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Ottawa construction leader Fares Elsabbagh credits mentors for his success

The Forty Under 40 winner believes in humility, teamwork and striving for more

Fares Elaabbagh, CEO of Ottawa General Contractors
Fares Elsabbagh, CEO of Ottawa General Contractors and Forty under 40 winner

The seeds of Ottawa General Contractor’s CEO Fares Elsabbagh’s success were sown by his mother, Suha Elsabbagh.

“She would tell us, ‘There’s no self-pity here,’ to reinforce the values the resilience and hard work,” said Elsabbagh.

That message encouraged him and his two brothers to feel a sense of pride in who they were.

Today, the husband of Natalie Hijazi and father to Lianna and Maya — the family he considers to be his good luck charms — marvels at how hard his mother worked to keep a roof over their heads.

All Suha can talk about now is her pride in her sons.

“She raised my brothers and I to believe we had almost unlimited potential,” said Elsabbagh. “And she planted the seeds of the importance of education and hard work.”

He took those lessons and ran with them.

Facing challenges

Even without ever having lifted a hammer, Elsabbagh says he gravitated towards construction because it was interesting, seemed like a huge opportunity and he loved the idea of building whatever he wanted.

“My main motivation was to build a cool company that does great work,” said Elsabbagh. “One that people would be proud to work for.”

A business degree was the first tool in his tool belt, so he started off in marketing. Elsabbagh was eager to learn, and he soon discovered he could do that by adopting an attitude of humility.

“In construction if you’re humble, people are willing to help you,” he said. “If you want to look like a know-it-all, people will challenge you.”

He soon discovered that even when you bring a mature attitude and the support of mentors to the table, being a successful entrepreneur will test you. His mother’s guidance to stay focused and strong came in handy once again.

While Elsabbagh started off with complete confidence that his business would be a success, he discovered along the way that maintaining it can be just as tough.

“I truly feel in my heart that before you can start a business, you’ve got to focus on yourself — physically, mentally and spiritually,” said Elsabbagh. “The business you create will be a reflection of yourself.”

That means putting in time at the gym, reading books, pursuing education and embracing the spirituality of his faith, rather than being “a lot of talk and no action.”

Teamwork makes the dream work

With the values he developed as his north star, Elsabbagh believes in leading by example.

“I learned this in my amateur football days,” he said. “You want to learn leadership? Step into the captain role for a bunch of testosterone-filled young men and see if you make the cut.”

Maybe that experience is part of the reason Elsabbagh hires professionals who are pleasant to work with.

“It’s normal in my organization for someone to drop what they’re doing to help a colleague or co-worker,” he said. “We plan on growing our group vertically and horizontally and I get excited about providing opportunities to wonderful people like the ones we’ve already brought into our family.”

Refusing to settle

The final ingredient that turned Ottawa General Contractors into the success it is today was the decision to prioritize customer satisfaction.

“The single most important strategy we used to improve our client satisfaction was creating feedback loops between our managers and clients,” said Elsabbagh. “Our project managers get reviewed by our clients on a bi-weekly basis.”

If they got a poor rating on some aspect of the job, a customer service representative called the client and addressed their concerns the same day.

“It’s this urgency and client acknowledgement that sets us apart from the rest,” said Elsabbagh.

That decision — which ultimately doubled their revenue — may have taught Elsabbagh the biggest lesson of all. “We set up a lot of limitations for ourselves, but as human beings, we are powerful beyond measure,” said Elsabbagh. “If we push ourselves, we can really overcome barriers and challenges.”

Apart from the impact his work has had on himself, his family, and his company, Elsabbagh also loves giving back to the community. “I get joy from positively impacting people around me,” he said. “We just put a lot of good energy out there.”