group, which also happened to own two magazines, and within 10 years he had risen to become the head of their sales department.

He married Rose Salameh, the mother of his two children Pierre and Lena, in 1961.

In 1971 he left Abou Adal to form his own media representation company.
The outbreak of the Civil War in 1975 saw him join the Lebanese diaspora, many of whom decamped to Paris, and it was from there that the Chouieri Group took shape.

Developing European sales representation for titles such as Al Watan Al Arabie, Antoine became acutely aware of low investment in advertising from the oil-rich Gulf States and resolved to increase spend, partly through the creation of new media channels. As such, he is widely credited with creating the out-of-home sector in Saudi Arabia through the introduction of MUPIs; he was also the creator of on-pack video advertising for the kingdom – in the days before satellite TV – through the launch of one of his earlier ventures, Video Force.

In 1985 he returned to Beirut. It was also the year that the Lebanese Broadcasting Corporation – LBC – launched and appointed Choueiri as its media representatives. This, along with representation for Al Nahar, Al Saffir and L’Orient Le Jour consolidated the Group’s leading position. The group later acquired the rights for MBC and Dubai Media Inc.

Outside of media and, of course, his family, his other passion was basket ball. He was one-time president of Beirut-based La Sagese Club and, according to some, without Choueiri’s support Lebanon would not have been to field the world-class competitive teams it does today. Under his auspices the country won the Asian Basketball Championships three years running.

He is survived by his wife Rose, children Pierre and Lena and seven grandchildren.

Lance de Masi, president of the IAA UAE chapter and president of The American University in Dubai, paid the following tribute:

Does anyone believe for a second that the passing of Antoine Choueiri lessens his impact on the communications industry? Believe me, for some time to come, we will all be thinking, “As Antoine used to say…” or “This is what Antoine would have done…” Today we mourn a Middle Eastern media giant who achieved the coveted, but illusive, objective of legacy – a rarity in this geography.

The business model he invented helped shape an industry, fueling its prosperity in good times and survival in times bad. His efforts caused the pie to grow and provided advertisers and consumers with media options that would never have been sustainable without his commercial imagination and support. Many a communications agency owes its size to Antoine Choueiri.

I remember him as innovative, pragmatic, fair, and generous in his dealings. Collectively as an industry and personally as people and professionals – I first knew of him in 1986 – we owe him a debt of gratitude.

Our sympathy and prayers are with his family. May this very big and big-hearted man rest in peace.

Memorial and Mass services for Antoine Choueiri will be held at St. George Maronites Cathedral in Downtown Beirut on March 11 at 11.00am. He will be laid to rest in his hometown of Bcharre. Condolences will be received at St. George Maronites Cathedral in Downtown Beirut on March 10, 12 and 13 from 10.00am till 7.00pm.