Saif Al Ghurair: Pearl guard to tycoon

Saif Al Ghurair, Emirati, Saif bin Ahmed Al Ghurair, Mashreq bank
As he expressed his condolences, His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, shared on Twitter this photo of Saif Al Ghurair seen with the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan.

As Dubai grew from a pearl diving hub to one of the world's greatest cosmopolitan cities, Al Ghurair's fortunes grew, too.

By Waheed Abbas

Published: Tue 27 Aug 2019, 9:00 PM

Last updated: Wed 28 Aug 2019, 9:42 PM

Emirati business tycoon Saif bin Ahmed Al Ghurair, who passed away at the age of 95 on Tuesday, started out as a teenager when he got involved in the family business of pearl diving. He would spend up to four months at a time at sea, living off rice, dates and fish. As the nokhada, or owner's representative on board, one of Saif's most important duties was to safeguard the pearls which he would place in a small wooden box inside a compartment on top of which he slept.
As Dubai grew from a pearl diving hub to one of the world's greatest cosmopolitan cities, Al Ghurair's fortunes grew, too. Founder of Al Ghurair Group, his business expands into retail, manufacturing, banking and real estate.
Saif owned significant shares in Mashreq bank, National Cement Company, Nippon Steel & Sumitomo Metal. Saif's Taghleef Industries is one of the largest manufacturers of polypropylene films, used in food packaging and lamination. Ranked 1,349 in the list of billionaires by Forbes, his real-time net wealth was estimated at $1.7 billion on August 27, 2019.
Al Ghurair was born in Deira on the shores of Dubai Creek in 1924. He was the eldest of five sons born to Ahmed Al Ghurair.
By the 1930s, the emergence of cultured pearls from Japan made pearl diving a far less lucrative business and the family branched into trading. The small pearling boats were reconditioned for longer voyages and heavier loads and they began taking dates from Iraq to Africa and India, from where they would return with textiles and teak logs for boat building.
One stormy voyage
Later, gold was added to the cargo as Dubai became an important centre for trade in the precious metal. During one stormy voyage to India, the wind and water lashed into Saif's face, causing agonising irritation in one eye. "When I got to India it was hurting so much that I went to the doctor to stop the pain. He said he could stop the pain, but that I would lose my eye. I told him to stop the pain. Thank God it was only one eye!"
Al Ghurair Group
Saif established Al Ghurair Group in 1960 to bring together the family's diverse and expanding business interests in a fast-growing Dubai. Under his stewardship, the group diversified into numerous business lines, including retail, manufacturing and real estate.
Each venture was assessed based on its ability to contribute to the growth of the group and that of the Dubai economy - a model that served both stakeholders extremely well.
Saif also drilled into his employees the importance of customer service. "The core of (the group's) success has always lied in its winning corporate culture; that promotes growth and fosters innovation, and in its customer-driven strategy, that is guided by quality, creative solutions, and a non-stop search for better ways to serve our clients."
Born to be a businessman
>Born in Deira in 1924
>Founder of Al Ghurair Group
>Ranked 1,349 in the global list of billionaires
>$1.7 billion assets as of August 27, 2019
>Held shares in Mashreq bank, Nippon Steel
>Owner of Taghleef Industries
Businessmen pay tribute to saif, call him pillar of Dubai's economy
>Khalaf Ahmad Al Habtoor, founding chairman of Al Habtoor Group
"This was the death of a good man, a pillar of Dubai's economy, the Arab Rockefeller. May God have mercy on him, and give his family patience and solace."
>Hamad Buamim, president and CEO of Dubai Chamber of Commerce and Industry
"As a pioneering and prominent businessman, Saif Al Ghurair contributed greatly in shaping the role of Dubai Chamber. He was a visionary who played a crucial role in growing Dubai's economy and positioning the emirate as a global business hub. Al Ghurair leaves behind an inspiring legacy that will remain a big part of Dubai's success story."
>Abdullah Sultan Al Owais, chairman of Sharjah Chamber of Commerce and Industry
"The UAE lost one of the most prominent businessmen, whose investments in real estate, banking and manufacturing sectors largely contributed to supporting our wise leadership's efforts to establish a competitive economy, build a national industry, diversify sources of income and enhance the country's global reputation."
>Dr Habib Al Mulla, executive chairman of Baker & McKenzie Habib Al Mulla
"Saif was from a generation of business leaders who founded Dubai's economic renaissance under the late Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum."
>Osama Al Rahma, vice-chairman of Foreign Exchange and Remittance Group
"His phenomenal journey from humble beginnings to becoming one of UAE's most prominent business leaders is one that will continue to inspire generations to come. We have lost an iconic personality and a great human being."
>Saif Al Midfa, CEO of Sharjah Expo Centre
"Saif was a role model, who proved the UAE's citizens' efficiency in the business sector. He had a unique vision in the private sector, which was reflected in his plans that contributed to enhancing the country's global position as a successful model for investment and flexible business environment."

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