Starting out as a waiter and rising to become CEO of his own company, Venture Lifestyle, one of the most successful event planners in the region today, Rabih Mockbel’s rapid journey to the top knows no bounds. This summer Mockbel is organising his most spectacular event ever, an exclusive concert by superstar Jennifer Lopez on Egypt’s North Coast. And, with further plans to bring the biggest and the best stars to Egypt, Mockbel is far from done. eniGma’s Bronwen Mehta sat down with him to discover the man behind Egypt’s most extraordinary events.
After growing up in Saudi Arabia, at the age of 16 Rabih Mockbel was parachuted from the life he knew, to his homeland, Lebanon, where he began studying hospitality. While pursuing his studies, he took up work as a waiter. “I didn’t work as a waiter for money, but simply because I had no friends in Beirut. The only person I knew in Lebanon was a waiter in a hotel, so I just went along with him,” he candidly reveals. Little did Mockbel know at the time, that this job would catapult him to much greater things. He impressed his employers from the outset, “I was a fast and eager learner. On top of that, it was unusual for a waiter to have the level of education I had. I was the most educated waiter they’d ever seen!” he recounts. His abilities and his determination to learn paid off, and he was soon promoted to hotel receptionist and after a while, was offered the opportunity that changed his life.
“In 2003, I was offered the job of waiter at Lebanon’s first ever official rooftop bar, Skybar. The position was a step down, but the potential was much greater,” Mockbel explains. Thanks to his work ethic and already extensive experience in hospitality, Mockbel was soon managing the whole venue, and in 2006, Skybar, now renowned across the region, relocated to a grander venue. Unfortunately, in 2006, due to the outbreak of war in Lebanon, Mockbel left the country. Returning to Saudi Arabia, Mockbel began working for a large event planning company, where he gained much of the hands on skill-set that he still uses to this day.
Ever the adventurer, Mockbel went wherever opportunity arose. He returned to Beirut after the war, this time to become the General Manager of Skybar. Then in 2009, he moved to Egypt to take the position of General Manager of the new Skybar in Sahel. After two years of success there, Mockbel’s life was again disrupted by conflict. When the 2011 revolution broke out in Egypt, Mockbel relocated to Abu Dhabi and began organising exclusive and exuberant events for Formula 1, before returning to Beirut in 2013 to launch his very own venue, The Bronx.
Thanks to these years filled with varied experiences, when Mockbel returned to Egypt in 2016, this time for good, his grasp of the regional entertainment scene was second to none. After starting two restaurants, Code in Dusit Thani and SeaCode in Sahel, Mockbel began to realise what the Egyptian scene was missing. “There was a lack of big-name artists. Promoters weren’t taking any risks. If they had a sponsor, they’d organise a party. If there was no sponsor, they wouldn’t,” he explains, adding, “Promoters made it seem like artists don’t want to come to Egypt, so it is impossible to get them. Which isn’t true. The promoters just don’t want to take the risk.” Mockbel saw this gap in the nightlife and entertainment industry as his opportunity to “break all the rules,” going on to completely revitalise the Egyptian scene by bringing a whole host of much-awaited international names.
“Instead of trying to find sponsors first, I take the risk, sign the act, and then find the sponsors. As a result of my proven successes, now sponsors come running,” Mockbel explains. And the proof is in the pudding. Despite the fact that many in the industry had deemed it impossible, Mockbel for the first time ever, brought Solomun, Black Coffee and hip hop stars Nelly, Tyga and Inna to Egypt, giving us some of the most talked about events of the decade. “When I said I wanted Solomun, they said it wouldn’t happen. I made it happen,” he proudly declares.
Although Mockbel’s career is replete with big events, including Justin Timberlake in Dubai, J.Lo’s performance in Egypt for an audience of 20,000, is his most colossal event yet. Emphasising its importance, Mockbel says, “I don’t feel like I’ve made it yet, but maybe after J.Lo I will. I think her concert is going to be a huge turning point for the industry as a whole. Once J.Lo has come and everything goes well, what international artist will be able to say no?!”
Looking forward, the potential for bringing new names and holding large scale events is why Mockbel’s passion and future is tied to Egypt for now. “In Lebanon, the scene is so small and tired. In Egypt, on the other hand, people are not going out to show off and to pop champagne bottles. They club for the experience. Plus, there are just so many places available, like El Gouna, Sokhna and Sahel. They feel like completely different countries! In the next 5 years or so, the scene in Egypt is really going to take off,” he exclaims. And he plans not just to be here for it, but to actually orchestrate it. Priding himself as being a true trendsetter, he notes, “I never book a DJ twice. It is about being the first to do something. I don’t mind who books Solomun or Black Coffee now, the important thing is that we did it first.”
Pulling off some of the most successful events in Egypt doesn’t just happen by luck. From concept to execution, Mockbel’s attention to detail is impeccable. “I am not just going to book an act without knowing that there is demand for it. Extensive research is key, I know exactly what the audience wants to see and listen to,” he says. But even that isn’t enough. “It is about choosing the right date and location, otherwise having the right artist doesn’t work. And once you have those, you need the right team to execute it. When necessary, I bring the best people I’ve worked with from across the region to work on an event. This is what I’ve done with J.Lo to make sure that everything goes perfectly,” Mockbel explains. While the public are focussing on the performance itself, Mockbel’s head is elsewhere, analysing all of the details that we don’t even realise are essential to creating the perfect event.
“I am not worried about the performance, J.Lo will put on a great show. My focus is on how the audience are treated, how they will be fed and generally how to create the optimal environment for them. I am determined to make it quick and easy for the audience to enter and exit,” Mockbel elucidates. His desire to innovate through bringing in new technology has also pushed the scene in Egypt to take big strides. But he still has grand plans for the future. “I want the transport to be part of the ticket, so that you get picked up and dropped off right at your home, with no need to drive and find parking. I want to move beyond normal tickets and wristbands,” he excitedly exclaims. To ensure that he is on top of the latest systems, Mockbel makes sure that he gets first-hand experience from abroad. Travelling to Houston to watch J.Lo perform, he was eagle-eyed looking to learn from any mistakes and to see what it took to make the event go down without a hitch.
Today, with such an extensive proven track record, Mockbel can honestly tell potential sponsors, “I can get any name, and I deliver,” he says. Looking ahead, for starters he’s organising the biggest kids’ two-day event that Egypt has ever seen, “The Baby Shark Show,” in October; and the legendary Bryan Adams is expected in February. So, look out Egypt, we have lots more exciting events to get ready for!