American University of Beirut

Samih Darwazah

Samih Darwazah is the consummate entrepreneur. He has risen to the heights of business success and is known throughout the world for his achievement in the pharmaceutical industry. But even more remarkable is his leadership as a responsible corporate citizen who makes the wellbeing of his clients and employees his top priority and believes passionately in giving back to the community. As the creator of Hikma Pharmaceuticals and as a devoted public servant, Samih Darwazah can look back on an extraordinary saga of challenges, setbacks and successes, all mentored by the philosophy he learned at his father’s side during his Palestinian childhood.

Samih Darwazah was born in Nablus in 1930. One of several children in a family of modest means, but substantial industry, his family lived in Jaffa where his father was a merchant, for most of his childhood. Watching the process of business enterprise, and absorbing his father’s commitment to honest dealings, the young Samih was captured by the idea of being an entrepreneur at a young age. He was fortunate to receive a scholarship to study at the Arab College of Jerusalem, which not only fed his hunger for learning, but strengthened the values he learned as a child, specifically, hard work and self-discipline. In 1948, the Darwazah family left their ancestral home, as did almost a million other Palestinians during the Nakba, and moved to Jordan to begin anew.

Looking at his life as a dynamic interplay between adversity and good fortune, Darwazah remembers his tremendous joy at being accepted to study at AUB at a time of severe hardship for his displaced family. He also managed to obtain some student aid as an AUB student. It was at AUB that he found further good fortune in meeting the love of his life, Samira, a fellow AUB student whom he married while still in school. After obtaining a BSc Degree in Pharmacy in 1954, he accepted a job in Kuwait and moved there with Samira and their first born, May. The couple raised four children together, May, Said, Mazen, and Hana.

After working as a pharmacist for several years, Darwazah took another leap of faith and successfully applied for a Fulbright scholarship in the U.S. The Darwazahs relocated to St. Louis, Missouri where Samih obtained a master's degree in Industrial Pharmacy in 1964.

For the following twelve years Darwazah worked for Eli Lilly, steadily assuming more demanding and responsible positions, moving several times to regional offices around the U.S., Europe, and the Middle East. Putting into action the principles learned as a child, Darwazah hired with care, encouraged, and supported his team’s honest dedication to their work.

Despite his success at Eli Lilly, Darwazah was eager to find a permanent home for his family and to embark on a new challenge. In 1978, moving back to Amman, he took the considerable risk of founding his own pharmaceutical company. Despite considerable competition in the region, he was convinced that by producing truly safe and reliable medicines, his new company would ultimately gain the custom and confidence of suppliers and physicians. 

There followed years of hard work and occasional setbacks. Any small profit was returned to the fledgling company for necessary improvements, including research into developing new and improved products. In due course, Hikma became very successful in the broader MENA region, focusing on pharmaceuticals for the central nervous system, oncology, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. 

By the early 1990s, with the help of the Darwazah children who had joined the business, Hikma continued to grow and expand. After establishing a successful operation in Portugal, the company achieved what had been believed to be the impossible: opening a generic pharmaceutical business in the United States. Throughout the rise of Hikma, Darwazah has shown great concern for maintaining a safe and supportive work environment for his employees around the globe. He has also insisted on a strict code of ethics for Hikma and sponsored robust corporate social responsibility programs.

As an entrepreneur and business leader, Darwazah contributed to the advancement of his adoptive home country by providing jobs and economic vigor. But his vision and managerial talents made him valuable to Jordan in more ways than that. In 1995 Darwazah was invited by Jordan’s Prince Zeid Ben-Shaker to serve as Minister of Energy and Mineral Resources to King Hussein. He has also been a senator, served on the Advisory Economic Council, and founded the Jordanian Trade Association.

As a firm supporter of education and an advocate for women’s rights, Darwazah was dismayed when he learned that many girls in Southern Jordan lacked access to good schools and decided to do something about this problem himself. In 2009, he established a school for girls in the village of Al Shobak, which is now a thriving educational center.

In recognition of Darwazah’s remarkable achievements as a businessman, Ernst and Young named him Middle East Entrepreneur of the Year in 2007. He is also the recipient of two honorary doctorates, from The St. Louis College of Pharmacy in 2010 and from the Lebanese American University (LAU) in 2012, in recognition of his lifetime of accomplishments. AUB also presented him the Distinguished Alumnus Award for his leadership in the international healthcare industry in 2012.

In 2011, Darwazah’s four children honored him with a gift to AUB establishing The Samih Darwazah Center for Innovation Management and Entrepreneurship at the Suliman S. Olayan School of Business. The Center’s scope includes research, field studies, benchmarking, seminars and workshops as well as conferences, all focused on the pivotal domain of organizational renewal and wealth creation through creative enterprise and with a clear regional focus.

Darwazah’s memoir, Building a Global Success, has been applauded by the deans of the business schools at both Harvard and Columbia; yet, it reads more like an adventure novel than an instructive text. Initially published in 2004, it is a moving and informative story that takes you from his early experiences selling candy apples from a tray in Nablus through numerous enterprises in many countries, the founding of Hikma, and on to the present day.  What resonates throughout is Darwazah’s strong sense of family and his high esteem for honest hard work.

From war refugee to renowned entrepreneur, Darwazah has shown what can be accomplished with perseverance, industriousness, a firm ethical code, and the courage to take risks. Perhaps more importantly, he has shown that success can be had while maintaining a loving household and putting the wellbeing of employees, clients, and the general public at the top of the list. In short, he has proven his own maxim: nice guys do finish first!

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