In the Flint area, Ghassan Saab is well known for his success as co-owner and CEO of Sorensen Gross Construction Services. Born and raised in Lebanon, he graduated from the National College of Choueifat and from the American University of Beirut with a degree in civil engineering. “I grew up in a very close family,” he says, “with loving parents, aunts and uncles, who all had a commitment to higher education and serving the community. I would wish my childhood on everybody.” At that time, Ghassan says Lebanon was referred to as the “Switzerland of the Middle East,” long before its civil war and the ongoing strife. After he completed his studies, Ghassan came to Flint to work for Sorensen Gross. “I had worked here during the previous summer, so I already had the job,” he says. “And I have never had another.”
After working his way through the ranks at Sorensen Gross, Ghassan became the owner of the company in the early 70s when he was just 26 years old. “It was a combination of circumstances. And you have to have the courage – or be incredibly stupid – to grab an opportunity when it arrives,” he laughs. He doesn’t take all the credit for his success, though. “Nobody does anything by themselves,” he says, “You are only as good as the team you have working with you and I was very fortunate to have good people working with me.” Sorensen Gross and Ghassan’s other companies have managed over a billion dollars in construction work and Sorensen Gross has completed many notable projects in this area including Bishop International Airport, Flint Institute of Music, Flint Institute of Arts, several hospital projects and much of the UM-Flint campus, to name a few.
Over the years, Ghassan has also been involved in Flint’s revitalization effort. “Flint was one of the richest cities in the nation,” says Ghassan, “but unfortunately, it is no longer in that enviable position.” About 12 years ago, he formed the Uptown Development Group with other members of the private sector and a group of non-profits led by the Mott Foundation, with the goal of rejuvenating and renovating neglected buildings in Downtown Flint, such as the Community Foundation Building, the Rowe Building, the Wade Trim Building and many others. His wish is for Flint to have a speedy recovery. “We still have the human and other resources and the infrastructure we need to take us back to better days,” says Ghassan. “That’s why I will never give up on Flint.” But he also acknowledges that there is a lot to be done. “We still have a lot of poverty and unemployment.”
Ghassan has held seats on many boards, including Flint Institute of Music, Junior Achievement, and the Associated General Contractors of America, Michigan Chapter. He is also a trustee and past chairman of the board of trustees of the Lebanese American University. Giving back to the community has always been important to Ghassan and his wife, Manal, and they support many charitable organizations in the area. “Community service is huge to me,” says Ghassan. “My wife has done an incredible job of making it a joint effort. I have always felt it is important to pay back your community.” He recently received the Lebanese American Heritage Club Award for Excellence and Great Achievements. He and Manal were also the recipients of the prestigious Russel G. Mawby Award for Philanthropy in 2010 and the Rotary International Crystal Award this year.
Ghassan still has family living in Lebanon and he returns to his native country once every year. He is especially looking forward to his visit next summer for a class reunion and the 150th anniversary celebration of the American University of Beirut. “People will be coming from all over the world,” he says. When Ghassan isn’t working, he enjoys photography, spending time with his family, kayaking and biking. “I like reading a lot,” he says. His favorite book of all time? “The last one I read,” he smiles. “I also like art – visual and performing arts.”
Spotlighted on his office wall is a painting of which he is especially proud and that has great meaning to him. It was painted by an artist in Florida from a photograph that Ghassan took in his hometown in 1970 during his first trip back to Lebanon. The Mediterranean Sea is in the background and the Beirut International Airport is on the right. There are fields of olive trees which Ghassan says at one time was the largest olive orchard in the world. Now, the olive trees are gone and the area is a sea of concrete buildings. The painting is his remembrance of Lebanon the way it used to be.
When asked to define success, Ghassan sat thoughtfully for a moment. His reply: “Success is looking back and seeing or recognizing that you have made a positive impact on your surroundings.” Has Ghassan been successful by his own definition? With a smile, he says, “That is up to others to decide.”