Ihab Shahawi is the founder and CEO of The SAILS Group, Inc. an international agency committed to the quality of care, supervision and training of adults and children with intellectual and developmental disabilities. An expert in his field, Mr. Shahawi has applied his learned business acumen to the assistance of developmentally and intellectually challenged individuals. The result has been a unique, scalable system and philosophy, as exemplified by The SAILS Group, yielding a 99 percent success rate among individuals placed. Success is measured by improvement in overall well being, reduction in inappropriate behavior, and an increase in skills and appropriate behavior.
Born in Cairo, Egypt, Mr. Shahawi immigrated to New York City with his family at the young age of seven. Four years later they relocated to New Jersey, where Mr. Shahawi stayed until his last year of high school, which he finished upon moving to Southern California. Mr. Shahawi attended U.C.L.A. for college, graduating in 1984 with a Bachelors of Arts degree in Psychology and a minor in Economics. It was there that he completed a senior project on behavior modification with autistic children under the supervision of Dr. Ivar Lovaas, the foremost authority on autism at the time.
After graduation, Mr. Shahawi trained with Dr. Lovaas, and gained valuable experience working with developmentally challenged children despite difficulty finding work in the field. After pursuing several business ventures including insurance, investments, real estate and international trading, he was drawn back to his initial mission; with goals resolidified, he was able to secure a position at I.A.B.A. (The Institute for Applied Behavior Analysis). For two years, he assisted in running adult Supported Living and adult Supported Employment divisions in the Los Angeles area. The basis of his philosophy was formed at I.A.B.A., where he learned how to run operations from the ground up.
After testing his theories in a large facility and working as a consultant for various homes, Mr. Shahawi felt that he had gained the necessary experience to succeed independently in his field. He applied through the Request for Proposal process with Kern Regional Center and was awarded two CPP specialized homes, which became The SAILS Group I and II. These first two The SAILS Group homes were opened in Bakersfield in 1996, and remain in operation to date.
Mr. Shahawi’s founding of The SAILS Group was born from his strong belief (nurtured by experience) that the most difficult-to-serve individuals — developmentally and intellectually disabled teenagers — could be helped with proper structure and support. His signature approach involves positive and rewards-based techniques that help individuals learn basic skills, build self-esteem, and ultimately change their behavior for the better. This niche was an ideal starting point for an agency that has grown rapidly but consistently at a rate of roughly two facilities per year. Today, The SAILS Group serves children and adults as well as teenagers.
To deal with the steady climb in staff, resources and facilities, Mr. Shahawi went on to earn a Master’s degree in Psychology, along with an MBA from the UCLA Anderson School of Business and an international MBA from the National University of Singapore in 2010. Armed with new knowledge operating large-sized businesses, Mr. Shahawi has helped The SAILS Group expand internationally: to date, The SAILS Group has opened a nonprofit branch in Colombia, which serves 60 children, and is in the process of expanding in Orange County, CA, Kansas, and Michigan. The company will number at 50 or more facilities in 2016, and is exploring options in the Middle East and U.K. for further acquisitions and projects.
Unlike contemporaries in his field, who are primarily physicians, Mr. Shahawi has used an entrepreneurial outlook to model and scale his company’s services. This venture-oriented mentality has driven The SAILS Group to provide strategies that are not only effective, but able to be replicated and expanded successfully. He believes that the system, if followed correctly and passionately, can work with almost everyone in the niche it serves. Mr. Shahawi is driven rather than deterred by difficulty, and has found success with some of the most behaviorally challenging individuals in the state of California.
A family-oriented man, Mr. Shahawi considers The SAILS Group a family business at heart. Since 2002, he has split duties with his wife Vivian, who runs the day-to-day operations while he handles project development and administration. Mr. Shahawi credits the growth of the company to this partnership, and now counts his oldest daughter and son among The SAILS Group as part of the compliance team, which trains employees to adhere to the company philosophy and operational design.
Mr. Shahawi is also the Managing member of the Legacy Holding Company, which provides project consultation on alternative energy, sustainable construction and other organic, earth-friendly products. He has been the recipient of various achievement awards, including the Who’s Who in California Businessmen “Golden State Award” in 1990 and the Metropolitan Who’s Who “Healthcare Executive of the Year” in 2006.