The Export King

Meet America's Unlikeliest Gas Mogul

A long-haul truck with LNG tank.
A long-haul truck with LNG tank. (TruckPR / Flickr)

It was 2002, and the race to find natural gas in the United States was on. Oilmen and businessmen were making massive bets on overlooked U.S. fields. Charif Souki was just as sure the United States needed new energy supplies. And he was certain he had a way to get his hands on enough natural gas to change his country’s fortunes, as well as his own.

Souki was a rank outsider to the oil patch. He hadn’t taken a single geology or engineering course -- or even worked a day in an oil or gas field. He had no business imagining himself as any kind of energy player. But Souki had an audacious plan.

BIG MAN ON CAMPUS

Souki was born in Cairo in 1953, a year after a coup d’état led by Muhammad Naguib and Gamal Abdel Nasser. His father, Samyr, a Greek Orthodox Christian, moved the family to Beirut when Charif was four, after Samyr realized that his writing was being censored and that he was being tracked by members of the regime. In Beirut, Samyr, who went by Sam, became Newsweek’s chief correspondent for the Middle East. As he covered subsequent upheavals, including the 1957 war, as well as Beirut’s growth into an intellectual, tourist, and banking center, Sam emerged as a star reporter.

It didn’t take long for him to become a key adviser to political and business leaders throughout the region. As a boy, Charif sometimes sat with his father as he entertained various rulers, including King Faisal of Saudi Arabia, top United Nations officials, and a range of diplomats and businessmen, including chief executives of U.S. military contractors. He had little interest in politics and business, however. His time was filled with other pursuits: Some days, he skipped out to surf or sail. Other times, he and his friends escaped to a resort in the mountains for a day of skiing.

When the time came, Souki’s father encouraged his son to attend college in America. As a teenager, Sam Souki’s own dream had been to go to a U.S. university. World War II had intervened, though, so he was thrilled when his son was accepted at Colgate University in Hamilton, New York. Souki was having a lot of fun in Beirut and wasn’t particularly eager to leave his family in Lebanon, but when he heard Colgate was in New York he became enthusiastic, anticipating four years of excitement.

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