Roy Abdo ’06, ’07, PPF ’10, has led a truly remarkable life. He got his start with TFAS in 2006 when he left Lebanon to attend the TFAS program in Greece. On his way, war broke out in Lebanon, leaving him as a 21-year-old stranded in a foreign country and unable to go back home to Beirut. With the help of TFAS friends, staff and alumni, Roy traveled to the United States to embark on a new journey.
Today, Roy is the founder and CEO of Digital Revamp, a digital marketing agency helping organizations reach customers through digital strategy and thought leadership. He has worked for the U.S. Department of Defense, the U.S. State Department, Gallup and Middle East Broadcasting Networks. Roy has a Bachelor of Business Administration from the Lebanese American University, a bachelor’s degree from both William Jewell College and Georgetown University, a master’s degree from The Catholic University of America, and an MBA from The Johns Hopkins University’s Carey Business School. He officially became a US citizen in 2018. Roy is a three-time TFAS alumnus, having participated in TFAS Greece in 2006 and Capital Semester Spring in 2007.
In this week’s episode of the Liberty and Leadership Podcast, TFAS President Roger Ream ’76 and Roy discuss how TFAS facilitated his journey to the United States, how the William Jewell College community helped him deal with a bit of culture shock when he arrived in Missouri, how he turned his business school case studies into real life business opportunities and why he believes the American Dream is very much alive – you just have to work harder and smarter.
The transcript below is lightly edited for clarity.
Roger Ream [00:00:00] Hello and welcome. I’m Roger Ream and this is the Liberty and Leadership Podcast, a conversation with TFAS alumni, supporters, faculty and friends who are making a real impact in public policy, business, philanthropy, law and journalism. Today, I welcome Roy Abdo to the show. Roy is a three-time TFAS alumnus, having participated in the TFAS program in Greece in 2006, then our capital semester in Washington, D.C., and the Public Policy Fellowship Program. Roy is currently the CEO of Digital Revamp, a marketing and advertising agency, helping organizations reach customers through digital marketing and thought leadership. But defining Roy only by what he does today would miss an incredible story that led him to the United States. Roy left his home country of Lebanon in 2006 to study abroad at a TFAS program on the island of Crete in Greece. What was going to be a three weeklong summer experience was what I would describe as stranger than fiction. It is my pleasure to welcome Roy Abdo to the Liberty and Leadership Podcast to share details of his journey from Lebanon to the U.S. and a range of other fascinating topics. Roy, welcome to the show.
Roy Abdo [00:01:31] Thank you so much. Roger and I’m honored and I’m blessed and I’m excited to be speaking with you. And one of the best things that’s ever happened to me was being part of the TFAS family. So, I’m excited to be here sharing my experience with you and, you know, going through this journey of this podcast today.
Roger Ream [00:01:48] Well, we’re proud to call you a TFAS alum and I think since I teased the story, we should get right into that. You know, I’ve got to begin with this. You left Lebanon, your country of your birth, came to Crete to attend a summer program we sponsored there. And obviously, you had a previous life growing up in Lebanon that was formative in shaping your character. But the events of 2006 were profound in terms of who you are today. So please talk about what happened that summer.
Roy Abdo [00:02:22] So the story happened. I was at the Lebanese American University in Lebanon, and a friend of mine told me about this program in Greece, a leadership program and a conflict resolution program where you bring in 70 people from all over the world to study about conflict resolution and, you know, liberty and all this good stuff. And I remember to myself, wow, this is really cool. So, I applied and I got in, and next thing you know, I got on a flight with my other friends who are also in the program. I land in Athens. I take a boat to go to Crete, which is about, you know, 3 hours I think if I recall correctly.
Roger Ream [00:03:01] A high speed boat would get you there in 3 hours.
Roy Abdo [00:03:03] I don’t know. Probably like 6 hours. Yeah, that’s true. And I get to Crete, I walk into the program and Michelle, who’s the program director, tells me, “Roy, I hope your families okay.” I’m like, “why?” She goes “the war?” I’m like, “what war?” The Civil War ended 30 years ago, Lebanon had the civil war for a long time, but it was quiet. It was a peaceful area after that. And then what happens is I realized that we were the one of the last planes to leave Lebanon before Israel bombed the airport and Hezbollah bombed Israel and the capturing of soldiers and all sort of things. And I had no idea that all of that is going on as I was landing and as I was walking into Crete. And I was at that point turning 21 years old. So, imagine leaving your home country, you know, and landing in the place and realizing, oh my God, there’s no airport to come back to. So, this story goes on where, you know, because of the TFAS program, this is when I had one of the most profound, I would say, educational experience I’ve had in my life, an example of from the classes we took on there, the interaction we’ve had with all people from all sorts of nationalities. And that pretty much shaped my character and made me aware there’s so much more going on outside of my home country. There’s so much more geopolitics, conversations, opportunities. And what happens is, the program ended after three weeks. Everybody left except us who are from Lebanon because there’s no airport to go back to.
Roger Ream [00:04:30] It’s not like you could fly to Tel Aviv or even Damascus when a wars going on and take a bus.
Roy Abdo [00:04:40] Exactly. So, I couldn’t go anywhere. So, I stayed another week in Crete on the program. And then through the help of the partners, that TFAS has and TFAS was a tremendous help, you know, kind of arranging us a place to stay or helping connecting us with people who could help us at places to stay. So, I stayed another week in Crete. Then I got on a boat and I went to Athens thinking maybe if I go to the Lebanese embassy, they would help us somehow get somewhere. I went to the embassy. They’re like, “yeah, you know, maybe we can build you a tent outside and sleep in it.” I’m like, “what?” So, I was lucky that TFAS alums there are Greek, and I was sleeping on their couch just from one couch to another. And then what happens at that point? TFAS was doing its best and, you know, Michelle, the program director, arranged for a couple of us the scholarship to go to the capital semester, the fall semester at that point.
Roger Ream [00:05:35] In Washington, D.C.
Roy Abdo [00:05:38] Correct. So, I was like, this is exciting, but the problem was I had to figure out how to pay my flight and the first of the scholarships. So, I told Michelle, like, listen, this would be great, but I cannot do it. While two other Lebanese were able to do it. So, they got on it and did the program. In my case, I stayed in Greece for another two weeks after that, but through Michelle was, you know, on her way to Hong Kong and she met another TFAS alum. His name is Anthony Shop. I give him a big shot out because of him. A lot of the story happened. So, he’s also a TFAS alum. So, Michelle, the program director, shared my story with Anthony, who was also an alum of TFAS. And she told him, I have one Lebanese student who is stuck in Athens, and he can’t go home and he doesn’t have enough money to go on a capital semester. He’s like, let me do something about it. Apparently, he calls the college president of a school in Missouri called William Jewell College. And he tells them my situation, they arrange a scholarship and plane ticket for me to get there. And I had no idea. So, I got a call from Michelle. She goes, “hey, Roy, I spoke to alumni of TFAS and they got you a full scholarship and a plane ticket to go to school in Missouri. Are you interested?” I’m like, “sure.”
Roger Ream [00:06:51] Did you have an issue in terms of Visa in order to do that?
Roy Abdo [00:06:55] So what happens is I had enough money. They mailed me the I-20, which is a form you have to get when you traveling to America to study. They mailed me the I-20. I looked how much money I had. I barely had enough money to pay all those fees. I ran to the American embassy. I applied for everything. I got my visa. I went back home. I packed the one bag I had and I got on the flight. I remember I had $30 in cash. And I had the address and I knew they arranged me a host family or someone to pick me up, but I wasn’t sure. There’s no smartphone. You’re talking 2006. I had a Nokia phone, if anybody remembers. So, I land and I had the longest flight, I landed in Missouri. I’m walking out of the airport and I see a sign. Welcome, Roy. Like, this is definitely not for me. But it turns out I had a host family to pick me up. And people from the school, from the Student Affair office, went and picked me up and took me to my dorm in Missouri at Williamson College. So that story went on as I did one semester there. And I did a fundraising campaign because I already had the semester with TFAS in the spring. So, I deferred my capital semester to the spring. I raised some money and I was able to do the capital semester. I flew to D.C., I did the capital semester, and also thanks to TFAS, I had an internship in D.C. And the internship was also paid, which was another experience. What I always recommend for anyone that’s trying to, you know, be connected, get in the place where there’s people around you, where you’re becoming helpful for, useful for and TFAS will give you that opportunity. Because I was interning at an international organization and, you know, getting paid for it. So, I was able to afford life in D.C. and meet people and do the work that I want to do. And then what happens is after I finished the capital semester, I made a decision that I want to graduate from the U.S. because if you graduate from the U.S., it enables you to get a work visa, which enables you to get a green card at some point. So, I looked on the situation that I have is I can’t get loans because I’m not U.S. citizens. I can’t get scholarship because I was a senior at that point. So, I had to figure out a way to pay for my school. So back then, through the help of Anthony Shop, who the TFAS alum who gave me the first scholarship. We were discussing, he’s like, “why don’t we just do a fundraising campaign and raise your undergraduate tuition?” And, you know, get you to school also and better what I did, I did a blog with my story and in a pool of people account, and I started emailing people. Anthony is connecting with people. Michelle, the program director is connecting people with the help of everyone collectively and people from Missouri were helping me come back to Missouri to the William Jewell College of Missouri. Through everyone’s collectively, we were able to raise $35,000 that we used to pay for my undergraduate. So, I was able to get a degree which enables me to get at some point a work visa. Long story short, we raised the money, which is a crazy story to think about, like 21 years old, figuring out how to get all of the visas. And then I went back to Missouri. I graduated and I finished in 2008. Remember what happened in 2008?
Roger Ream [00:10:09] Oh, yes, I certainly do. Wasn’t a great environment for coming out of college into. Right?
Roy Abdo [00:10:16] Pretty much. And not only I want a job, I want a job that sponsors my visa, like an H-1B, which is a very difficult because you have to justify it. So, at that point, you know, I met someone who told me the sentence, people don’t hire resumes, they hire people. So, figure out a way to meet more people. I’m like, I don’t know a lot of people. Yes, I did one semester in D.C., but how can I, you know, get something through this? So, I started to email and I went on LinkedIn and I sent about a thousand LinkedIn messages or emails to different people. And I was lucky because someone I interned with, she was the HR director of this other organization. She got an email from me and she connected with me. And the next thing you know, because she knew my name when I was interning at TFAS. She was like, “I see you’re looking for a job, and you speak Arabic, French and English, and we could hire you.” It’s called Voice of America. It’s a Middle East Broadcasting Networks. So next thing you know, I got a job with them.
Roger Ream [00:11:10] Just a pause for a minute. It was through Anthony Shop, a TFAS connection, a TFAS alum and Michelle Le of our TFAS staff that you were able to land at William Jewell College and then it was through your TFAS internship that you got your first job out of college.
Roy Abdo [00:11:25] Correct.
Roger Ream [00:11:26] And that was just almost by chance there that someone who was at your internship that summer was in a position to hire you.
Roy Abdo [00:11:37] And in a different role.
Roger Ream [00:11:37] And your Arabic, French and English obviously helped you study those. I know most people in Lebanon probably speak Arabic and French, I’m guessing. English is something you studied in school.
Roy Abdo [00:11:52] At school and I was at the American University, so I was very intentional about going to an American college. So, I had to improve my English with that.
Roger Ream [00:12:01] It must have been, maybe culture shock is too big a word for it, but suddenly you’ve gone from being in college in Lebanon to being in college in Missouri at William Jewell College. Could you just say a few things about that summer experience or the academic experience there, the cultural experience you had at William Jewell?
Roy Abdo [00:12:20] Yeah. I’m a very positive person, so let’s start with that. Even at the hardest time in my life, I think about it as an opportunity. And there’s like a really famous quote I’ve loved from a long time ago is, you ask for growth and, you know, God gives you challenges to overcome. So, you’re not going to get the growth without the challenges. So, the way I look at it is I landed in Missouri. I didn’t know anyone. I didn’t know what the culture was like. I had no idea. Like from simple, stupid little things, like as simple as in the U.S., you can, you know, like, it’s going to sound gross, but you can you can flush the toilet paper in the toilet and you don’t know it because in a third world country, you cannot do those kind of stuff because of the, you know, like the piping is small or something. You can drink a tap water out of the, you know, the faucet directly like so many small things, you know, people take for granted. For me, it was a whole different experience that I was, you know, going through. And it was amazing. Like you can open up a tab and drink and some people just don’t think of them even like calling 911 and they show up, you know, not that I ever called them, but seeing them around you was a big deal.
Roger Ream [00:13:26] Americans take all those things for granted, right?
Roy Abdo [00:13:29] Yeah. And when I left Lebanon, trash was not being collected. There’s safety issues and we don’t have electricity 24/7. We don’t have any like it barely comes into ours. And I remember one day I was in the dorms and somehow the electricity went off. I just kept working because I’m used to power outages like nothing, you know? And I saw everyone freaking out. I’m like, “what’s the big deal?” You know? Like, yeah, the power went out. I’m like, “so?” You know, like very basic things. And that’s for me, one of the reasons I love the U.S. because it’s an ecosystem that enables you to create opportunities and work hard to build better things and serve the world in general. But overall, going back to the experience, people at William Jewell College were very welcoming and very understanding of where I was coming from and the cultural differences that I was going through and growing into them from even hosting me at different homes. I remember a lot of professors became family to me because I literally had no one in Missouri. So, I had a host family. I had professor hosting me at their homes. I had the whole student body kind of understanding that I didn’t grow up in the U.S. So, some things I might be saying or doing or they might just I don’t mean to be intensely, you know, offending or embracing something like I tend to wink, for example, is something in Lebanon. We do it but it could be perceived differently. The college education that I received was great. The professor was phenomenal, and that set me up to success when I went back to Washington because I learned a lot of it. I learned the critical thinking aspect of it. And I also learned a lot when I did the TFAS semester, you know, from the summer one or the capital semester. A lot about the free market, how to think in a way to, you know, the great opportunity, what it’s like to be in the free world, what it’s like to be in those ideas of freedom that, you know, some people take for granted. But I was literally living every single one of them.
Roger Ream [00:15:32] Well, we had a professor from William Jewell who taught for a number of years in our Washington, D.C. program in the summers. That’s Professor Armstrong. No doubt you got to know him at William Jewell.
Roy Abdo [00:15:47] Yeah, he was my professor of political science and he loved TFAS and he knew my story walking in and he picked up on me even in like some of those exercises. But, I mean, thinking about it, like, that’s why if anyone’s listening to this, it’s going to TFAS and being part of TFAS will be one of the best decisions you’ve ever done in your life, because not only the network, it’s the learning. Not only the learning, it’s the opportunities and the growth. And then that’s where you gain yourself a family that you put into and you know, it gives you back and it’s like a mature, you know, beneficial relationships.
Roger Ream [00:16:23] Yeah, well, I know we’ve benefited greatly by having the ability to recruit professors such as Gary Armstrong to teach in our program and to have such an influence on students. Well, you’ve now been here in this country for sixteen years, roughly. You’ve been in the working world, the business world. You’ve started a company that’s been since 2013, very active in the digital space and marketing and helping companies, that’s Digital Revamp your business. I want to talk a little about that. But first, you know, many question today, whether the American dream is still possible. You seemed to me from your story to have been successful in achieving an American dream. Talk a little bit about the American dream and whether it’s possible.
Roy Abdo [00:17:20] I think it’s more possible than ever, and I think it’s even more possible in today’s world. There’s some people trying to steal the American dream by what I describe sometimes, you know, people playing some victim mentality or not going out and putting their weight and pushing the best version of themselves every day. Like, for me, the way I look at it from a, you know, high level perspective, if someone like Obama was able to become president and someone like Trump was able to become president and someone like Biden was able to become president, it gives you the opportunity to dream big. You know, there’s someone who’s black who made it. And then we work with a lot of executive leaders from different colors, different races that are at the highest level of positions because they took one commitment on themselves, which is becoming better every single day. And for me, one of the reasons why the American dream is possible, because there’s an infrastructure and there’s a rule of law. And when there’s a rule of law, everybody is under the law. It enables you to have your rights protected. You can start a company, you can provide services to society, and the society values it gives you money for it. And that money is protected so you can build the life that you achieve from, you know, owning a business, owning a house, serving other people, knowing your rights protected. So, the way I look at it is whenever people say there’s no more American dream. Yeah, because you’re trying to not work as hard as people worked. Because if you think about anyone who lived the American dream, he didn’t just work hard. He worked hard and smart and was able to provide value to others. So that’s why for me, I’m a big believer of the Constitution, our founding fathers, one of the things that we read at TFAS and touched me the most was Tocqueville. If you guys haven’t read Tocqueville and his journey on America and his fascination from the printing press, the freedom of riot to the American way of doing business or the American way, living a life, to me, that’s the fabric of what the American dream is about.
Roger Ream [00:19:18] Well, thank you. That’s very well said. I can’t take issue with what you said there. And I’m glad you’re reading of Tocqueville in your other course with TFAS helped with that.
Roy Abdo [00:19:28] I did the reading.
Roger Ream [00:19:29] Because I know a lot of that came from your experience, too. And you did it through your own hard work, not, you know, you didn’t have to have obviously, you had people supporting you along the way, helping you along the way, but it wasn’t a a victim mentality where, hey, you have to give things to me because I can’t do it on my own. You did it with your hard work and your sweat. So, tell us how you got to build this company Digital Revamp.
Roy Abdo [00:19:57] So, after I worked at Voice of America and Broadcast and Media for about seven years, it turns out if you have an undergraduate and you apply for a green card, it takes you 3 to 5 years to get a green card. If you have a master’s, it takes you one year. I’m like, okay, I need to go get a masters. I applied. I get into Johns Hopkins, but obviously I can’t afford to pay Johns Hopkins because it’s so expensive. So, I had this idea, let me take my class project, turn up the consulting project, and then help small businesses with them. Next thing you know, I saw something about a company called Lyft, but not everybody knows Lyft today. But if you thought about Lyft seven years ago, you know you’re going to get in someone else’s car. He’s going to drive you around. He’s not a cab driver. Like, why would you do that? Right?
Roger Ream [00:20:41] Right.
Roy Abdo [00:20:42] But I thought to myself, this could be a great opportunity because the Internet is a great equalizer. So, I did a proposal for Lyft and sense of like, here’s how you help launch a marketplace. And I sent it to them. Next thing you know, I was working with Lyft on their launch in D.C. And then from Lyft, I was able to take the money. And then pretty much the model that I had in mind is when you do an MBA, they give you a lot of case studies and class projects. I’m like, “what’s the point of those?” Let me take those, turn them to consulting project, sell them to businesses and take the project, go back to class, present it as my class project. I talked to a bunch of professors. They agreed to it. Some of them didn’t. But those who agreed, I was literally using some life case studies to help businesses, just things to fund my education.
Roger Ream [00:21:25] That’s brilliant, brilliant strategy.
Roy Abdo [00:21:29] You know, no other place in the world, maybe you could do it in other places. But the ability to start a business or be part of a business or help another business or have a consultant. Like you can start a business in the U.S. with literally going online for half an hour, register an LLC.
Roger Ream [00:21:45] That’s a brilliant strategy and you got your masters at Johns Hopkins?
Roy Abdo [00:21:51] Correct. An MBA at Johns Hopkins and with that MBA, what happens is and I got my green card at that point. I saw a company called Gallup, the Gallup Poll, they were hiring. So, I thought to myself, I want to be part of something bigger and do something at that level. So, I literally also, instead of applying, I sent them an email of what’s going on and how the improvement that could be doing on their website, on their media and their work. And the next thing you know, I was hired. You know, they reached out to them. I went through the process and I was hired by Gallup to help them with their digital work. And after I did the consulting work with them, I thought to myself, after two and a half, three years, I’m like, “you know what? I can do this for a lot of other clients outside of Gallup.” So, I went to the CEO. I’m like, “hey, listen, I’m thinking about starting my own company and doing digital advising, digital consulting.” He’s like “well, this is great. We can be one of your first client.” I’m like, this is great. So next thing, you know, I was helping those small businesses I was initially working with at phase one. And then next thing you know, I was working with Sherm as H.R.M., which is the largest association in the world. And what I realized, what my God given talent to me is the ability to strategize and tell stories.
Roger Ream [00:23:14] What are some of the secrets that you, you know, provide organizations, individuals who want to promote their brand and reach a bigger market that make their stories powerful?
Roy Abdo [00:23:24] That’s the part that I’m really good at. And how I got good at it is I understood the power of storytelling and changing someone emotionally because everyone on the planet would like to move emotionally from one state to another. So, the best way for brands to engage in audience is to help that audience move from one place to another by empowering them already with what they could be doing. So anytime I looked at the framework from any brand is I see, are you able to move your customer from point A to point B? And if not moving your customer, you have to think about the positioning of the company. Most companies talk about themselves. Companies that succeed talk what they could do to the customer. They become a guide in the customer’s life. So those are like my two kinds of pillars of building a brand. So right now we work a lot with executives on their executive branding. So, we turn the executive into a thought leader by taking his content, his ideas, his vision, and transcribing it into content, into graphics, into visual, to help, to post it on LinkedIn, to build him a following. And all of our content is useful advice for the world. Helpful ways for companies to grow. Helpful ways for, you know, HR professionals in our case to be the best HR professionals of themselves. And the second thing is knowing your customer so well and knowing the problems that they’re having and putting content on how your products, your solution, your company is the guide to help them get better. And doing it consistently, that’s a recipe to grow a following and that’s how we help our clients.
Roger Ream [00:24:57] And as I recall, you’ve mentioned that your company is now not just working here in the United States, but you’ve got some work you do in Lebanon. Are you becoming a global company?
Roy Abdo [00:25:08] I mean, because of my background, I was receiving a lot of inquiries for some work to be done in Dubai, in Lebanon. So, we actually right now have an office in Dubai. And we work with Russell Hammer, which is one of the Emirates in Dubai. We do work for them and we have an office in Lebanon because part of my commitment was I had a very hard, you know, life to build the dream I want to live and had to leave my family, my home and gain another home, which was great, too. But also some people don’t want to, you know, have that experience. So now we’re able to help people get jobs in Lebanon, because we’re able to open up opportunities for them and create work for them that we bring in from other countries because of the lack of, you know, the high unemployment in here.
Roger Ream [00:25:55] Well, if you don’t mind, Roy, let’s talk for a few minutes about Lebanon. It’s a beautiful country, has a terrific climate, wonderful people, but it’s been enmeshed in conflict for decades. It said leadership struggles, government dysfunction and corruption, war, you know, terrorism. You had that awful warehouse explosion that destroyed your port just a couple of years ago. You know, these factors all contributed very difficult times for that country. Is there hope that things can improve and Lebanon can be just a very rich, rich country with lots of opportunities for people if it could overcome these problems. But where do you see things today?
Roy Abdo [00:26:43] It’s very difficult seeing how a country like America runs and coming back to Lebanon and see how things runs. You notice how much disconnect there is and how far are we from actually being a nation. And what I love about America, how much Americans love their country and they love their nation and they put it first among everything else and they love to serve. And I think the challenge we have in Lebanon, there’s different political parties. And they’re not all of them are aligned on this definition of what Lebanon could be and would be. So, there’s a group, you know, nature wise, we have a lot of beautiful resorts, a lot of beautiful, like one of the most beautiful nature sceneries I’ve ever seen. And across all my 20 to 24 countries that I’ve traveled to. But part of it also, we didn’t talk about it, Roger, is I became a speaker for the State Department and they flew me to like Tajikistan, Morocco, where I gave presentations on how to use digital to change your life, how to use digital to grow a business, or actually enable you to get opportunities outside of your home country. So, I look at Lebanon, going back to your initial question, God gave us a lot of things, but humans here are not set to make the most out of them to make the country successful because there’s Hezbollah and their own agenda. The other parties have their own agenda. There’s no defined agenda of Lebanon nationalism like Lebanon as a nation. What could it be in our structure? And Lebanon does not have, you know, Washington or Jefferson or Madison like those people who love their country more than their own interests, like thinking about Jefferson, even if you know about Virginia, a governor of Virginia cannot run for two consecutive terms because they’re so set on not being a monarchy. So, someone for me at that highest level of thinking, but they’re, you know, put the country’s interest of the state interests above their interests. And unfortunately, I don’t see that in Lebanon happening. As far as, you know, there’s some aspect of it, in the beginning, but it’s also thinking about it. Lebanon is about 100 years old as a country, so it’s not like an old country. But also on the other side, it’s a young country with lack of will, lack of centralized leadership and vision, which could be very difficult to to grow. I mean, I don’t want to sound pessimistic, but I’m also realistic. So things are better a little bit in the sense of like there’s more, the last election things got a little better in terms of there’s new people, there’s new faces, but we’re still very far from the untapped potential of this country, like not seeing someone, seeing a country like Singapore, seeing a country like Dubai, seeing all those countries like Dubai is 50, 60 years old and look how far they’ve come along. Or even Qatar like thinking how young that country is and how far they come to host the World Cup. To me, it’s a pride to be part of, you know, an Arab nation, Arab speaking nation, hosting that kind of level of sophistication.
Roger Ream [00:29:41] I think you captured it with those two words, untapped potential. It’s got great untapped potential, great location in the world in many ways, while at the same time it’s surrounded by a lot of you know, difficult conflict that hampers, that affects Lebanon, but your family still there. Is that right?
Roy Abdo [00:30:01] Correct. My family still here. All my cousins are in Lebanon. I mean, they already have their green card approval and they could go and get it and everything. But also part of it is like in my case, I became more American than Lebanese. It’s kind of like you have a dual identity where you love both places. But I’m a big believer of what America is about and the American dream. And I hope one day we’re going to have something called the Lebanese Dream, which I do, but it’s very far from where it could be going, you know?
Roger Ream [00:30:32] Well, I recall in 2018 you became a U.S. citizen. All right. You posted about it and what was that like?
Roy Abdo [00:30:42] It took me, I think, 13 years to get that law to become a citizen. So, I went on and posted on LinkedIn my story, how I came to Greece and the whole struggle and process. And I posted and I just went to bed. You know, I woke up, the post had 1.5 million views or 1.3 million views. Over 200, 300 comments. So many people are writing this is what the America is. And for me, it shows you that when you put up with the best version of yourself every single day and you tell your story authentically and your truth to yourself every day, you’ll be surprised what the world will show you. But you got to take action. And I see so many people every single day. They have dreams, they have visions, but they’re not putting into emotion and to emotion by taking action on it. And their dreams go untapped. So that post exploded on LinkedIn, and it opened up so many opportunities for me, not only in business, but also like the speaker’s bureau from the State Department reached out to me to be this on their speaker’s list. And also, like it brought a lot of positive, I would say, feelings or hope and aspirations. So many people wrote me. I’ve been in the immigration struggle for X amount of years. Your post gave me hope because – I mean, think of it this way. The reason why I didn’t lose because I never stopped trying. And I think the recipe for people, if you don’t stop trying, you could never lose because you’re always trying to be successful.
Roger Ream [00:32:12] Well, before we run out of time, I do want to ask you a little bit about advice you might offer to young people today. First, to young people who are in our program, whether they’re American or not, you know, they’re trying to sort out options for their careers, what direction to take, how to, you know, find success in their lives. You’ve shared some things already as we’ve gone through this discussion, but share some advice you might offer some young person who comes into your office and says, “Roy, you know, I’m kind of at a crossroads in my career. I’m not sure what to do when I get out of college. How should I, you know, find focus?”
Roy Abdo [00:32:58] Yeah, I would say like one of the best advice that I gave and I’ll give it back instead of always being obsessed of what you want to do. You obsess of what you don’t want to do because you never know what you like until you try something. So keep trying things and keep growing in things. But also keep in mind taking your natural talent is a key element of success. Like start to get to know yourself. And the key thing is because you grow up in a certain way, you take what you grew up with for granted, and don’t leverage it to the highest potential. Like I grew up never fearing stages, public speaking. I’ve always loved talking, I’ve always loved strategy. So, I thought everyone has that ability of doing what I do best every day, you know, thinking, “oh, that’s easy. I can do it.” So, I’d say one of the biggest lesson learned was self-awareness, knowing what makes you unique and make you special, even though you grew up with it. And taking that and complementing yourself with those who could help you with places that you’re not that good at them. So don’t try to be everything for everyone. Be useful for a certain amount of people, for certain amount of tasks that would help you push further than anyone else. And the common thing that got me is you have to free yourself from it’s okay to fail. Fail is another lesson. And you never fail if you keep on trying things. So I would say, you know, knowing yourself. It’s okay to fail. Fail is another lesson. Keep moving. Keep trying, and surround yourself with people that you trust and they give you an honest feedback and you know, have an honest conversation with them, whether it’s a mentor, whether it’s a coach, whether it’s your circles, your ex-boss. Everyone around you is not, you know, the best fits for you. You know, it’s not like your greatest mentor. But think about there’s certain amount of people that already successful. They could give you that 1% tip to move you further in your life and read a lot like I read a lot, I make a point to show up in places, even though if I’m tired, even if I’m like, you know, for example, the happy hours or the gathered you guys host. Sometimes I’ll be so tired, but I still show up and I still meet great people because your success is a factor of the people you meet. You have to be useful for people. And if you’re sitting at home watching Netflix, you’re not useful except to the person who had their dream of making a Netflix. You’re useful for them because you’re watching their dream getting happen on the screen while you’re sitting on the couch watching it with you, you know?
Roger Ream [00:35:30] Yeah, well, you mentioned earlier that people don’t hire resumes. They hire people. And, you know, I want to go back to that story you mentioned about Gallup, because I found that fascinating. And there’s a lesson there about the fact that you didn’t wait to find a job opening at Gallup that you fit, that you could apply for. You went and looked at their website, looked at their digital media, what they do, and you found things you thought could be improved and sent them a memo about it and they hired you. That’s a very creative approach you took.
Roy Abdo [00:36:08] And I would say like, think of it this way. You’ll never be fired for a place you’re useful for. And you’ll always be hired for a place you can add value for. And you might be asking yourself, okay, I’m a young 21-year-old, 22 years old. I cannot you know, you’re actually very wrong. You could be useful because the skill set you have at 21 is not something people have at 35 or 36 or 37. One of my favorite quotes is the older I get, the younger my mentors are.
Roger Ream [00:36:36] I hadn’t heard that. That’s a good one.
Roy Abdo [00:36:38] Because think of it like no one knows TikTok better than a 21-year-old, right? If Gallup wants to be relevant in the next five years, Tik Tok is on the rise. You could be going for them and finding something useful where you could be useful for them, you know?
Roger Ream [00:36:52] I got to write that down. The older I get, the younger my mentors are, Roy Abdo. We’re going to get that into some book of quotations that we’re going to give you. You know, we did a new strategic plan at TFAS just two years ago, and we looked at our mission statement in the process and we just made one kind of minor tweak to the mission statement, which, as I always said, what we’re doing is developing leaders. And we added the word courageous, developing courageous leaders because we just thought in so many instances, being a leader requires courage and it could be anything from being in a, I’ll say, a woke environment today. Speaking up sometimes can lead to censorship or pay a cost for speaking your mind about something. But it also takes courage to do the kinds of things you did, your life. You know, it was forced on you to some extent by external circumstances. But to be a 21-year-old suddenly in a city like Athens unable to return home, you turned that into a courageous journey that has led to a great success in life and adding value to the businesses and lives of so many others now, here in the United States and outside the U.S. So do you have any thoughts about that, about when you know, you must have had times where you were scared or frightened and you had to summon up that kind of courage? I’d love to hear you say something about that.
Roy Abdo [00:38:26] I love the word courage and like I’m afraid all the time. Like it’s normal to be afraid, if you’re not afraid and anxious, it means you don’t care.
Roger Ream [00:38:37] Or you aren’t taking any kind of risks. Right?
Roy Abdo [00:38:39] Exactly. Like your life is just not where you know you could be. So, for me is that one of the things I loved is something from Jeff Bezos. He calls it the minimum regrets framework. When he had this idea of Amazon, he went to his boss and he told him and his boss tells him, yeah, that’s a good idea for someone who doesn’t have a great job on Wall Street like you, Jeff. So, Jeff goes home and he sits down and he thinks, “what would I regret when I’m 90, not starting Amazon or not quitting my job?” He’s like, “not starting Amazon.” So, he went and quit and started Amazon. I think every single day in my life is what would I regret more not starting Digital Revamp or not quitting my job like I want to reduce the amount of regrets. And for you to reduce the amount of regrets, you’ve got to have the courage to take decisions that are outside of your comfort zone and step into places where you’ve never stepped in. And guess what, it’s going to be, you know, painful, it’s going to be ugly like, you know, but that’s where you surround yourself with people who are smarter than you to reduce the amount of errors. Not taking action is wrong. Taking action is to reduce the amount of wrongness you’re doing. For example, not making a decision is the wrong decision, but making decision could be the fractionally wrong decision. But the more decisions you make, the better you get at it. So I would say it’s okay to take a decision and it’s okay to change that decision. So having the courage to make a decision is one of the qualities of a leader. And I always look for people who are in that position or are okay with being wrong. And they admittedly say I’m wrong, even like I work with the one of our clients, he advises executive of Fortune 500 companies. He makes predictions all the time, and part of being making predictions is it’s okay if some of them are wrong, but at least you’re trying to make sense of the world. You know, I love when you added the word courage in there. And sometimes when I think about it, you’re only forced in certain places. Like, for example, the only time I was forced to do something was when I was in Greece. But every single decision I’ve taken, I’ve understood that there’s two things in life. There’s fear and danger. And we all tend to, you know, mix them up. Danger is real. There’s a lion outside, there’s a shooting outside. It’s a real thing out there. Fear is a factor, it’s an emotional thing. It’s an imagination. It’s a feeling. And we tend not to make decision based on fear, while in reality we created fear in our heads. And that creation is disabling from being true to our self, from living our full potential. So, making a distinction between fear and danger was one of the best things that helped me get more courage that I’m creating this thing on there. I can just muscle through it and go on.
Roger Ream [00:41:21] Well, you reminded me of hearing from Jeff Bezos father once about when his son called him to say, I want to leave this job I have on Wall Street and start a new business where you loan me money. And he asked Jeff Bezos, “what is the business idea you have?” And he said, “it’s to sell books over the Internet.” And his father thought, “why are people going to buy books from you rather than from bookstores in their neighborhood?” That was certainly a concept that was chock full of risk and fear and questions. And as you said, you know, you’ve got to take action, motion and move forward. And we see where that led to today. Well, my guest today has been Roy Abdo. Roy is a shining example of courageous leadership, of entrepreneurship, of success. And we’re pleased at The Fund for American Studies to claim at least a little bit of credit for helping Roy get to where he is today by adding value to his life and having a transformational programs that have enabled him to become someone who’s transformational in the world and adding value to his clients. So, thank you so much, Roy. It’s a pleasure to talk with you today. Best wishes for continued success.
Roy Abdo [00:42:40] Thank you for having me and thank you for this great podcast and I look forward to seeing you at the TFAS headquarters.
Roger Ream [00:42:45] Sounds great. It’s a deal. Thank you.
Roger Ream [00:42:48] Thank you for listening to the Liberty and Leadership Podcast. Please don’t forget to subscribe, download, like or share the show on Apple, Spotify, or YouTube or wherever you listen to your podcasts. If you like this episode, I ask you to rate and review it. And if you have a comment or question for the show, please drop us an email at podcast@TFAS.org. The Liberty and Leadership Podcast is produced at kglobal Studios in Washington, D.C. I’m your host Roger Ream and until next time, show courage in things large and small.
About the Podcast
TFAS has reached more than 46,000 students and professionals through academic programs, fellowships and seminars. Representing more than 140 countries, TFAS alumni are courageous leaders throughout the world forging careers in politics, government, public policy, business, philanthropy, law and the media.
Join TFAS President Roger Ream ’76 as he reconnects with these outstanding alumni to share experiences, swap career stories, and find out what makes their leadership journey unique. With prominent congressmen, judges and journalists among the mix, each episode is sure to excite your interest in what makes TFAS special.
If you have a comment or question for the show, please email podcast@TFAS.org.
View future episodes and subscribe at TFAS.org/podcast.