Majd Aboul Hosn - Professor, California Polytechnic University

Majd Aboul Hosn grew up between California and his birth country of Lebanon. He completed his undergraduate studies at California Polytechnic University where he was named the Valedictorian of his graduating Industrial Engineering class. His early career was in the Middle East managing multi-billion dollar industrial projects. His experience exposed him to the harsh reality of economic development often coming at the detriment of people and the environment. He saw firsthand how economic development, if not strategized correctly, can lead to amongst many other impacts, an increasing income gap and a negative toll on the environment.

In his pursuit of answers, Majd Aboul Hosn was accepted to a Graduate Program at Cambridge University’s Institute of Sustainability Leadership. There, he accepted his Master’s Degree and turned to entrepreneurship and academics to carry out his conviction to create a more sustainable world.

Today, Majd Aboul Hosn balances his time between academics and business. He teaches sustainability and lean production at the California Polytechnic University. His courses emphasize the evolving role of young engineers in the professional world, where they will be expected to maximize profits while not overlooking their responsibility towards the environment and society. Majd puts his teaching to practice in his real estate investment and development company he now runs and manages in California. He believes that his company, like any other company, is in the forefront of confronting the challenges ahead. Majd says, “Companies have the advantage of working across borders and developing long-term strategies”, two attributes he suggests restrict governments from being effective in tackling social and environmental issues.

When asked about his biggest concern about the future, Majd responded that the impact of technology and artificial intelligence on jobs and human well-being may be a catastrophe if not managed correctly.  He sees the business landscape rapidly changing with the onset of automated technology and artificial intelligence and the reduced roll of humans. Majd says his concerns about the well-being of future generations were amplified after the recent birth of his two sons. He says that education has become the cornerstone of human well-being as machines will slowly but surely take over the lower wage jobs that are mostly based on physical labor.

1.  How did you get started?

I always believed in the power of networking and mentorship. I kept in touch with one of my professors who eventually became the Dean of Industrial Engineering at my Alma Matter. When I moved back to California, after travelling and working abroad for eight years, I reached out to him. The department was keen to develop their sustainability curriculum and I was eager to teach what I had learned throughout my travels and courses.

2.  What inspired you to start this business?

I was always attracted to the real estate industry but wanted to do my part in educating others about the importance of sustainability and the well-being of future generations. I sort of found my sweet spot where I was able to work in real estate while still teaching classes at the University level. There is nothing like inspiring students, even if that means one student who adopts my teachings throughout their career.

3.  How do you make money?

Making money as an educator is a struggle. Teachers are undervalued and underpaid. I believe that developing the minds and knowledge of the younger generations is key to our existence as a species. Someone who develops a useless app becomes very wealthy while someone that helps develop the mind of a young person is hardly compensated for their contributions to society. Our natural resources are being depleted very quickly, and our populations are increasing rapidly, we need brilliant minds to tackle the challenges our future holds.

4.  When you were starting out, was there ever a time you doubted it would work? If so, how did you handle that?

When I first set out to work for myself I faced some obstacles in finding a balance between chasing profits on one hand and maintaining a company culture of social and environmental protection. I made it clear to my investors that the company will look for ways to give back and improve the lives of others. That has always been the mantra of my strategy, and a mantra all investors should adopt before becoming a partner. That same strategy is taught in my classroom. I tell the young engineers and bright minds of tomorrow to always look for ways to give back and consider those people who are less fortunate and vulnerable when taking professional decisions.

5.  What is one marketing strategy (other than referrals) that you’re using that works really well to generate new business?

I save money on marketing and work on building the strongest form of marketing — “word of mouth”. The same strategy has been successful in the classroom and in the real estate industry. Students go out and tell others about the class curriculum and positive energy in my classroom and it attracts others to take the courses. The same strategy is working in my real estate ventures, with several clients, real estate agents, and investors becoming return “customers”. It’s a recurring challenge in today’s world to find someone you trust and has your best interest at heart when doing business with them, so when you do find that person it becomes easy to develop that work relationship.

6.  What do you think it is that makes you successful?

The long-term approach to my business and teaching is what makes me successful. I expect my company to grow at a reasonable and natural pace, and in accepting that I am able to make decisions based on that long-term vision. For example, re-investing into my own company may reduce profits in the short-term but it builds long-term success. My teaching approach mimics that of my business approach. Many of the global challenges I teach about are expected to happen in the next 3 to 4 decades, but the students of today can curb the impact of those challenges if they make professional decisions with those future challenges in mind.

7.  What has been your most satisfying moment in business?

Closing a real estate deal is always satisfying and rewarding but it doesn’t compare to the satisfaction of hearing from past students who have taken my lessons and implemented them in their workplace. Hearing from past students and their efforts to make a difference in the world around them is hard to beat.

8.  What does the future hold for your business?

The real estate industry is changing very quickly with the millennials preferring to spend their money on experiences and not on assets. Purchasing real estate is associated with being tied down to one area, a feeling most millennials don’t feel comfortable with because it may impede on their spontaneity and flexibility. This has resulted in a higher demand on rental properties, which in turn has driven rental rates up. There needs to be more of an effort to build affordable housing in major cities. In terms of the academic world, it needs to become less about giving the students the professional “tools” they need and more about teaching them how to develop their own tools. What we teach them today may not be applicable in 10 years, but if we teach them how to think, that will always have an application.

9.  What are you most excited about?

After teaching hundreds of students about the future’s conflicts and the increasing struggles we humans will have on earth, I find excitement thinking about those challenges and our ability as a species to overcome those challenges. To lose hope in the future is to lose hope in the ability of future generations to tackle those problems, and with two young kids, I am not quick to underestimate their abilities. If the education of the younger generations, whether it be at home or in the classroom, is geared towards teaching them the importance of working together to overcome the social and environmental issues heading our way, we need not to worry. But if we continue to teach them about generating profits and a short-term vision, their future is at risk.

10.  If there is one lesson from your career you would like to pass on to your children what would it be?

I would tell them that the only limitations to their abilities and ambitions are limitations they create for themselves. Set those obstacles aside and stay focused on your goal. Life is short, but it is also the longest thing we will ever know, so if you dedicate it to your passion, life is long enough to achieve greatness and break any boundaries.

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