Friday, September 5, 2008

“Sat on a Park Bench Quietly”

Simon and Garfunkel were right. When you reach a certain age there’s nothing like the power of old friends. Last week, I spent three days in St. Tropez with a friend of mine that I hadn’t seen for exactly 30 years - M’bouirik Mouilek.

When I moved to Casablanca in 1978 with P&G, Mouilek was a hot, young, industrial engineer with loads of potential. We played tennis, discovered Moroccan wine together, shared a passion for Cat Stevens and spent every morning and evening talking about how we could change the world. Mouilek introduced me into the real Casablanca, the real Morocco, which was a far cry from today’s tourist paradise. Dripping with mystery, sensuality and intimacy, it was probably the best two years I ever enjoyed in my life.

I had a great job as Marketing Director for P&G’s huge Moroccan business and worked with a wonderful distributor/mentor named Aaron Levy, who taught me a lot about selling and negotiation skills. Mouilek would pick me up every morning in his wife’s car and we’d drive through Casablanca to Ain Sebaa to the P&G detergent plant. During the 40 minute drive, we would talk, as only young men can do, about marketing, creativity, people, etc. It was there that I inoculated Mouilek with the marketing bug and successfully persuaded him to use his engineering background as a foundation for greater things. After eight years with P&G, he went to forge a magnificent career for himself in marketing with Colgate-Palmolive and Dannon. His career was founded on P&G principles, engineering rationality, along with his own Moroccan sense of spirituality and passion.

Mouilek was born in very poor circumstances in Agadir, in Morocco’s deep south. He has seven siblings and none of them went to school. Mouilek was the youngest and carried the hopes of the family as he undertook an education. That is an investment he has paid back many, many times.

We had lost touch so it was great that he could come down to see us with his wife of 33 years, Aline, and their two fantastic children, Karim and Sabrina. Mouilek looks as youthful and debonair as ever with Karim his spitting image. Soulful, cool, romantic and an emogeek of the highest order, Karim is also emotional, passionate and technologically very creative. He works as a presales engineer for Thomson in France and is a real heart-breaker with real talent and amazing potential. His younger sister, Sabrina, is a photocopy of her beautiful mother. She’s just won a place at MIT. It’s a helluva long haul from Agadir.

We spent a couple of days with the entire family and it was as if we had only seen each other yesterday. Mouilek brought a melon from his farm in Agadir (which we used to breakfast on every morning during our drive) and some of the typical Moroccan pastries our wives used to adore.

That’s intimacy.

That’s old friends.