The Syrian who lost everything, then became a ‘passionpreneur’

Syrian entrepreneur who lost everything in the recession of 2008-2009, saw the light and then rebranded himself as a Passionpreneur coach – someone who helps others find the passion in their business life.

Moustafa Hamwi says passion is the ultimate tool in business. Satish Kumar / The National

It truly is a cliché to liken Moustafa Hamwi to Robin Sharma, the author of The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari. But how else do you describe a man who made and lost a fortune, had a revelation in an Indian cave while meditating with his swami then set out to make the world a better place, one person at a time?

The bespectacled and bow-tied Mr Hamwi, 38, is a Syrian who came to Dubai in 2000, the day after he left university. Working first as a telesales operator, then at advertising firm Leo Burnett, he set up an events business after his own birthday party guest list hit 650 attendees. Over the course of five years he created an events group hiring 45 employees and making US$15 million … then had to shut down in the recession, losing most of the company’s money to bad debt and investments.

Stressed and unhappy, he says he bought a one-way ticket to India in 2012, heading to Rishikesh in the northern state of Uttarakhand – the spiritual home of yoga and meditation, where the Beatles went to an ashram in the ’60s.

He met a swami in a cave who asked him, “What are you thirsty for? Only when you know will you quench your thirst” (a line he freely admits he borrows in his talks). So Mr Hamwi says he headed back to Dubai to set up a series of talks and training courses to help students to chief executives to find their passion.

And that’s what makes him tick. It’s taken several years to shape his business but now, every week, he delivers a sermon by email to those suffering the Sunday blues that he dubs Passion Sundays.

His business card says he is an international speaker, passionpreneur coach and chief en­ergy officer. He has run workshops for local companies from Emaar Hospitality and Mubadala to multinationals like General Electric, HP and HSBC.

“If I could work with 100 employees or one CEO I’d rather work with one CEO, who impacts 100 employees,” he says. “I feel sorry for CEOs – everyone expects so much from leaders: Every day is showtime. I keep them going.”

Passion is the ultimate tool in business, he adds. “My simple message is: Recruit for passion and train for skill. Any skill in the world is trainable, passion is not.”

q&a wealth is easy come, easy go

Moustafa Hamwi tells Suzanne Locke more about his role as a Passionpreneur coach:

Tell us about some of your techniques.

At events like the recent Human Capital Forum, I use the Conversation Chair – it’s a brown leather chair my lent me, that’s like a modern version of a love seat. People can face each other, do silent meditation and eye-gazing and ask each other what makes them tick. On a corporate course, I will talk about how passion and business merge: Sometimes the link is obvious, like someone who collects classic cars and is in business development. I teach them to find the link between the special handling of their cars and their clients, to motivate them to close deals.

How do you know all this?

I have spent the equivalent of what you’d pay for an MBA to help people. I have more than 10 training qualifications, from hypnosis to negotiations and executive coaching. I am like a professional sports athlete, heavily coached.

What’s your magic number?

I believe in numerology, and seven represents heaven and infinity. So I want to reach more than 7.7 million people. If I create 77 “passionpreneurs”, entrepreneurs of passion and purpose, who have the motivation to change the world, and each reaches out to 100,000 people, we can make a difference.

You really lost all that money?

Easy come, easy go. I never believed it until it happened. A million in bad debt for the business, US$1.2 million in paying out salaries without any income... I personally lost hundreds of thousands of dollars. I started from scratch.

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