Ziad K. Abdelnour and George F. Boutros have much in common.
Born on the same day in Beirut to prominent Christian political families, each left Lebanon to work in the United States in the 1980’s and made a fortune on Wall Street: Mr. Ab- delnour, as a junk-bond salesman during Michael R. Milken’s glory days at Drexel Burnham Lambert and Mr. Boutros as a top deal maker for Credit Suisse First Boston.
But when it comes to the future of their war-torn country, their views diverge sharply.
“There is no other way but to absolutely annihilate Hezbollah,” Mr. Abdelnour said. “I bleed when I see my country suffering like this, but you can’t build a Hong Kong and harbor terrorists. The Lebanese cannot have their cake and eat it, too.”
Mr. Boutros, while opposed to Hezbollah’s primacy in southern Lebanon, sees the loss of life as unacceptable.
“I am appalled and horrified at the killing of innocent people in my country,” he said, his voice shaking with emotion. “The military actions being pursued in Lebanon are not going to stop Hezbollah — they will only make them stronger.”
While the sharply differing perspectives of Mr. Boutros and Mr. Abdelnour mirror the larger debate over the fighting between Israel and Hezbollah in Lebanon, they also underline the considerable influence that Lebanese-Americans have in international financial circles, especially on Wall Street.
John J. Mack, the chief executive of Morgan Stanley, is the son of Lebanese immigrants (the original family name is Makhoul); Walid A. Chammah, who runs investment banking at Morgan Stanley, was born in Lebanon and immigrated here in 1976. Others include George Makhoul, president of Morgan Stanley’s Middle East operations; George A. Bitar, a top executive in Merrill Lynch’s private-equity division; Fares D. Noujaim, a vice chairman at Bear Stearns; and Philippe Jabre, who was an original partner of GLG Partners, a big hedge fund based in London.
This wave of Lebanese who have ascended to such high positions is part of a broader demographic shake-up that has occurred on Wall Street. Bankers from India, South Korea, Egypt and Greece populate the executive suites of many major investment banks.
But, given Lebanon’s population of just 3.8 million, the success of the Lebanese in finance seems to want more of an explanation. Some point to the country’s long history as a Middle East trading center, drawing the commercial ambitions of Christians, Muslims and Jews. But also at work, many Lebanese who have succeeded on Wall Street say, is the spirit to prevail in adverse and challenging circumstances, both at home and abroad.
“For the Lebanese, it is a daily fight to survive and be successful,” said Mr. Jabre, who left Lebanon in the 1970’s and worked for a subsidiary of the Banque Nationale de Paris before becoming one of the original partners of GLG. (He left the hedge fund earlier this year.) “Lebanon was always a place for finance and trade, but for me, working is survival.”
While many who have immigrated have become United States citizens, they have all retained ties to their homeland, connections that grew only stronger as Lebanon, and especially Beirut, enjoyed a commercial resurgence in the last few years. Indeed, when the Israeli bombs began to fall, some had been vacationing in Beirut with their families, only to be airlifted out with other Americans there.
More than his peers, Mr. Abdelnour has made his views public. He is a board member and a financial contributor to the Middle East Forum, a conservative research center that says its goal is to promote American interests in the region.
“Let’s get rid of this cancer,” Mr. Abdelnour said one day last week, referring to Hezbollah’s entrenched position in southern Lebanon. Over coffee, he referred to the recent carnage as a sort of medical operation. “Let’s finish the job,’’ he said, using his hands to simulate the opening up of his chest.
Mr. Abdelnour, who now runs a series of funds that make private-equity investments in security and technology companies, calls himself a neoconservative. In 2000, he was an author of a policy paper advocating the removal of the Syrians from Lebanon that was endorsed by a number of people with close ties to Bush advisers, including Richard N. Perle, a Reagan administration assistant secretary of defense; Douglas J. Feith, one of the architects of the plan to invade Iraq; and David Wurmser, adviser to Vice President Dick Cheney on the Middle East.
Mr. Abdelnour asserts that most of his compatriots have a similar perspective, but are just unwilling to say so publicly. And while it is true that Lebanese-Americans working in finance are generally reluctant to talk publicly about their political views, fearing for family members in Lebanon, conversations with several show a revulsion at the toll growing by the day in Lebanon. They agree that Hezbollah’s position as a functioning member of Lebanon’s polity and the militia dominating the country’s south is unacceptable, but say that a military offensive is not the way to deal with it.
For Mr. Boutros, whose family spent summer vacations together with Mr. Abdelnour’s family when the two were small children, the televised daily scenes now of despair and death have been wrenching.
“I believe there has to be a more encompassing solution to the problems of Lebanon,” he said.
Like many immigrants, Mr. Boutros left Lebanon during the civil war of the 1970’s and 80’s. In 1986, he joined Morgan Stanley as an investment banker and eventually connected with Frank P. Quattrone, the technology investment banker who, during his time at Credit Suisse, would become a target of federal prosecutors and securities regulators.
One of the more prominent mergers-and-acquisitions bankers in Silicon Valley, Mr. Boutros is currently co-chairman of global technology banking at Credit Suisse.
A majority of these financiers seem to hail from Lebanon’s many Christian factions. Mr. Abdelnour is a Maronite; Mr. Boutros is Greek Orthodox.
Richard A. Debs, an advisory director at Morgan Stanley who developed the firm’s overseas business, says it is the comfort that Lebanese have in the international arena, an increasing emphasis for Wall Street banks, that has made them so valuable to their employers. Like Mr. Mack, whose father first came to the United States in 1908, he is a second-generation Lebanese, with his father emigrating in 1899.
“They all speak at least two languages and are at home anyplace in the world,” Mr. Debs said.
Currently chairman emeritus at the American University of Beirut, he does not mince words when asked about the current conflict.
“It’s a bloody mess,” he said. “And the idea of postponing the cease-fire — until what, so you can kill some more? They are putting Lebanon back 20 years.”