Catching up with Citi’s Chief Economist for the Middle East
Why did you choose to study at DEREE-The American College of Greece for your undergraduate studies?
My mum is Greek and having grown up in Egypt, I wanted to live in Athens for a while. At the same time, I wanted to make sure I was getting a quality education that would act as a stepping-stone to a global career. DEREE fit the bill perfectly.
What are some of your fondest memories from your college days at DEREE?
Hanging around with friends at the pizza and pool joints of Agia Paraskevi, summer open-air cinemas in Kifissia, nipping to the beach on weekends, the smell of pine trees everywhere. Life in Athens as a student with no real responsibilities is magical.
Have you kept in touch with old classmates?
I know I should say yes, but sadly not so much. I am in touch with one or two, sure, but distance and time have taken their toll.
Although not your current area of expertise, can you tell us some of the differences you find between the economic climate in the UK when you first started your career with the Bank of England, and now that you are based back in the UK – after working abroad – with Citi as its chief economist for the Middle East?
The economic climate today is recovering to what it was like prior to the global downturn in 2008/2009. But if not outright austerity, there is still a sense of much greater care in spending, at the government, corporate and individual levels. Jobs are tougher to find, pay is stricter, benefits lower. Up until Lehmans [Brother’s collapse] in 2008, expense accounts and lavish entertainment were the norm in the banking industry. Today, every cup of coffee has to be declared and justified. The culture has changed.
What are some of the growth markets in the Middle East investors should be looking at?
Generally, I think the big growth markets in the Middle East will be the large underdeveloped economies at the fringes that have chronically underperformed for political reasons – countries like Egypt, Iraq and Iran. The oil-rich Gulf countries will always be rich, but with oil prices where they are, opportunities look harder than previously.
What do you believe are some of the most important skills one needs to make it in your line of work?
Two skill sets: analytical and interpersonal/communication. You don’t need a PhD in Economics to be an economist; you just have to be able to analyze information using common sense. But you also have to be able to communicate that information to clients, understand what they are interested in and deliver it in a simple message.
What advice would you give young people who are struggling to find work in Greece? Should they be looking to the Middle East for work opportunities including internships? Dubai’s Greek population alone has grown fivefold in recent years…
I cannot presume to understand how awful it is trying to get a job in Greece today. The reality is that the pie is shrinking, and this means that wages and jobs are under pressure, so there is little one can do to beat the tide. Sadly, yes, abroad is a compelling option. Dubai is a great place to live and work, with a thriving Greek community, and so is London. I hear Greek more and more in the streets these days.
Who are your influencers? Did you have mentors early on in your career?
I’ve had many influences and mentors in my career and still do. But the one person who led me down the path that I am currently on was my economics professor at DEREE, Albert Arouh, who was inspiring in his dignified personal manner as well as in his professional competence. I learned after his passing that he was also a food critic, which only strengthened my admiration for him: for me success lies in happiness, and living life to the full.
As a global citizen in today’s world yourself, how important is it in your opinion that students and others aim their sights abroad, whether through international internships or other means?
As a foreign institution in Greece, populated with people of various backgrounds, DEREE is a microcosm of the modern global village. Cultural bias gives way to an international perspective that is necessary in dealing with today’s global career realities. Mobility is increasingly necessary in these tough economic times, and equipping oneself with the tools, culturally and psychologically as well as professionally, to take advantage of a job opportunity in say Dubai, London or Singapore is vital.
FAROUK SOUSSA (DEREE ’95)
Citi’s Chief Economist for the Middle East
Farouk Soussa is Citi’s chief economist for the Middle East, and has been mostly based in the UK since leaving DEREE in 1994. Farouk joined Citi from Standard & Poor’s where he was the head of government ratings for the Middle East and Africa (2004-2010). Farouk started his career in 1998 at the Bank of England, working in various divisions within the financial stability wing of the bank, ultimately as a senior economist within the international finance division. While at the Bank, he spent time as a financial regulator with the Financial Services Authority (FSA), and did a six-month post-doctoral Jean Monnet fellowship at the European University Institute in Florence.
Farouk is Egyptian/Greek, and holds a Master’s degree in Finance and a PhD in Economics from the University of Birmingham, UK, and a BA in Economics from DEREE (1995). His brother Anwar Soussa graduated from DEREE in 1994 with a BSc in Marketing Management, and recently joined Bharti Airtel as the Managing Director of their operation in Chad. Airtel is one of the world’s largest telecommunications Groups with a presence in 20 countries. Prior to that, Anwar Soussa was the Chief Operating Officer at MTN in Cyprus, also part of a global telecommunications Group.
Watch a recent interview with Mr Farouk Soussa on CNBC (March 31 2015) here