Lutfi Hassan: The Indian-American mogul turned diplomat who is a key supporter of the Democratic party

Written by: Darshana Ramdev

For immediate release: March 4, 2024

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The first time Lutfi Hassan met Barack Obama, then a Senator, he knew he was in the presence of somebody special. As a longtime loyalist and donor of the Democratic party, Hassan would meet party leaders who passed through Houston. “I had never heard of this person, and I thought he had an unusual name,” smiles Lutfi Hassan, as he speaks to Global Indian from his home in Hyderabad, where a large framed photograph of himself with former President Barack Obama dominates one wall of his study. “He was a state senator then and we had a coffee together. Thirty minutes became an hour. He was so charismatic; I was totally sold!” Hassan would go on to serve as a national finance co-chair for the Obama for America campaign in 2008 and 2012. For over 20 years, Hassan has served as an advisor on Presidential, Gubernatorial, Senatorial, Congressional, Mayoral and Judicial campaigns, and has served on the National Advisory Board (NAB) as a member of the Democratic National Committee.

  • H.E Lutfi Hassan with former US President Barack Obama

The Consul General of Guyana

“My role is to promote Guyana in the US by bringing investors from there, as well as political office bearers to Guyana to educate them on what the country is doing,” Hassan says. A relatively new, small, South American country, Guyana’s economic landscape is currently undergoing a transformative expansion that began when Exxon Mobil discovered huge oil reserves there in 2015.The country’s GDP per capita has seen a significant rise since oil production began in 2019, reaching 278,000 barrels per day in 2022.

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This has also fuelled strong growth in the non-oil economy, and, Hassan explains, growth is not limited only to the oil and gas sector but has spilled over into services, supplies, agriculture, mining and quarrying, as the government continues to implement major infrastructural projects across the country. These include the development of Region Seven into a service hub for the mining sector, and the construction of critical road links, as well as a contract to construct 32 concrete bridges along the Kurupukari-Lethem corridor.

It’s all part of a broader strategy to diversify Guyana’s economy beyond natural resources and agriculture, also through international ties. “There are lots of Guyanese trade delegations coming to India, I was part of one in Delhi where we met with over 70 companies,” says Hassan. “India, Bangladesh and the Middle East have interests in the country, and Saudi is going to open one of its largest embassies there.” Guyana welcomes them, in part through eased visa regulations, sector-wise tax benefits, investment in IT and backoffice support, and even plug-and-play offices for companies that want to invest or do business there, provided they hire a certain percentage of Guyanese locals. “It doesn’t matter what visa or permit you go on, in five years, you can apply for citizenship. Also, if you invest or do business, you get sector-wise tax benefits. IT and backoffice support are burgeoning sectors, especially because you will be in the same timezone as the US.”

The Hyderabadi boy who dared to dream big

A large Indo-Guyanese community (which includes Vice President Bharrat Jagdeo), descended from indentured workers and settlers who moved to Guyana during the British Raj, and who continue to maintain an affinity for their ancestral homeland, meaning India is a key player in Guyana’s international relations. As a facilitator, Hassan makes frequent visits to his hometown, Hyderabad, where he was born and spent his early years. In his late teens, the “pucca Hyderabadi” moved to the Middle East to join his parents, and took up a job at a travel agency, dreaming all the while of being an entrepreneur and setting up his own travel agency. The opportunity came through an uncle who had immigrated to Texas.

“There was no better place to take a risk than the US, the land of opportunity,” Hassan recalls. He moved to Houston and opened his first travel agency not long after. Soon, one agency became a country-wide chain. That early success sparked a desire to do more, and over the next few decades, Hassan would go on to build the Apex Group of Companies, his own empire, with diverse interests across the US, India and the Middle East. “I am not shy to learn and bold enough to get into a venture if I see an opportunity,” he says. “Lots of people are content with what they have, but I always want to do something exciting, I get bored doing the same thing.”

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Founding the Apex Group

The result is the Apex Group of Companies, a consortium of companies that are leaders in providing business consulting, insurance and financial services, manufacturing, vendor management, equipment supply and logistics to the oil and gas, naval and defense sectors. Headquartered in Houston, Texas, with a regional office in Arlington, Virginia, the Apex Group has a strong worldwide presence, especially in the Middle East, Africa, South Asia and South and Central America. They also maintain a global focus on government agencies and Fortune 500 companies in various industries including defense, safety and security, healthcare, finance, shipbuilding and IT solutions.

“If any companies don’t compliment the other verticals, we sell them,” Hassan says. For instance, the ship building business compliments their interests in the supply chains in the Middle East. In fact, as his dealings there brought him to the upper echelons of local business in the UAE, he was approached by Swiftships, an 80-year-old company that is one of the most distinguished players in the advanced military and commercial vessels sector in the US. “Swiftships wanted to appoint me as a distributor and promoter to sell ships in the Middle East,” Hassan explains. When Swiftships found itself in choppy financial waters, Hassan was requested to look for a funding institution they could partner with – by this time he had gained so much experience in the company’s workings that he stepped up himself. This was a cornerstone moment for Apex, as it firmly established itself in the US’ business landscape.

The company’s reach also extended to Africa and the Caribbean, where Apex RX solutions was involved with the supply of refurbished medical and healthcare equipment. They partnered with companies that had warehouses full of equipment but not enough reach and provided turnkey solutions. If a 200-bed hospital was being built, they would provide all the equipment, from beds to X-Ray machines, and since it was all refurbished, it was much more affordable. “We reactivated that company during Covid when there was a huge need for support,” Hassan explains. They sourced masks, sanitizers and other essentials from China, Thailand, Vietnam and Malaysia to the US, where supermarket chains were running out of supplies. “There was so much shortage that we were unable to cope with the number of orders. Then Covid went away, thankfully and business slowed down but we are always set to reopen this engagement.”

The key, Hassan says, is not just because he wants to have fingers in every pie but because of relationships built over many years. “When people ask for advice, I open up the Rolodex. I am there to support them so when I need the support in return I can always trigger that contact.

Political involvement

Lutfi Hassan, who calls himself a kingmaker, is sure he will never be in politics himself. He started out as a staunch Republican, later switching his alliance to the Democratic Party, with whom he has stood firmly ever since. Still a key leader in President Biden’s Democratic Party, he has been involved in the Presidential campaigns of Bill Clinton, Barack Obama and Joe Biden. He has also been instrumental in mobilising public opinion and raising funds for Hillary Clinton, as well as for other key elected officials across the U S.

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“I actually became a full-blown Democrat when I became involved with President Clinton,” he says. When President Clinton was due to visit India in March 2000, Hassan used his association with him to ensure that Clinton came to Hyderabad instead of Bengaluru. He was also one of the handful of South Asians invited to the Presidential inauguration of President Biden and VP Kamala Harris at Capitol Hill and continues to maintain a close relationship with the VP. He also served as a Presidential appointee on the Central Asian Americans Enterprise Fund.

Strengthening home ties

Lutfi Hassan has played a major role in representing the South Asian community in the US, leveraging his political connections to also strengthen relations between the US and India. He has served on the South Asian American Leadership Council in Washington DC as well. In fact, on Jan 9, 2003, a US flag was flown over the US Capitol by an order of the House of Representatives to honour Lutfi Hassan for his decades of community service. More recently, he served on the board of advisory for South Asians for Biden, mobilising the community to drum up support for the Democratic nominee.

In 2019, he was appointed on the Board of Advisory for the Global Eternal Gandhi Museum, a non-profit that seeks to create an impact by utilising the life, work and teachings of the Mahatma.

Read more about Lutfi Hassan on the Apex Group website