Handing Over The Reins: Jordan-Headquartered Liwwa Now Has A New CEO
When a business is in the process of scaling up, the skills or characteristics required of its CEO are different from those that were needed when it was founded.
I’m writing this post today to share some big news.
After six years of running liwwa, I am handing the reins to our COO, Dennis Ardis. Dennis is a skilled manager with an exceptional capacity for execution. Today, he’s the right man at the right time.
To understand this move on my part, a look back at how liwwa got to be where it is today is necessary.
In 2012, I was in graduate school, and I was faced with a choice. I could either find a job, or I could start a business. I knew that I didn’t want to work for a large company in New York or Boston, and I knew I wanted to focus on a really hard problem.
I had recently been working as a journalist in Beirut, and I was enthusiastic about making a positive contribution in the Middle East. That’s how I settled on the issue of job creation– unemployment in this region is among the highest in the world. I co-founded liwwa in 2013 with the mission of delivering job and income growth in MENA.
We began operating in Jordan in 2015, and a year ago, we extended our lending service to Egypt. In the past five years, liwwa has gone from being a two-man effort to being a 50-person business with millions of dollars in annual sales and revenue. We’ve created thousands of jobs, and we are on track to achieve the goals we set out to achieve back in 2013.
When you start a business, you discover what you’re really good at. I am a persistent person; I like tackling challenges in a hands-on way; I’m impatient and pushy and impulsive; I like risk. Those are the things that define me, but they’re also the things that a startup founder has to be good at.
The odds are impossible at the outset, you have to make a dozen decisions a day, and you have to be mostly self-reliant. It’s a lot like mining for gold: you’ve got to pulverize a lot of quartz before you hit a seam. And you have no real way of knowing if you’re looking in the right place.
At least that’s true in the early days. Today, liwwa is a scaling business. The skills or characteristics required of its CEO are different.
Sales, strategy, and vision are as important as ever, but team-building and management has taken on new urgency. Scaling requires a hands-off, empowerment-oriented approach where individual staff members and their teams drive the business forward. Dennis excels at those things.
Dennis Ardis, CEO, liwwa.
So, who is Dennis?
Before joining liwwa, Dennis led a 300-person team at the International Rescue Committee (IRC) in Jordan and Syria. Armed with a law degree from New York University, he has a tireless work ethic. He consistently ranks as the most admired manager at liwwa. He’s the kind of leader who encourages others to shine and to put forth their best work.
Dennis has doubled the size of our business every year he’s been here. He’s designed and implemented performance management processes and systems across all our business units, and he’s succeeded in closing our biggest partnership with a bank to date. Dennis is a team player with an eye for detail. He is the man who will grow liwwa to extraordinary new heights.
As for me, my wife and I will be moving back to the US to spend more time with our parents, a desire we’ve begun to feel more keenly since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. I’ll continue to serve on liwwa’s board offering support to Dennis and the rest of the operating team.
I have high expectations for where they’ll take our business, which may mean new geographies and products. And I’ll be cheering from the sidelines the whole way.
Ahmed Moor is the co-founder of liwwa, a technology-enabled SME lending company. He was the CEO of liwwa from 2015 to 2021, and is today a board member for the enterprise.
He received a BA from the University of Pennsylvania and an MPP from Harvard University. He has written for Al Jazeera, The Guardian, The Washington Post, and other publications.