Middleby CEO gives back

Selim Bassoul is a hands-on CEO of a rapidly growing Elgin-based kitchen-supply maker with about 8,500 global employees, has two young children at home, yet finds it important to give his time to others in need.

The chairman of The Middleby Corp., which makes popular brands such as Viking and Aga Rangemaster, says he wants to give people a second chance in life. He is doing this through the Bassoul Dignity Foundation, where the focus is the belief that every person on this planet has the right to live with dignity. Bassoul, 61, has been very active with his foundation that developed a Relief Oven for refugees and displaced people, which is extremely intuitive, and designed and manufactured in Elgin.

Growing up in Beirut, Lebanon, Bassoul understands first hand about second chances.

More than an oven

In coming up with the most recent idea, he visited refugee camps and saw the need for the oven that has a magnifying glass that acts as a solar panel. So beyond cooking, the appliance can purify water and charge a cellphone through heat transfer, not using electricity. He spent several years testing and developing the appliance that has no fumes, does not tip over and eliminates the risk of fire.

The foundation is donating the ovens to needy people all over the world. He said the goal is to free the lives of women and girls by allowing them to find time to go to school and find decent employment instead of spending hours searching for wood to cook. The stove can also serve as a source for electricity for a light so girls can do their homework, Bassoul said during a phone interview last week before he left for Haiti to deliver the red ovens that weigh about 12 pounds. About 1,000 of the ovens have been made and delivered, including recently to Puerto Rico where people without electricity were able to prepare food and have an option besides the dry ready-to-eat meals they had been receiving.

While Bassoul is delivering the ovens, he listens to their devastating stories. He recently gave an appliance to a woman in Puerto Rico who left a successful career in Florida to return to her country to care for her ill father. The hurricane hit and she now has nothing. "She is back to ground zero," Bassoul said, adding that he hopes the ovens are a small sign of hope.

Change the world

Bassoul comes from troubled beginnings in his war-torn homeland and is now one of the most highly regarded, influential CEOs in business, according to analysts from The Motley Fool.

"I want to change the world," Bassoul says.

It's pieces of his past that have developed the entrepreneur's passion to give back while turning a once struggling Middleby into a global firm that did $632 million in sales in the most recent quarter.

Bassoul's competitive drive came from his father, an Olympic swimmer, competing for Lebanon in the 1948 Games in London. His aunt, a nun, impressed upon Bassoul the importance of acting with significant compassion and heart, according to a Kellogg School of Management report.

Tough beginnings

When Bassoul was in junior high at a Jesuit school in Lebanon, he was at the bottom of his class and severely dyslexic at a time when the condition was not recognized, according to industry reports. Bassoul's passion and high skill level in cross-country running helped keep him in school.

Through high school he was educated by the Jesuits at Notre Dame de Jamhour in Beirut. He remained committed to excelling while a civil war was raging in his country, according to his biography on the Middleby website.

Before coming to the U.S., he attended the American University of Beirut where he received a B.A. in Business Administration with distinction and was the recipient of the David Dodge Scholar Award. Bassoul started his career at Ernst & Young in the Middle East and then moved to the United States to continue his postgraduate education at the Northwestern University Kellogg School of Management where he earned his M.B.A. in finance and marketing and a certificate in accounting.

Prior to joining Middleby, Bassoul worked for eight years in commercial food equipment for Premark Inc., a unit of Illinois Tool Works.

Bassoul joined Middleby in 1996 as president of the company's Southbend division. He became chief operating officer in 1999 and named chief executive in 2000 and chairman of the board in 2004. Under his leadership, the company has added more than a dozen acquisitions to grow Middleby's presence to a market leader in the industries they serve and quadruple company sales in a five-year period, according to the website.

The company makes ovens and other cooking gear for restaurant chains, such as Pizza Hut, Dunkin' Donuts and Subway, as well as for home kitchens. It has been named one of the fastest-growing companies by several national publications, including Fortune, Businessweek and Forbes

The CEO, who used to live in Inverness, now lives in Dallas, Texas, where he is raising his two youngest children, ages 2 and 14, with his wife. He admits he is busy, but finds it deeply rewarding to give others a second chance.

  Middleby headquarters in Elgin. Brian Hill/
Selim Bassoul, CEO of The Middleby Corp., recently went to Haiti to deliver relief ovens to those in need.
The relief oven has a magnifying glass that acts as a solar panel. So beyond cooking, the appliance can purify water and charge a cellphone through heat transfer, not using electricity. Courtesy of Middleby
Selim Bassoul, CEO of The Middleby Corp., went to Haiti a few weeks ago to deliver relief ovens to those in need. Courtesy of Middleby
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