20 new heroes | Monocle

thumbnail text

This is going to be a year when the world shifts – in a good way. From retail to politics, music to urban design, people are going to look at what is really important to their lives, what they really want to own, and really want to believe in. We’ll look back at 2009 as a year when we reinvested in people with integrity and in brands with core values we can trust.

And around the globe there are people that have all the qualities needed to thrive in this new world. These are people who have found business opportunities and causes that we can all believe in – and take pride in. From the Portland coffee chain owner who brings his roasters to the US on internships (and pays them a full American salary) to the hotelier helping her nation shake off its “Axis of Evil” mantle, and the Lebanese foodie who is healing his country’s sectarian divides, to the Italian politician taking a stand against corruption, this is Monocle’s choice of 20 people who deserve a bigger stage. Few are household names, all have something we need for the year ahead.

01 Lord of the wings

Naresh Goyal
Aviation chief, India

Naresh Goyal, founder and chairman of Jet Airways, India’s biggest private carrier, is known as a hands-on businessman who delivers great service to over 11 million customers every year. Aviation experts predict Jet Airways will survive the rising fuel prices and declining passenger traffic that has hit the Indian airline industry. Jet now serves 45 domestic and 19 international destinations with its fleet of 85 aircraft, and Goyal’s recent alliance with Jet’s rival Kingfisher is set to keep Jet passengers happy because of cost cuts.

Jet’s revenue topped €1.5bn in 2008 and Goyal is one of India’s richest men. He climbed the ranks of various Middle Eastern and Asian airlines. Then in 1974, he launched a travel agency representing foreign airlines in India. Next came Jet Airways in 1993. Monocle admires Goyal’s commitment to service – in all classes. “The big difference between him and other airline leaders is that he’s on the spot. [To Europe], he’s an outsider but he has so much charisma that he achieves what he wants,” says Patrick Ansbach, aviation editor of Belgian financial daily L’Echo.

02 Shelf starter

Mark Adams
Director of Vitsoe, UK

We need companies that create furniture that will last, literally, a lifetime. That’s why we want the spotlight on Mark Adams, director of Vitsoe – manufacturer of the iconic 606 shelving system by Dieter Rams.

Since you started at Vitsoe in 1993, what’s been your business plan?
I concentrated on just one product [the 606 shelving system]. What sustains us at Vitsoe is to do one thing and do it well. I believe we will see more organisations like us in the future.
Does Vitsoe change its customers?
We encourage our customers to buy less. We have to move away from being a disposable society.
Why is sustainable design so important?
Founders Nils Vitsoe and Dieter Rams wanted to make products that lasted. ‘Sustainable’ didn’t come into it. It was common sense. What are your plans for next year?
It’s our 50th anniversary and the fact we still exist gives reassurance to people. Vitsoe is practising evolution in its purest form and will try to remain fit as the world changes.

03 Soundtracking the future

DJ Deckstream
DJ, Japan

Japan has some of the slickest, best produced bands and singers going but they never get the global recognition they deserve. That must change and DJ Deckstream could prove to be the country’s Pharrell Williams. In 2007 Deckstream released his brilliant album Soundtracks, boasting collaborations with US artists including Lupe Fiasco. His second album will be out soon, featuring musicians from all over the world. Any hints on what to expect? “I’m listening to old jazz and soul records from the 1970s and 1980s,” he says. “I don’t follow trends. I have my own sound.”

04 Task master

Renato Brunetta
Politician, Italy

Absenteeism is a chronic problem among the 3.65 million people employed in Italy’s public sector. News reports regularly cite cases of fannulloni (“do-nothings”) who take extended holidays under the guise of sick leave, or moonlight in second jobs while on the public payroll.

Yet a reform package devised by Renato Brunetta, Italy’s minister for public administration, is about to end such conduct. Tasked in spring 2008 by Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi to fix Italy’s ailing bureaucracy, the economist has wasted little time. His first move was to crack down on faked doctor’s notes – the number of absences due to illness has fallen by nearly 50 per cent.

“Nobody had the courage to take on the fannulloni,” says Brunetta. “Before, citizens weren’t seen as clients that needed to be served. My revolution is to change that.” To improve productivity, he wants to shift more services online and eliminate needless paperwork. He’s also proposing an Erasmus programme for civil servants to learn best practice abroad.

Not surprisingly, his polices have earned him 85 per cent approval ratings. Even the country’s prickly unions are coming around. But we have picked Brunetta because he represents a chance to turn around Italy’s global reputation as one of the worst places to do business in Europe.

05 Inn from the cold

May Mamarbachi
Hotelier, Syria

Syria wants to come in from the political wilderness but it’s not its diplomats but a chic hotelier who is putting a human face on the country. And it’s ironic that the woman doing this once had her rights taken away from her by the Syrian government. Four years ago, May Mamarbachi, 54, opened Beit al Mamlouka, the first boutique hotel in Damascus. Then in 2008 she opened Beroia, a bespoke travel company, which helped organise President Nicolas Sarkozy’s recent trip, the first by a western head of state to Syria in years. Shows what a little hospitality can do.

Can Syria become a serious tourist destination?
“Of course it can, if the service industry grows, and for that we need to invest more time and money in human resources.”
Are regional politics an obstacle?
“Terrorism exists all over the world and Syria is a relatively safe country. There’s also a thrill in saying, ‘I was in Syria last week.’” What are you working on now? “I have ideas for more hotels in Damascus and Lebanon.”

06 Voice of conscience

Gro Nystuen
Ethics, Norway

When Iceland’s banks collapsed in October, its Nordic neighbour Norway seemed almost blasé about the global crisis. It helps when you have conservative financial institutions, are the third largest exporter of oil in the world and have put aside, in a protected pension fund, state petroleum and gas revenues to be invested outside the country.

But Norway is not just content to make money – it wants to do it ethically. And that makes Gro Nystuen a woman to watch in these interesting times. As head of the Council on Ethics, Nystuen, 51, has the power to exclude companies from the Norwegian government’s pension fund if they are involved in questionable activities. “We have an ethical responsibility to the Norwegian people and anybody who is affected by the businesses we have investments in. It’s a global responsibility,” she says.

The Norwegian government’s pension fund has stakes in more than 7,500 companies and is worth over €200bn. The fund is run by the country’s central bank, and the divestment decisions are ultimately taken by the Ministry of Finance – but mostly, they follow the Ethical Council’s recommendations. Close to 30 companies have been excluded so far, including bae Systems and Wal-Mart.

07 Reuniting refugees

The Mikkelsens
refunite.org creators, Denmark

Facebook and MySpace are used for self-promotion and fun but did you ever think social networking sites could unite families torn apart by war and oppression? Refugees United – created by Danish brothers David and Christopher Mikkelsen – is a site for the estimated 32 million refugees currently scattered around the world. Christopher explains: “The reason refugees can’t find each other is because of a logistical breakdown. They need a global registry.”

Refunite.org, launched in November 2008, enables refugees to upload profiles referring to body markings, initials or village of birth rather than using their name. Friends and family can then make contact anonymously. The Danes have an equally novel approach to the running of their organisation. David explains: “We didn’t approach people for money, we asked them to give us their expertise.”

So far so good, as corporate giants such as FedEx have come on board and a prominent board of directors, including the industry head of Danish Google, offers strategy advice.

08 Food fighter

Kamal Mouzawak
Food merchant, Lebanon

In July 2006, while Hezbollah and Israel were busy at war, Kamal Mouzawak, the founder of Lebanon’s first farmers’ market, was figuring out how the producers were going to survive. “These people needed to sell their produce and since Beirut was deserted, we had to follow our customers.” And so, the farmers’ market travelled deep into the mountains, where organically conscious Beirutis were waiting it out.

Born in 1969 to a family of farmers, Mouzawak founded Souk el Tayeb (the tasty market) four years ago and it now runs in downtown Beirut every Saturday. In the process, a farmers’ exchange programme with Europe and an educational programme taught in schools have been created. Mouzawak matches the skills of a UN negotiator with the tastebuds of a great chef, and we need more people with his flair.

Can food unite a divided people like the Lebanese?
“You will have no problem finding things that separate the Lebanese, yet Souk el Tayeb goes beyond religion, regionalism and social class. In April 2005, to mark the 30th anniversary of the civil war, Souk el Tayeb created the United Farmers of Lebanon. We marched on Martyrs’ Square in Beirut, with a map of Lebanon – instead of the names of cities, we put the names of regional food.”
Will there be other Souk el Tayeb markets?
“We’re trying to do something in Egypt, which is one of the most fertile countries in the world, but if you go to a grocer in Cairo, the quality is terrible. We also have plans for Kuwait.”
What are your plans for the coming year? “A project dear to my heart is the “communal homes of traditions”, a kind of B&B chain we are developing with the help of local municipalities that would promote regional diversity. I’m also working on ‘The Complete Insider’s Guide to Lebanon’.

09 Taste maker

Duane Sorenson
Coffee mogul, US

When Duane Sorenson founded Stumptown Coffee Roasters in 1999, his intention was simple: to source, roast and sell the best coffee out there. Almost a decade later, his company – which started with a single café/roastery in Portland, Oregon – is a leader of the US’s growing speciality coffee movement.

Stumptown consists of five cafés in Portland, two in Seattle and another, which will open this winter in New York’s new Ace Hotel (see issue 18). Sorenson’s method – to work directly with farmers in Africa and Latin America to find single-origin beans and heirloom varietals – was born out of frustration. As a young barista in Washington, he would travel to meet farmers, only to discover that they didn’t know where their coffee cherries went after being picked. This concerned him, as did the mediocre beverage that passed for coffee at many chains. “The coffees I tasted weren’t very good,” he says. “The only way some chains sell coffee is by using marketing and bells and whistles.” In comparison, signs at Sorenson’s Division Street café in Portland indicate which region, and even which farm, the coffee comes from and customers are encouraged to taste coffees side-by-side at regular tastings, or “cuppings”. He also founded Bikes to Rwanda, which ships custom-made cargo bikes to the south of Rwanda. The bikes are used by farmers to transport their coffee to coffee bean washing stations more efficiently. Stumptown offers its roasters internships in Portland, covering their plane fare, English lessons and a US salary. Thanks to Sorenson, the average Portland resident knows the meaning of terms such as “cupping” and “single origin”. “It’s my mission to help people understand how special and complex a cup of coffee can be,” he says.

10 Rebirth of wool

Daiki Suzuki
Fashion designer, Japan

Specialising in utilitarian outdoor gear since 1830, Pennsylvania-based company Woolrich did well to appoint Daiki Suzuki to head up its newly established diffusion collection, Woolen Mills, in 2006. In just a handful of seasons, the New York-based Japanese designer, 46, has updated Woolrich’s traditional lumberjack red-and-black plaid workwear by tweaking the shapes, collars and patterns to create what is now known as the “Pennsylvania tuxedo”. Trained at the Vantan Design Institute and coming from Engineered Garments (another US brand which is still winning awards for its take on American style), Suzuki produces Ralph-esque collections that are sure to brave what will be a turbulent year for smaller-scale premium fashion. Keeping production Stateside and “paying respect to Woolrich’s heritage”, Suzuki’s 25 years as a buyer in Japan (importantly, through its recession) has led him to realise classic quality menswear will always have a place in the market.As he says: “I would not want to see another great American brand lost to the times. It has so much to offer and so much to say.” He isn’t going anywhere – Woolrich has extended his contract until autumn 2010.

11 The cuppa papa

Taha Bouqdib
Tea merchant, Singapore

After 15 years at Mariage Frères, where he was head chargé de mission overseeing everything from blending to branding, Taha Bouqdib moved to Singapore to start TWG Tea with his wife and a friend. Thanks to Bouqdib’s contacts at plantations in every tea-growing country, the TWG collection includes more than 600 single estate harvests and a number of exclusive blends. They opened their first tea salon and boutique in Singapore this year featuring more than 250 varieties of tea and a tea-infused patisserie menu. A dapper Frenchman of Moroccan origin, his family has been in the service of the Moroccan royal family for generations. This is a brand that will be brewing up a storm in 2009.

What are your plans for the next year?
TWG Tea will be expanding internationally. We’ve been engaged with creating tea collections for some of the world’s finest hotels, starting in Bali, Kuala Lumpur and Jakarta. TWG Tea is opening a concept store and tea salon in Dubai and we’re also launching a retail collection in the US.
What would you like to achieve with TWG Tea?
I’d like to share my passion with the world, starting with Asia before going to Europe or the US, and to prove that even a luxury tea brand founded and based in Asia can be sold in the trendiest shops in New York and Europe.
Are there any journeys you are excited about in 2009?
The journey I am impatiently anticipating is when my teas take flight with Singapore Airlines in its business and first class. Even when I’m not travelling my teas take me on a world voyage.

12 Screen star

Kim Ghattas
TV correspondent, US

“I was the right person in the right place at the right time” is how Kim Ghattas describes getting hired by the BBC in Lebanon in 2000. Though timing might have played a part, it’s her international credentials – Ghattas grew up in Beirut with her Dutch-Lebanese parents, attended a French school, graduated from the American University and speaks four languages – and the fact that she could travel to places her British colleagues couldn’t get to that made her the ideal candidate for the post.

During her seven-year tenure, as well as setting up the Beirut bureau, she covered some of the region’s most important milestones and in 2006 she and her team won an Emmy for their coverage of the war between Israel and Hezbollah.

Now entering her second year as a BBC correspondent in Washington DC, Ghattas has brought her in-depth knowledge of the Middle East to her job at the State Department as well as a first-hand understanding of her new beat. “I’ve been on the receiving end of American policy my whole life so I understand the other side of the story,” she says. A broadcast star to watch in 2009.

13 Rebel with a cause

Barbara Hogan
Health minister, South Africa

At last South Africa has someone who can do battle with the Aids epidemic. Few ministers in the country’s new government will be watched as closely as Barbara Hogan. The new health minister, appointed by Kgalema Motlanthe, after the ousting of Thabo Mbeki in September, will hope to turn the tide on the country’s Aids epidemic – 5.4 million out of a population of 49 million are HIV positive. It will be difficult for Hogan to do a worse job than her predecessor.

Dr Manto Tshabalala-Msimang became known as “Dr Beetroot” after advising Aids sufferers to eat garlic, lemon and beetroot. She also questioned the efficacy of anti-retroviral (ARVs) drugs. But the difference between Dr Beetroot and Ms Hogan, who spent most of the 1980s in jail for her anti-apartheid activities, could not be more stark. Hogan has been an Aids activist for years, sitting on the board of the Amandla Aids Fund, an organisation chaired by Archbishop Desmond Tutu. Her appointment has been cheered by activists across the country – and the world.

14 Art jacker

Jack Persekian
Artistic cirector, UAE

While all around him heads have been lost to oil dollars and Abu Dhabi’s Louvre and Guggenheim operations, Jack Persekian has kept his. The Sharjah Biennial’s artistic director, a sprightly 46-year-old Jerusalem-born Palestinian of Armenian stock, is well situated to understand the region’s subtleties and to undertake the diplomatic as well as the artistic demands of his role.

“I’ve always said to artists, ‘If you want to have someone naked in the middle of the exhibition, fine, but what are you trying to say?’ There’s no point in trying to start a conversation by slapping someone in the face,” says Persekian on his task as tastemaker and occasional peacemaker. While the vintage of Sharjah city’s biennial might surprise some – it was inaugurated in 1993 – the expo has flourished as a well-attended showcase under Persekian’s affable yet steely gaze.

With its focus on collaborating with an international roster of artists, rather than simply showing off their works, 2009’s ninth edition will mark Persekian’s Sharjah as the artistic and academic heart of the Arab world’s cultural revolution.

15 Do it for the kids

Janos Lazar
Mayor, Hungary

It’s not officially sanctioned, but activists say it’s still a form of apartheid: across eastern Europe Roma schoolchildren are systematically dumped in the worst schools and are 10 times more likely to be (wrongly) classified as mentally handicapped. But not in the southern Hungarian city of Hodmezovasarhely. Its campaigning mayor, Janos Lazar, has taken radical action to help the city’s most deprived schoolchildren – one that sets an example for the rest of the region. Since he took up the job in 2002, Lazar, 34, has closed the city’s two worst schools and merged three others. In one of them, 60 per cent of its pupils came from deprived backgrounds. Four hundred deprived children, almost half of whom were Roma, were sent to other schools around the city, while teachers were retrained with support from the European Union and the Ministry of Education.

“We cannot have any school with more than 20 per cent of children from deprived backgrounds, or elite schools, or non-elite schools,” says Lazar, who is also an MP for the opposition centre-right Fidesz party. The schoolchildren are thriving, says Lazar, but parents’ reactions have been mixed. Roma parents wanted all the Roma kids to go to school together, while middle-class parents have expressed their doubts. But Lazar is unfazed. “These are public funds being spent on public education and the Roma are also citizens. It’s a fund­amental issue for society that all children are properly educated,” he says.

16 Seriously comic

João Fazenda
Illustrator, Portugal

João Fazenda is already a star in Portugal. Born in Lisbon in 1979, he won Best Comic Book at the Amadora International Comic Festival in 2000 and last year picked up the Stuart Award for Best Press Illustration. Less well-known overseas, he has nonetheless received four Awards of Excellence from the US Society of Newspaper Design. At their optimistic heights, his illustrations have the naivety of early Jacques Auriac Middle East Airlines posters yet, in sombre contrast, they can also be funereal doses of reportage.

Fazenda studied painting at the prestigious Lisbon School of Fine Art and also teaches illustration at the Ar. Co. Centre for Art and Visual Communication in Lisbon. His satirical cartoons appear regularly in publications such as Público, Sol and Visão, and Fazenda sweeps between war-torn landscapes for newspapers to scenes of rural life for children’s publishers with ease. His wit and keen eye, coupled with a recent move from Lisbon to London to reach foreign markets, will send art desks from Southwark Bridge to Times Square scrambling for their commissioning slips in 2009.

How was 2008 for you and what can we expect to see from you in 2009?
“I spent 2008 ‘tidying up’ in anticipation of 2009 when I will concentrate on new animations, a small publishing house and new books and exhibitions.”
We love the satirical cartoons, do you have any plans to expand upon them?
“Well, I definitely want to keep developing and evolving my cartoons. I really enjoy working with humorists such as Ricardo Araújo Pereira.”
Outside your field who and what do you predict to be big for 2009?
“Ana Drago is an interesting young Portuguese politician championing equal rights.”

17 Social constructor

Alejandro Aravena
Architect, Chile

Chilean architect Alejandro Aravena is in a hurry. “The city can improve quality of life, right here, right now.” His template for a new kind of social housing is doing just that. There are 10 developments in the pipeline featuring his low-cost homes in South America.

Aravena, who studied at the Universidad Catolica in Santiago, set up Elemental in 2005 with transport engineer Andreas Iacobelli (they met when Aravena was teaching at Harvard). It’s a “do-tank” to answer “questions outside the realm of architecture”. Social housing is one of the most globally neglected sectors in architecture – and Aravena went back to basics to get the “equation” right. “Social housing in the Third World is too small, too fragile, like match­boxes,” he explains. Instead of cramped, run-down buildings on the outskirts of cities, Aravena creates properties with the dna of a middle-income house and built on more expensive land.

Investing in premium land means there is less money to spend on construction – so just half of the home is built (around 40 sq m). It’s up to the owners to add the rest on when they can (up to 80 sq m). Each project takes about 10 months to build. The budget for a house is $10,000 (€8,000)

18 Hungry for justice

Sue Horton
Economist, Canada

Economics professor Sue Horton is dramatically changing the way public health and economics work together. Her paper, “Malnutrition and Hunger”, won first prize at the Copenhagen Consensus 2008, where economists gathered to find the best solutions to 10 of the world’s biggest challenges. She proposed that investing $347m (€270m) a year for five years to supplement diets in sub-Saharan Africa and Asia would result in $5bn in healthcare savings and 3.5 million saved lives.

“What I do is make the case that public health spending can have economic benefits and is not just a humanitarian frill on the side. This resonates with ministers of planning when making the case for humanitarian spending.” Just back from a “flour fortification meeting” in Bucharest, she talked to flour millers from Romania, Georgia and Uzbekistan about adding folic acid to their flour; something proven to halve the rate of spina bifida in newborns. Horton, a professor of economics at Wilfrid Laurier University in Ontario, Canada, received her BA at Cambridge and her Masters and PhD from Harvard.

19 City girl

Barbara Southworth
Urban planner, South Africa

South African urban planner and architect Barbara Southworth calls herself a “passionate public servant”. As former director of city planning and urban design for Cape Town, she transformed the city’s townships through her Public Space programme, an initiative which brought in the touchstones of civic life – think plants, squares and walkways. It’s a successful idea being implemented in cities across South Africa – but Southworth wanted to do more. So, she set up sustainable urban design and planning firm City Think Space in Cape Town last year. The mission: to rebuild and regenerate cities across Africa.

With a degree in architecture from the University of Natal, and a Masters in urban design and city planning from the University of Cape Town, Southworth combines the two disciplines with a refreshing no-nonsense approach. Ditching the “big fat documents and planning jargon”, she prefers to package ideas in more novel ways, working with local communities to problem-solve and come up with sustainable solutions. In Mthatha, a city in “absolute tatters” on the eastern Cape, key problems will be outlined through a series of narrative posters. The polluted river is reimagined as a source of hydropower – it’s about getting the basics right. “If you’re trying to see things change, you have to start to engage. The way that we do things is as important as what we do,” she explains.

The redevelopment scheme is due to begin next year. Other projects on the drawing board include a new waterfront masterplan for Dakar port in Senegal and a mixed-use development in Kinshasa, Congo. Challenges are fierce – unpredictable economic and political situations mean projects can change rapidly.Looking ahead, Southworth wants to work with smaller cities. She’s not going to grow the practice into a “gigantic planning firm”, preferring to keep it tight and focused.

20 Design magpie

Kenmei Nagaoka
Designer and retailer, Japan

Nagaoka is on a one-man mission to promote Japanese craft and design. A graphic designer by trade, he was appalled by the country’s throwaway culture and started collecting vintage Japanese design that he sold through his cultish D & Department store in Tokyo. As his interests spread from second-hand to selling Japan-made household goods – everything from pencils to scrubbing brushes – his 60 Vision project was born. He approached old Japanese companies that were making simple, well-designed products that just needed to be repackaged and presented in a contemporary way to appeal to a new audience. Now, Nagaoka has moved on to the next stage – highlighting the wealth of locally made products all over the country. “When I travel around Japan for business and get off the shinkansen [bullet train], I feel that everywhere is starting to look like Tokyo,” he says. “There should be more local character.”

A champion of functional, everyday products, he organised an exhibition of regional goods in Tokyo this autumn. “Japanese design tends to be concentrated in Tokyo – I wanted to present an overview of design in each of Japan’s 47 prefectures.” Needless to say, as with most things Nagaoka does, it was a hit. But has Japan’s attitude to recycling changed in the years since he opened the first D & Department in 2000? “No,” he says. “Japanese people keep making things and keep throwing them away. Eco-awareness is a fashionable idea but nothing has changed fundamentally. And the Japanese are still in thrall to overseas design.”

There are already D & Department stores in Tokyo, Osaka, Sapporo and Shizuoka; and in 2009 new shops will open in Nagoya, Yamagata and Nagano. The company has its own organic farm in Chiba, D & Farm (which supplies the vegetables for Nagaoka’s cafés), and from next year there will be a D & Architect whose first project will be a house on the farm.

Share on:






Go back: Contents



sign in to monocle

new to monocle?

Subscriptions start from £120.

Subscribe now





Monocle Radio


  • The Atlantic Shift