The road to Damascus wasn’t a figure of speech for Tareq Hawasli (BBA ’02); it was a summer job. The Sandy Springs native is the descendant of Damascene traders, and he earned his first taste of international business on the streets and surrounding neighborhoods of the ancient city at an age when most children were being introduced to reading, writing, and arithmetic.

“My mother’s side of the family owned a large factory in Damascus that designed sacred items,” says Hawasli, referring to the elegant crosses, Mother Mary’s, and other items that people carried on pilgrimages to holy cities like Jerusalem. “My uncle also had several shops that catered to tourists, and from the age of six I’d take his old stock, put up a cardboard stand, and start selling.”

Syria was part of many childhood trips to the Persian Gulf and Europe, and Hawasli’s early exposure to ­travel and commerce led to the pursuit of an international business degree at Terry and ultimately to a career that has spanned three continents. The three firms Hawasli has founded in as many years brim with enough activity to require two cell phones: Phidar Advisory, the Dubai-based real estate advisory group in 2013; SHM, a landscape and hardscape services business in Atlanta in 2014; and Darin Partners, an independent investment advisory and asset management firm based in London in 2015.

Hawasli’s private equity and business development expertise includes real estate, energy, IT, healthcare, and entertainment, making him a bridge for commerce between east and west. An inaugural member of UGA’s 40 Under 40 honorees, Hawasli wants to lead the world to Athens. He recently served on UGA’s Advisory Council for the Vice President for Instruction, and he believes that UGA is in position to become one of the top 10-15 universities in the country.

“I’m looking at the university’s proximity to Atlanta — the fastest growing city in America — and at our resources and alumni, and I say, ‘Why not us?’” says Hawasli, who sees himself as a candid sounding board with a global perspective. “A lot of the people I’m connected with in Boston, L.A., and around the world give back generously to their universities, but they didn’t have the experiences that I had at Georgia. I’m hungry to tell the world about our university.”

Hawasli credits the friendly and supportive academic environment at UGA for encouraging him to become a more open person.

“The university was always generous with me. I wasn’t always the most academic of students, but I made the effort in classes and the professors always helped you like you were at a small university,” says Hawasli, who treasures his Athens connections. “I met so many good people from all different walks of life at UGA, and there was always a good vibe. I opened up and it helped me come into my own. That’s very important to me, and I want to do my part to let everyone ­know what I know about the ­University of Georgia.”