In 1960 at the age of 16, I joined a big British company in Aden as an apprentice, copy typist. After 15 months I was doing everything; including drafting letters for my boss, keeping stocks, going for delivery, attending to customers, booking orders, anything I could do. I made myself indispensable and when I submitted my resignation in 1961, management offered me a quadruple increase in salary to retain me.
However, I left in 1961 for a diploma course and returned after 1 year to take charge of our floundering family business; which I was able to fix with dedication, discipline and support of my family in 2 years’ time. We never looked back. Reliability, dependability and integrity was my password and our first label also carried this inscription. At the age of 20, I was recognized as an accomplished businessman.
In 1972, I volunteered to go to Hodeida and set up a new family business, which I felt was vital for our family’s well-being. A family friend of ours who was the agent for Givaudan in Aden, entrusted us with the distribution of Givaudan perfumes in Yemen. We faced many challenges from copiers and smugglers; but by His Grace managed to prevail and make the business successful. We were general traders, but in a year’s time perfume became our main business.
Givaudan was pleased with our performance and offered us to pack their products for the whole GCC region. I went to Geneva in July 1974, and after some very tough negotiations I was able to sign a deal. To honour our collaboration we decided to keep Swiss Arabian as the name of the new company to be set up in Dubai.
The fact that my father had done perfume business encouraged us to go into it. Our telegraphic address long before we entered into perfume business was “Perfumers.” In Yemen we used to make our own handmade bakhoor. We have always had a strong cultural connection to fragrances and when the opportunity came we grabbed it.
In September 1974, I visited Dubai, and with good reference, it was far easier to obtain a license, telephone, telex, telegraphic address and a lease for the factory in just 5 days. Like any other business, the formative years were full of challenges, but I managed to overcome them with dedication, persistence and strong will. Thus, the first perfume manufacturing company in the UAE was born.
The culture was everyone had to contribute and do everything they could to keep the staff cost and overheads as low as possible. We worked like a family and built Swiss Arabian to where it is today because of the very strong foundation. I drove a Nissan 140 and in the first few years used it not only for my family, but also to deliver goods personally to our distributor in Dubai in the evening. I also used to clean my office and carried cartons on my shoulder to set an example for others.
I hope the culture we are trying to inculcate today is also that of a family: caring and do whatever is necessary to retain the loyalty of our staff. We will continue to work in a fair and sincere manner. This goes true for our customers as well, since they are the ones who nurture and support us. Our relationship with some of them dates back to 44 years and we still have to walk together on the long journey ahead.
While I am still at the helm, our operations are ably directed by my sons Nabeel and Nader. The 3rd generation has begun to join the business and I hope they will continue to carry forward the values that built this company.
After 44 years Swiss Arabian has become a household name. The testament to that is, in 2018 it had been nominated for:
1) GCC Best Employer Brand,
2) GCC Govt. HR Award for best Happiness Initiative in private sector,
3) Swiss Arabian and Sapil have been voted Super brands 2019;
None of which would have been possible without the relentless support of our stakeholders- for which I am eternally grateful.