DEARBORN – Fouad Ashkar, community outreach manager for DTE Energy, is retiring on Aug 31. Ashkar’s position may not be known to many, but its influence is felt by every DTE customer.
For the last 18 years, Ashkar has been given the tools by DTE to build a relationship with city councils, mayors and many more organizations across their entire service area.
His job was, “to build relationships with customers, all kinds of customers,” he told the AANews.
Over the years, Ashkar has built a relationship with many organizations, including the Dearborn Area Chamber of Commerce, the Hispanic Chamber, the African American Chamber, the Arab American Chamber of Commerce, ACCESS, Arab American Chaldean Council, the Michigan Food and Beverage Association, the Michigan Restaurant Association among others.
He said that he acts as an ambassador to the community for DTE and vice versa.
A lot of major companies would call him and ask him how to do what he does; they wanted to try to duplicate what he was doing.
“We are here to stay, not like some other companies,” Ashkar said of the reason his position exists. “They take their machinery and they leave. We cannot leave; we are staying. We have been here 150 years and we will stay another 150.”
He also said DTE isn’t just here to make a profit.
Ashkar immigrated from Lebanon as an international student in 1970. He attended Western Michigan University and worked in General Motors factories. He said he was forced to support himself throughout college because of the Civil War in Lebanon.
He also said he had a difficult time adjusting when he came here as an international student. He said he would drive all the way to Detroit from Kalamazoo to buy groceries and eat Arabic food, because that was the only place to get it. He said a lot has changed since then.
Ashkar graduated with a bachelor’s degree in engineering and subsequently earned an MBA at Davenport University.
Upon graduation he worked at GM for about seven years until he was recruited to work in Saudi Arabia. For a few years, he worked there and kept his base, his family, back in Dearborn, visiting them every summer.
In 1999 Ashkar was hired by DTE Energy as its ethnic marketing director. Three years ago, his position was expanded to community outreach manager, with more people under him and more responsibilities.
“We changed the mindset of corporate America,” Ashkar said of one of the biggest changes he’s seen since he started at DTE 18 years ago. “For example, this Arab community in Metro Detroit is about 500,00 people. These people having purchasing power.”
He said it’s in the best interest of businesses to work with communities and help them thrive.
Ashkar said he wants to retire in order to spend more time with his wife, four sons, daughter, and three grandchildren. He still plans to volunteer at many of the organizations with which he has built relationships over the years, just in a different capacity. He also conceded that he wants to play more golf at Michigan’s exceptional golf courses.
“You get used to the country here, to the culture, to the society,” Ashkar, who lives in Dearborn Heights, said about spending 47 years in the community. “You feel like you cannot live without.”
He said he’ll never move out of Michigan.
“We have the best golf courses, the best schools. The hospitals? The best! I will never leave.” He said this is his adopted country and his home.
When asked his age, Ashkar responded with a laugh.
“I’m old enough not to tell you.”
Ashkar said he wants the work he has done to continue after his retirement and that he hopes DTE Energy keeps expanding.
He credits his success to everyone he works with, the strong leadership at DTE and the strong leadership in all the governmental positions he encountered, from the governor down to every city council person.
He said DTE reaches out to every minority community because there is great leadership at the company that makes sure they give back to the community. He also said CEO Gerry Anderson always says, “‘We want to be the best in the world, but we also want to be the best for the world.’”