By YM Sreekrishna Bhat
Seven friends, seven thousand dollars and one man's dream and planning... that's how advertising giant Fortune Promoseven (FP7) was born in 1968.
Today, FP7 is the Arab world's largest advertising agency, spread across 14 countries with a staff of more than 680 professionals and a clientele which any agency in the world would be proud of. And the $7,000 has grown into a $125 million advertising empire!
If FP7 is where it is today, it owes a lot to the passion and commitment of Lebanese-born Bahrain resident Akram Miknas.
Born on May 29, 1944, Miknas showed an early interest in communication and was keenly involved with photography, acting and drama in school. By the time he was ready for higher studies, he was already certain he was going to make a career in communications.
With that in mind, he joined the American University of Beirut and took up business administration with a stress on marketing.
It was not always easy for Miknas, who had to help pay for his own education. While at university, out of both interest and necessity, he started working as a media provider for various faculties, bringing in advertisements for their journals and organising exhibitions for them.
After graduating, he sought a job in advertising, but found it tough - either it was felt he was over-qualified or the money offered was too little.
Most young men would have accepted a low salary to break into the field of their dreams. Miknas however was far more ambitious and very confident in his own abilities. He sold six like-minded friends on his grand vision and thus FP7 was born.
Despite their big dreams, the early days were anything but rosy for these young entrepreneurs. For one thing, advertising was not a well developed field then and secondly, it was hard to convince people to do business with a bunch of young people who were selling ideas. "Those were the days when people were reluctant to spend serious money with 20-year-olds," says Miknas.
"At that time the industry was just taking shape in the Middle East. Most people, including my father, did not view it as a very good profession. In the Arab world advertising was more of notices about products rather than real campaigns. There was no thinking, no strategy. The attitude was 'put a picture and let people see it'," he says.
Lady luck finally smiled on Miknas when he met an industrialist at a gathering. Convinced of his vision, the latter brought in Miknas as a consultant for an advertisement campaign he was already running for his Lipoul line of chicken products.
Miknas's suggestions struck a chord with the company and soon the whole campaign was given to FP7.
The new advertisements took the market by storm and the sale of the product zoomed. In five years, the client became the "chicken king" of Lebanon.
Miknas believes this was the greatest moment in his career ... being able to convince someone to do business with him. "He gave me the biggest break in life," says Miknas.
But just when it looked like FP7 was set to reach for the stars, the business ran into rough weather. A major client went bankrupt, badly affecting revenues. Miknas' partners got scared and wanted to pull out.
Miknas however decided to stay put and released all others from the company. He was convinced the downturn would end soon.
He was right. Miknas had already won recognition in circles that mattered and the business community had come to know of his talent. For a change here was someone who was thinking of a strategy, a philosophy. His client list started to grow again.
His work started to gain attention elsewhere in the Arab world and it was not long before Miknas decided the time had come to expand his horizons. In 1976, he moved his headquarters to Bahrain.
It proved to be an astute move. Over time, FP7 would add major corporate clients that would propel it into the major advertising force that it is today.
Miknas' parents came from very different backgrounds - his father was a jeweller and his mother's relatives were all intellectuals. The background worked very nicely with Miknas for he combined the two in himself. "You can develop the intellect without losing the interest for money," he says with a twinkle in his eyes.
However, he feels the death of his mother, when he was still in school, was a severe blow for him and it made the biggest impact on his life. "As long as she was living, somebody was protecting me. Suddenly that hand of protection disappeared. That is why I started life very young. That's the turning point in my life," says Miknas.
He had to work and pay for his university education. The family also sacrificed a lot for his education, financially.
Among the many people who influenced Miknas during those formative years were two of his teachers. Jack Sullivan, an American, who helped him pay the school fee and guided him in the right direction, and his professor at the university Dr Sain Hess (the present prime minister of Lebanon). "They saw my ambition, my drive and supported me."
Not surprisingly, Miknas loves people. He considers one of his key achievements his ability to interact with people and build a good team. "Today the biggest achievement of FP7 is the number of professionals working with this company. It is very difficult to collect such a talented team. I feel proud when clients tell me they are the best ... I am talking about clients who are spending big money, $10 to $20 million."
Though peers and others might think he has reached the pinnacle of success, Miknas himself is not yet satisfied.
"I would like to develop a few corridors in communication which are different. The Internet is one area that is promising."
As an avid art enthusiast and antique collector, one of his dream projects which is currently taking shape is a museum for very specific kind of antiques and art in Bahrain. The museum will portray how man developed his thinking about machines and mechanical stuff.
The father of two sons is as passionate about life as he is about work.
"I am passionate about what I do. My life, my family, friends, my clients. I love people. My clients have become my close friends. I treat my business as seriously as I treat my family life. I love both of them. Everyone has more than one role in life. You play them with the same passion and the same love."
Published in the Visitor's Complete Guide to Bahrain 2000