For our “Going abroad” series, Hugo Guyader interviewed Fares Khalil, who moved from Lebanon to Canada, and to Finland. This is the first part of the interview with him.

Fares G. Khalil comes from Lebanon but he did his undergrads 2002-2011 in Montreal, Canada (John Molson School of Business at Concordia University) where he worked in the marketing industry for a couple of years before going back to Lebanon. Fares is now enrolled as a Ph.D. candidate in Marketing at Hanken School of Business in Helsinki, Finland since 2019. 
Let’s ask him a few questions about his experience of living on three different continents.

First, tell us where you come from in Lebanon.

I was born in Lebanon, and yes close to Beirut, as everyone seems to know the capital, but really the country is so tiny that anywhere is a couple of steps from Beirut. As most people originally from Lebanon, we find ourselves moving elsewhere in the world, in large part seeking more stability and more satisfying educational and work experiences.

What are the places you have studied or worked?

I am not a huge traveler and am relatively satisfied building roots wherever I settle. So I have studied and worked in Montreal where I received my Canadian citizenship, and then 9 years later, I found myself back in Beirut working at my first job in Lebanon. And then Helsinki came on the map for me and I have been here 2 years, and counting, for my current studies.  

Why did you leave Lebanon for Montreal, Canada? Did language play a role in your decision? 

It was a family decision. When I was in high school, my parents asked if we would like to move to Canada, and we were like sure, why not! I guess Montreal was an easy choice for my parents because they are French-educated, and for us it was simple because we were comfortable with both English and French. We also have family there from both sides of the family, and the international community is huge there – I mean everyone is there, a true melting pot!

Why study business?

I did my bachelor’s in psychology actually as I couldn’t find anything else that interested me more. And business was more of an extrinsic motive if I am to be honest – I was a little envious of some of my close friends who started successful international careers in business/consulting, traveling the world and being of the ‘real world’ and its affairs. But I did my MSc in management with a thesis on organizational identity and social influence, so I didn’t drift very far from my love of psychology and understanding people. 

Why did you decide to “go back to school” to become a marketing researcher — taking a step away from the ‘real world’ and your work as a consultant?

Having worked mainly as a researcher doing marketing research and service design on the consulting side of things, I was craving more involvement in our clients’ world, the world of buying and selling, and uncertainty in decision making. So at some point I started a company with my ex-manager and one of our clients, and the three of us were to venture into the FMCG business. But this never quite took off as competing priorities drove the partners into different countries.
I then found myself starting my own juice business in Beirut, juicing fresh vegetables and driving around delivering organic green juices around the city! I wasn’t so much thinking of a Ph.D. at that point, but rather how to make ends meet and grow my business.

So why Finland then? 

Some years later, on a typical sunny weekend at the farmer’s market downtown, I sold some juice to a wandering stranger from Finland. She was a doctoral student at Aalto University in Helsinki, still is. So suddenly, actually not so suddenly, Finland was on the map for me, and I learned about the service group at Hanken (CERS) who had a nice book published called The Nordic School – Service Marketing and Management for the Future. I was inspired!

When was that? 

I first visited Helsinki in summer 2018, their hottest summer in 40 years apparently! I was lucky to be able to meet with prof. Kristina Heinonen (who is now my supervisor) and with prof. Tore Strandvik, and consult with them about starting doctoral studies.

Kristina and Tore inspired you. Was there anybody else influential?

I had been reading about their work on ‘customer-dominant logic’, among other topics in The Nordic School which also heavily featured prof. Christian Grönroos, one of the foundational members of CERS and a true trailblazer in service marketing thought. With such brilliant minds around, how can one go wrong?! I didn’t have to look elsewhere. My love of human-centered service design and my desire to contribute to an inspiring emerging field found resonance.

Keep going, do other service scholars inspire you?

Of course, numerous other amazing service and marketing researchers inspire me continuously, I wouldn’t want to mention any names at the exclusion of others! But there is this sense of community and support that spans the globe where you feel you can find home to a shared enthusiasm and commitment to improving the world and transforming its old ideas – and services! 

Was 30 years anniversary QUIS conference in Karlstad (2019), your first conference?

QUIS’16 in Karlstad, Sweden was indeed my first conference. 

What was your impression of the service research community?

As I mentioned, the service community felt like a nice connected global family, and that event was very special indeed. It felt like such an inspiring, warm and fun bunch!

Have you been taking Ph.D. courses abroad?

Some colleagues have taken courses abroad, but I only traveled for courses within Finland. Online seminars have been international, yes, and there is always something to attend.

[You can read about Fares’ research here: On conceptualizing ‘alignment with customers’]

Fares G. Khalil
PhD candidate, Hanken School of Economics, Helsinki, Finland