Abe Issa Overcomes to Soar Again • By Paul K. Harral, Photos by Glen E. Ellman • Fort Worth Business
His are of men with machine guns patrolling the streets as he went to school and the sounds of war. “I remember one time in the middle of the night, there was this huge loud explosion. I think it was like a rocket or something that went off. You could feel the building shake. It was pretty scary. From what I remember, I was sweating pretty bad, and there wasn’t really anything the family could do about it.” Stories about Issa, the entrepreneurial phenomenon whose companies have ranked on the Inc. 500 list of the fastest-growing private companies in America, always mention that his family moved to the United States from “war-torn Lebanon,” as though people automatically understand what that means. Let us refresh your memories. From 1975 to 1990, the Lebanese civil war resulted in an estimated 120,000 fatalities – that in a country of about 6.2 million people – and has been followed by years of social and political instability. Muslims make up 54 percent of the population, split evenly between Sunni and Shia, and Christians are 40.5 percent, primarily various kinds of Catholics and just over 6 percent from other Christian faiths. Issa and his family are Lebanese Christians and lived in a Christian section of Beirut.
“I remember one time my dad said there was, like, a mortar shell that landed not too far from where we were and he ended up getting, like, shrapnel in his arms. He still has it today stuck in his arm,” Issa said. George Issa decided to get out. His first marriage had been to an American woman, Alice, who lived in Fort Worth. The elder Issa called her. “He was, like, ‘Hey, I need plane tickets. I need to get my kid out of here. Can we come stay with you?’ She said, ‘Yeah. Absolutely. Come stay with us.’ Mom didn’t like that too much at all,” Abe Issa recalled. Issa was 5 years old when the family came to the United States. He doesn’t focus on the war, nor does he have nightmares or flashbacks from it. He’s been back to Lebanon twice and doesn’t have much interest in going back. His work and life are here now, and he’s bent on making the most of it. His mother, Margo, now lives in Beirut and his father spends half the year there and half the year in the United States.