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Episode #226
Georges Chakar

How To Build A 7-Figure Consulting Firm

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Summary

How do you build a 7-figure consulting firm? Michael Zipursky presents Georges Chakar, the founder and CEO of LINK Advisory Group. The company implements strategies to foster commercial sustainability by transforming people and customers. Georges believes that rapid growth is not about strategy. Instead, it’s about the transformation that focuses on people. You need to have bold, honest, and deep-rooted conversations. Don’t be afraid to tell the truth when you talk to people. Make sure the responsibility remains with the client. If you want more tips on how to build a 7-figure consulting firm, don’t forget to listen to this episode.

I’m very excited to have Georges Chakar. Georges, welcome. 

Thank you, Michael. I’m happy to be with you. It’s a pleasure and honor to be on such a well-renowned show, one of the top consulting shows in the world, if not the best.

I appreciate the kind words. Before hitting the record, we spend some time talking about where you grew up and sharing our love for the Middle Eastern region and all it has to offer. I enjoyed connecting with you around that. For everyone who is wondering who is Georges if you are not familiar with him. He is the CEO of the LINK Advisory Group. He’s a serial entrepreneur. He’s also a board member of several companies. His clients include well-known names like Marriott Group, Hilton and a whole bunch of others.

Before we get into how consultants can start to learn and apply the best practices, tactics, mindsets and principles that you have put to work that has helped you to grow many businesses quite rapidly, take us back to the early days. I know you shared with me that you were originally from Lebanon. Before you started consulting and advising for organizations, what were you doing? What were your timeline and career path from a young guy in Lebanon to where you are now in Boston in the US?

I’m originally Lebanese. I was born and raised in Lebanon. For those who know our region in the Middle East, I grew up in the civil war time in Lebanon. That has impacted a lot of levels of resilience, making sure that you find your way around things.

This has been part of who I am and has always influenced me, looking at the family and the way we were able to avoid all the hot places during those tough times. This is the start of Georges. It’s all about hardship and the learning that I went through. I am a hotelier by education. I was born in a family where values are important for us, commitment, loyalty, honesty, and always being fair to each other.

Commit to service and making people happy. Click To Tweet

As a hotelier, I always translate those into the service industry. It is also key to being committed to the service, making people happy and so on. Hospitality was my first interaction with the business world. I’m always an entrepreneur at heart. I started this small wedding planning company in the early days, even during my university times. I have done 6 to 7 weddings at a time when wedding planning was not yet known in our part of the world.

I worked my way through the hospitality industry, working with groups like Hilton and Sheraton during those times. It’s all the way from Yemen to Saudi in the GCC, meaning the Gulf Region, to Abu Dhabi and Dubai in the UAE. This has been a bit of my history moving from hospitality to advertising and marketing at some stage, being in the communications field.

I then move back to hospitality on the development side, developing projects and landmarks such as Louvre Abu Dhabi and Sir Bani Yas Island. I have been blessed in being part of a team since 2007. I developed all those projects, leading communications for the group with the global brands and stakeholders across the globe from French museums, AJA France museum, Louvre, British Museum, Guggenheim, and architects like Frank Gehry and Jean Nouvel. All these were part of the communication stakeholders.

This has been a journey that had a lot of tough moments, moving from country to country like a nomad. The destiny of Lebanese is always being a nomad because of the situation in Lebanon. That’s how it is. This always gives us strengths and more power to be better, succeed and reach where we are. You can now look globally and find Lebanese everywhere.

I want to explore more of that experience and the mindset that came from that experience as we continue our conversation. I have to say that I have never worked directly in hospitality other than in some service jobs that I had when I was a kid. After living and building a business in Japan for many years, I have always been enamored and interested in the world of service and hospitality, when you are able to create these experiences and these environments for people.

CSP Georges Chakar | 7 Figure Consulting Firm

 

Good service is something that I have always valued. The values you shared around family, honesty and all this resonate with me. It sounds like we have a lot in common. I will enjoy this conversation. You mentioned that you focused on the tourism hospitality world pretty early on. Where did that come from? I know you did the wedding business, but why did you decide on hospitality as opposed to something else completely different?

There was no real intention. I was attracted to the industry. With my personality and character, being a person who loves people and likes to socialize, it was a natural pick for me. I did not choose it out of a scientific and any study at that early age. I felt that this is what I want to do. I love F&B, restaurant business, food and fine things in life.

Every single experience on a personal level, I like to enjoy it from A to Z. I got attracted and found myself in the hospitality industry. I have a lot of mentors around me that helped me to grow into where I reached within that career. I’m a hotelier by heart and education because the hospitality industry has impacted the world in many areas.

One of the CEO of the major advertising agencies used to pick people for account management from the hospitality industry to manage clients for those reasons. Hospitality has a lot to offer to all industries around the world. Eventually, hospitality is an amalgamation of everything. You can be an accountant, financier or housekeeper. You can work on maintenance and engineering. It is an amalgamation of everything.

A lot of my hospitality friends ventured from hospitality to other industries, such as myself, where I ventured eventually from being into operation to moving into development, and from creating destinations and attractions into creating a transformation and growth acceleration. It is some sort of consulting within the transformation and acceleration field.

You started in hospitality, then you went into advertising and a few different industries, but you ended up back in the world of hospitality. Looking back from where you are now, how important do you think it is that you had a specialization, a real focus that you have stuck to, for the most part, the world of hospitality, tourism and so forth, as opposed to having many different things and being able to work with any type of organization? In your experience, has that played a pretty pivotal or important role to be known as an expert in the hotel management, hospitality or tourism industry?

The more you build your experience, the more you will have credibility as an individual. Click To Tweet

My answer to that is yes, specialization is key. Being known for something is key. This is your brand that whenever they hear your name, they know that you have this background. To be able to pivot to other industries or to go a little bit one layer on top of a certain specialization, it has to be linked to that in one way or another. It is important and crucial to be known and to have an experience.

The more you build up this experience, the more you will have credibility as an individual working with people. Your experience becomes wide. If I want to give advice out of my own experience, while you are focusing on an area, try to explore what comes around it and don’t be stuck in one specific area. For example, I did a lot of internships when I was young in the F&B, restaurants, hotels and what have you.

I’m a very self-motivated and highly ambitious guy. I always wanted to move forward in hospitality. The ultimate progression where I wanted to reach was in the development space, rather than just being a hotelier, operating a hotel and restaurant or what have you. I went and joined a developer that develops attractions, landmarks and tourism for a country. It’s not hospitality in the sense of the hotel itself. There is always a misconception that hospitality means hotels, wellness, spa, attractions and leisure. It means all these things.

Try to get the experience within an industry and what does it entail. I’m sure, with every single industry, there are a lot of specializations that roam around it. Try to explore them and then choose where you want to be and where you want to go instead of getting stuck somewhere because that’s the experience, diversity and multi-skilled.

It’s a good exercise for how people think through. It’s a bit of creative thinking about where you are, where do you want to go, and where could you be. Don’t accept the status quo, but allow yourself to enjoy that thought process and play around with it a little bit. It’s a great idea. I want to get into how you took your company LINK Advisory Group from zero to multimillions in a pretty short period of time. I’m sure there are lessons inside of that. Before we go there, LINK is established or at least based in the UAE. You now are in Boston, which is your home. Walk us through why the company is in UAE and you are in Boston? What’s the reason?

CSP Georges Chakar | 7 Figure Consulting Firm

 

It’s happened this way. I moved to Boston. I have been for a few months. Our operation is still in the UAE and I am managing things from here with the team and with my business partners. I believe that the US is also a fertile ground to expand and start because of many things. One of them is entrepreneurship. Boston has been known as one of the major incubators in the world along Silicon Valley. We cannot discount that. I believe that this is a real place for LINK Advisory to also plant a seed and start growing here. Knowing what we can offer, I believe this is a good place to be.

Let’s dive into LINK itself because you talk about this openly. You started it from almost nothing and in a fairly short period of time, it’s generating multimillions in revenue. When you look at everything you have done in the business from the start to where you are now, what do you feel? Maybe there are a few things or maybe many, but if you could identify and narrow in on a few things that you feel contributed most to the rapid success, what would they be?

LINK was established in 2016. In 2022, it will be seven years. What contributed to the fast growth is the passion for the business, wanting to create something and the purpose that was also attached to that. We started it as a hospitality development and advisory because of my background. As I mentioned at the beginning, everything is linked. That’s why it’s LINK. I found myself with my partner by default going into transformation. Even when we are working with hospitality, one of the groups we worked with in Indonesia needed a lot of work on their group. They had fifteen hotels and they needed to create some portfolio strategy.

We realized that it was not just the strategy. It’s the people and everything around the business. Transformation is all about people. You cannot develop or grow a business without considering this as the main factor, whether on the LINK side or the LINK’s client-side. We moved to the transformation aspect of the hospitality consultancy. I believe this was one of the first because hospitality consulting has been traditional ever since.

The way we look at it is this cannot carry on. The typical feasibility study, finding an owner and an operator, all these services are great but these are all traditional. We realize that this needs to change and it has to do with our characters being entrepreneurs. Working with large groups previously, we did not feel we had only a consulting trait. We also felt that we approached this with bold, honest and deep-rooted conversations. That’s what created the grip and credibility with clients.

We are not scared to say the truth when we talk to people. A lot of consultants or consulting concepts traditionally are always putting the option in front of the client and letting the client choose. You make sure that the responsibility lies on the client. We believe that you need to give the client a handle. You need to create some direction and be bold.

Don’t be scared to tell the truth when talking to people. Click To Tweet

Does that mean that you are giving a direct recommendation? If you believe that there is the best path for the client to take, are you just going to say, “Here is where I feel you should go and why.” Walk us through what that looks like for you when you say you are giving them a handle?

First, we have created our intellectual property. We call it Transformation Intersect. It’s a methodology that we always use that creates growth. It’s a process that works on two pillars, people and clients. By people, we mean internally. The process is the quality, leadership, coaching, vision and optimization of all of this.

The client leads your innovation in one way or another. They need to be part of your product development and the experience journey. The value of the organization in terms of commercial, valuation or what have you comes also from the client base that you have. This is the methodology that we use. It’s always the point of intersection. That’s why it’s called the Transformation Intersect. It’s where the growth happens. It’s where new intentions push hard on current limitations. That’s the approach that we take.

We explore many directions, but if we feel strongly about one of the directions, we make sure to tell the client that this is what we think needs to happen. We deal with it as entrepreneurs. We don’t deal with it as consultants. That created credibility and safety because, with uncertainties and plateaus, companies are backing and losing market share. There are a lot of uncertainties and fear. The last thing they need is someone that gives them many options and does not guide them, and just throw the fireball in their hands. You need to hold that fireball together. It’s like you are one. You are not a client and I’m not a supplier. We are a team. We are partners in this and your success is ours.

I’m very interested in where you mentioned that the hospitality management, the process, and the approach that many organizations in consultancies and firms were taking was old school. Here you are bringing a newer approach to it. What have you found that works best when you are trying to topple an old way of doing something?

I believe many consultants see a better approach. They see the light at the end of the tunnel, but they find it hard to communicate that to their ideal clients because it requires a lot of education. It requires the client to do things differently than they have done them before. They are used to doing the feasibility study and so on. That’s what they are used to doing.

Make sure your client shares your values because the journey cannot carry on if they don't. Click To Tweet

If you’re trying to bring a whole new idea that can often take a lot longer, what have you found? You mentioned having deep and meaningful conversations with clients. Is it as simple as that? You do whatever is necessary to sit down and have that conversation where you can be very open. Is there something else that plays a big role and has a big impact on when it comes to getting people to see a new way of doing things?

The typical approach is you need to educate. You need to go on social media and LinkedIn. You need to write the pieces and the white paper. You need to attend events and be part of all the scenes. Also, this is what we found. This is where you will be surprised. Companies, owners and entrepreneurs are screaming for something new. They want to hear that there is something nontraditional that can support them to grow their business and help them to bounce back.

It’s not magic. It’s as simple as that. The magic lies in the values that you bring to the table. It is making sure that the client shares your values. If the client does not share your values, the journey cannot carry on. Being in a still-developing market where we do business in our part of the world, it’s very tough to find clients that share those values not because they are not there.

They are there but there is a traditional cultural way of doing business, which means there is a lot of approaching the consultants in a non-serious way. There is a lot of disempowerment between the ownership and the management. To some extent, you have a team that is managing, but the decision always comes from the owner. There are a lot of those companies in our part of the world.

How do you find the values? How are you able to identify whether a prospective client and buyer share the same values as you? Is it through the conversation? Is it asking some questions? How do you align that?

CSP Georges Chakar | 7 Figure Consulting Firm

 

It’s through the conversations and asking questions. You could realize from the first minute their approach if they want something quick and dirty that does not make sense, and are not giving the right weight to what they are trying to do. You would feel that they might not be the right people for you. You can easily spot them from their organization. Do they value people? Is culture important for them? Is it all about the commercial only?

It has to be about the commercial but it’s also about many other things. It’s also the entrepreneur and the owner of the business. You will be able to understand how integral they are. What’s the reputation of that company? Why do people leave the company? Why is the turnover high? Do they have a genuine interest to change all of this or is it just an exercise because the board wants it?

All these things you will be able to discover when we do a discovery session with the client. You will say at the end of the session, “This is an interesting job. It has a lot of challenges and we want to take it on board.” We try to design the relationship. We put our approach and our methodology at the forefront. The way we do it is we take the business and then we introduce them to how we do it.

When we want to take the business at that time, we tell them how we do it. We tell them, “We will not BS you. If you are not going to be committed, we will not be able to work with you. If we are recommending a solution and it’s being put in the drawer, that is not going to help you.” We will raise the flag. A couple of years ago, there was a client that was not taking what we were doing seriously. We had to stop the mandate. It should be this way. We could probably go another 2, 3 to 4 months and charge the client more. We believe that the best way to go is to tell the client, “You are wasting your money.”

I want you to take us back to the growth of your business. Looking back, is there anything that you would have done differently? Knowing what you know now, is there anything that you feel, “If I would have done this earlier and differently, we would have been able to grow even faster, be more successful or more profitable?” What stands out for you?

I would have loved to have more mentors.

Treat your business as a community and create a sense of trust and security. Click To Tweet

Why is that?

Culturally, I was brought up depending on myself most of the time. This is something that I discovered in the past years, that more mentors along the way are crucially important. This is why I make myself available as a mentor for many young entrepreneurs. It’s out of that pain. Other than having more mentors throughout my journey for LINK Advisor specifically, it is having a lot of testing at the beginning of the business.

What do you mean by testing?

When you create an IP, you have to share it with friends and business peers. You get more opinions around it. This is something that we did not do at first, but we were able to recover shortly after that. This cost us a couple of years at the early stage. There are always some things that you would have done differently. Aligning with your business partners from day one rather than discovering things along the way is also crucial, but still being able to recover from that and having those soft conversations and still make it happen.

If you share values, the rest can be designed. There is no issue whatsoever. They come at a price but I guess we have to go through them to know that they are important. There’s no full end to end blueprint without case studies. Every blueprint out there is theoretical until you go in the business, in the mud, you roll up your sleeves and you start. It’s a day-by-day experience.

CSP Georges Chakar | 7 Figure Consulting Firm

 

The ability to recover is essential in the world of entrepreneurship. You are someone who is no stranger to challenges, roadblocks and hardship. I’m wondering about COVID-19. It had a very strong impact on the hospitality sector. When things started to get worse in the world, there was panic, fear and a lot of unknowns. What was going on in your mind? You are no stranger to challenging situations. Yet, this is a globally challenging situation that is directly impacting and affecting the industry that you are focused on. How did you process that in you from a mindset perspective? What did you do?

As human beings, COVID-19 deprived us of the sense of being in control. In reality, we are not always in control and we are never going to be in control. There is always uncertainty and unknown. COVID made this very prominent to us as a human. It has deprived us of driving our cars, leading our business or even being present for our families. Some people who had lost their relatives could not attend their memorials or burials. It deprived you of all those senses of being in control and things that we thought was a given, easy to get and accessible. That’s from a human perspective.

That has impacted me a lot in terms of reflecting on those things, and what’s the priority or important for me in this context. As a business, we had a pipeline of clients. Suddenly the pipeline is not there anymore. You had a pipeline of cash coming your way from bills that suddenly is not coming your way anymore. You had plans for several years and those plans suddenly are void. They disappeared. As dramatic as I am saying it, this was the reality. This has created a lot of anxiety and uncertainty on a business level. Dealing with it is the key.

The way I believe we dealt with it was immediately bringing the team together. Having a tough conversation internally. How can we sustain ourselves? If I want to put a title to this is bringing a sense of community into the business rather than just being colleagues. We treated the business as a community, and how we can be in service of each other to create a sense of trust and security. From there, we are moving the same context to our clients.

Let’s have this conversation with our clients. Let’s see if we can create some sort of community within the client base. We are being there for them and advising them free of charge. We need to perform. We cannot stay in hibernation for a long period of time. We have reached our clients and offered our services. One of the main partnerships that we did during COVID was the partnership with 2Y3X.

I believe you know Felix Velarde. You have interviewed him and was a guest on your show. We met in a pro bono exercise. How beautiful it is to meet someone and become partners because of a shared value and by coincidence. This is how the journey was. It’s always about the process that you go through. That process is when it is tough, there is something emerging. Wait for it and when it comes, take it and go forward.

You may fail and hit obstacles along the way but keep on training and trying. Click To Tweet

Before we wrap up, I have a few more questions I want to ask you. I know that you are very big into investing in yourself, learning, surrounding yourself with coaches and people that can help you to get to that next level. When you think about your typical day-to-day activities, is there a habit, principle, practice or mindset that is with you consistently every day that you feel plays a big role and has a big impact on your performance and success that you are able to achieve?

I love the way you led having coaches around you. Self-growth like investing in yourself is important. I did my leadership certification in the last few years. I’m a coach myself as well. It’s all linked and it’s part of all this. The main habits that you can create to be a high performer and to be able to create a strong foundation mentally, physically, with a strong heart and all of this are, number one, I believe being an early riser is a great asset to have.

How early is early for you?

It could be 4:00 or 5:00 AM. I have been an early riser forever. I invest my first couple of hours in reading, journaling, exercising a little bit, and meditating. Those four exercises, I do in the morning. I get a lot of intuitions and thoughts during these 1 or 2 hours. You will always face difficulties doing them regularly but with consistency in mind, you will be able to succeed 90% of the time.

It’s okay not to succeed 100% of the time. We are human. At the end of the day, we embrace that and go forward. This is key for any entrepreneur and even any individual, not necessarily someone who is successful in the business world. He, she or they could be successful and also being a parent. As long as you are mentally and physically the same, you can be present for everyone around you, the business community or family.

When they ask me, “Georges, introduce yourself.” I start by saying, “I’m a parent.” That is key for me to be able to be present for my family and my kids. I have three daughters. It’s a full-time job for my wife and me. It’s beautiful. For you to be present for them, you need to be healthy and mentally sound as much as possible. There are always ups and downs but this is part of life. The way you deal with it with an open mind and open heart makes a lot of difference in where you are.

The other question I have for you, Georges, is if you were to choose one book that you have read or listened to, it could be fiction or nonfiction that you have enjoyed and would recommend, what would that book be?

In the context of what we are living, I guess The Alchemist. It’s a classic and an amazing book. It’s inspiring and ticks a lot of boxes, but there are lots of books. Risk Forward is a beautiful book. The Scale At Speed is a nice book for business. There’s the Four Agreements. That’s an amazing book too. That’s a super powerful concept. Leadership and Self-Deception. That’s beyond what is important for leaders, CEOs and organizations, getting out of the box as a leader, and all those tough situations when dealing with humans. There is Presence: Human and the Field of the Future. That’s also a beautiful book and is amazing. There is The Five Dysfunctions of a Team.

That’s a very good list. Thank you for sharing those with us. Thank you for coming on and sharing a bit of your story, your journey, your lessons learned and your success. It was a great conversation and I’m hoping that people took away as much of these insights and ideas, exercises and stimulations as I did. I want to make sure that people can learn more about you and your work. Where is the best place for people to go to learn more about LINK Advisory Group and the work that you do?

They can access our company website, LinkAdvisory.com. They can also access our profiles on LinkedIn. We are more than happy to exchange and start with the discovery session. It’s free of charge because this is just a conversation. We start with that and then we take the business conversation forward. I want to add one more thing that’s always on my mind. When we appear in all those podcasts and interviews, we appear as the product behind the journey. The product that you see now is the end product or towards the end product.

There is a lot of work, hardship, sleepless nights, tears that were put into what we are trying to present and to share our experiences and wisdom. There is still a lot to learn. I felt that at some stage, it was intimidating listening to all those leaders. I thought that this was something unattainable. I want to tell all the entrepreneurs, especially the young ones, that there is nothing intimidating. We went on the same journey that you are going on now. You are going to fail and hit obstacles. Keep on trying and things will lead to greatness in one way or another.

That’s a powerful message. It’s a very true message in my own experience as well. It’s a great place to wrap up. Georges, thank you so much for coming on.

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About Georges Chakar

CSP Georges Chakar | 7 Figure Consulting FirmGeorges, founder, and CEO at LINK Advisory, the 2Y3X® master licensee in the MENA region, is an experienced strategy and leadership professional with diverse experience spanning over 20 years in Hospitality Development, Strategic Communications, Growth Creation and Coaching. Chakar has a successful track record of creating a hyper-growth business environment and anchoring the delivery of business transformation across all points of an organization. A very committed natural leader and trusted business advisor with the intellect, gravitas, and expertise to inspire business owners and C-Suite executives to lead growth through vision and value.

Georges’s multi-regional experience, including the Middle East, Asia, and Eastern Europe, covers diverse industries such as Hospitality and Tourism Development, Real Estate, Culture, Education, and Advertising and Marketing. Landing senior roles with leading corporate organizations such as the Tourism Development and Investment Company (TDIC), Interpublic Group (IPG), Marriott Group, and Hilton Group, allowed Georges to be immersed in different corporate cultures and life cycle dynamics during start-up, maturity, or change phases of organizations.

Georges was a key member contributing to the establishment and launch of regional landmark destinations such as Saadiyat Island – a multi-facet destination that encompasses cultural, tourism, leisure, and educational institutions such as the Louvre Abu Dhabi Museum, Guggenheim Abu Dhabi Museum, St. Regis Resort, Saadiyat Beach Golf Course – in addition to Westin Abu Dhabi Golf Resort and Spa, Qasr Al Sarab Desert Resort and Spa and Sir Bani Yas Island, the regions’ first nature and wildlife reserve and more.

As Head of Communications with the TDIC in Abu Dhabi, Georges played a pivotal role in managing crisis communications relating to workers’ welfare, through the intimate engagement of multiple local and international stakeholders, after becoming a particular focus following negative reporting by several NGOs including Human Rights Watch.

CURRENT ROLE

In 2015 Georges founded LINK Advisory, the 2Y3X® master licensee in the MENA region, a people transformation advisory agency that brings relevance and commercial sustainability by deploying an innovative advisory process based on infinite improvement – The Transformation Intersect® – Link Advisory intellectual property, which is delivered through two main pillars, People and Customer. Chakar is responsible for developing and executing the growth strategy for the Group and its subsidiaries. He is a Board Member and Director of Millennial Beauty and Global Millennial capital.

EDUCATIONAL BACKGROUND

Georges has a Master of Business Administration (MBA) from Hult International Business School, where he led a team of five classmates to win the Hult award for best Action Project for Disney Corporation. He has a Bachelor’s degree in Hospitality and Tourism, from Notre Dame University (NDU). Georges’ love for personal development led him to enroll in one of the most engaging Leadership Programs through the Coactive Training Institute (CTI), a 10 months program that ran in Barcelona. In addition, he holds a certificate in Hospitality Leadership from l’Ecole Hôtelière de Lausanne (EHL), and coactive coaching certification from the Coactive Training Institute (CTI) (12 months program).

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