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Tareq Hadhad enthralled the Chamber audience

"We don't make chocolate; we make happiness," stated Tareq Hadhad.
Tareq Hadhad, Peace by Chocolate CEO | Oakville News N.M.
Tareq Hadhad, Peace by Chocolate CEO | Oakville News N.M.

Tareq Hadhad’s keynote riveted hundreds at the Oakville Chamber of Commerce Chairs’ dinner this past Wednesday evening, inspiring attendees with his impactful speech.

Syrian refugee Mr. Hadhad is the CEO of Peace by Chocolate, whose family story of making a life in Antigonish, Nova Scotia, and building a business is the basis of the brilliant film and book by the same name. Having seen the film, I was concerned his speech would retell the storyline, but it was substantive and thought-provoking.

Tareq shared about his family’s life in Syria before the war, where 60 family members lived in a 10-storey apartment, gathering weekly for family dinners in his grandmother’s dining room to the family’s chocolate business that employed over 500 people and his journey to becoming a cardiac surgeon.

We learned the moment his father realized the need to flee Syria after narrowly escaping a bomb that obliterated his business – his life’s work was destroyed in a second. His parents and sister escaped to Lebanon and eventually found sanctuary in Canada. Now, his tight family is spread across 23 countries. 

He opened his keynote with a story about a flight where the man sitting next to him expressed his belief that refugees take jobs and give little back. Tareq didn’t back away from the discussion but was determined to enlighten his fellow traveller. After a respectful debate, he realized his conversation was in vain.

When the subject changed to movies, and when the person asked if Tareq had seen anything recently, Tareq responded that the movie Peace by Chocolate was an excellent choice and available on the flight. 

Tareq Hadhad, Peace by Chocolate CEO | Oakville News C.S.
Tareq Hadhad, Peace by Chocolate CEO | Oakville News C.S.

As their conversation ended, he noted that the gentleman found Peace by Chocolate and thoroughly enjoyed the story. Before the film ended, Tareq excused himself since he didn’t want the person to know that he and his family were the film's subjects. When he returned, the gentleman had paused the movie on the picture of Tareq in the credits. When prodded, Tareq confirmed that his family was the film's subject.

He deplaned and didn’t think anything further until a couple of weeks later when the man reached out to him on Linkedin asking how he could hire refugees. 

Tareq’s inspiring talk was punctuated with humour, such as when, shortly after arriving in Antigonish, his father announced, "we are going to become Canadian today," he planned to buy a BBQ. 

His talk left the audience thinking about several perceptions:

  1. Every refugee comes with something, not to take something away
  2. That the purpose of business shouldn’t be building shareholders’ equity but rather contributing to the community 
  3. The basis of success is contributing
  4. The historical success of business goes from brawn to brain and evolves from love. 

In Syria, his father created Peace by Chocolate on the notion that chocolate brings happiness, and in Canada, they continue to use this philosophy. They employ 35 people, and their delicious chocolates are available across Canada, which he cheekily plugged. Thousands of people yearly are motivated by Tareq’s talks, so this unique business philosophy has merit. 

"We don't make chocolate; we make happiness," stated Tareq Hadhad.

The Oakville Chamber of Commerce staff and board once again created an opportunity for business owners to be inspired.