Haji Yusuf bin Ahmed Kanoo
BY VICKY MCFARLANE
It was Bahrain in the year 1890, the glittering waters of our beautiful Island Kingdom were filled with pearling dhows from throughout the Gulf. The young 22-year-old, Haji Yusuf bin Ahmed Kanoo, had just taken the reigns of his small family shop from his Father, and the young entrepreneur was thinking of ways to grow his humble family business. At that time the economy was almost totally based on fishing, pearl diving, and boat building. Dates, fish, and meat were plentiful, however, most other foodstuffs and supplies were imported.
The young businessman saw that importing was lucrative and thus set about chartering a boat in order to trade in commodities such as spices, rice, tea and timber along the coasts of South-west India, Kenya and Zanzibar. When Haji Yusuf chartered that first boat, he laid the foundation of an empire that would become one of the largest most successful and respected family business conglomerates in the entire Gulf region. He also set in motion a massive diversification strategy that would engage the Yusuf Bin Ahmed Kanoo Group founder until his death in December 1945.
From humble beginnings, the business expanded beyond the borders of Bahrain to Saudi Arabia in the 1930’s, and in the early 1960s to Abu Dhabi, Dubai, and Sharjah. Offices were established throughout the Arab world, and in Europe, Australia, and the United States, among others, however the Yusuf Bin Ahmed Group remains a name that is synonymous with Bahrain. The Group is ingrained in the fabric of Bahrain’s social and business culture, and continues to be an important center for its activities.
He was a faithful man who encouraged his family to “fear God, be firm but fair and be kind to those weaker than oneself”
Today, over 120 years later, the Yusuf Bin Ahmed Kanoo Group of Companies is one of the most successful and trusted family conglomerates in the region with a myriad of businesses across a wide range of industries. This includes shipping, a division that went on to challenge the monopoly of long established British companies and has become the largest regional shipping agency in the Middle East. Kanoo Travel has also climbed to new heights, becoming the first IATA agency in the Gulf and the first travel company in the Middle East to receive an ISO certification. The Group also works in machinery, logistics, property, oil and gas, power and industrial projects, industrial chemicals, training, joint ventures, retail and commercial activities, amongst others.
Realising success and sustaining it for more than a century in a rapidly changing business world, while also supporting the progress and development of an entire region is what makes the Kanoo story legendary. Haji Yusuf was not only a wise visionary who could steer the company through the complicated challenges of evolving socio-economic and political changes, he was a transformational leader who underscored the importance of planning and doing the ‘right’ thing. He was a faithful man who encouraged his family to “fear God, be firm but fair and be kind to those weaker than oneself”. This deeply held set of values anchored in Islamic culture and law is at the heart of the Group’s success.
Haji Yusuf’s unmatched vigor and work ethic has lead the company contributing heavily to the evolution and development of the entire region. With emphasis on quality and excellence in business, Yusuf Bin Ahmed Kanoo companies have seen success, growth and strength for over a century. The family values, which have shaped the lifestyles and attitude of the Kanoo family members have served as a great inspiration in the way they conduct business to this day. Yusuf Bin Ahmed Kanoo Group of Companies has clear vision through which the company is “proud of yesterday; committed to today; confident of tomorrow”.
Their business mission looks intently at: investment in technology, investment in their people, investment in national development, providing quality support to all their divisions and joint-ventures and systematic reviews of their business activities in order to adapt quickly to market forces. The commitment to their core values, which are implemented throughout their business, and the company’s formidable vision and mission has ultimately resulted in Yusuf Bin Ahmed Kanoo Group of Companies becoming a pioneering business establishment.
“Our bottom line is not profit, but the human factor”
While Haji Yusuf Bin Ahmed Kanoo was widely known for his monumental success in business, he was also conscious about giving back to society and invested in various philanthropic ventures. In November of 1912, Haji Yusuf and Sheikh Abdul Wahab Zayyani were appointed to deliver a donation of 104,000 rupees to Constantinople, which had been raised by the ruler of Bahrain – at the time – Sheikh Isa Bin Ali Al Khalifa and the Bahraini people for the Red Crescent Society.
Haji Yusuf was also one of the first few people to support the idea of forming a municipality in Manama and in 1917 he aided his close friend, Mohamed Ali Zainal Alireza, to establish the first private school for boys, Al Falah.
Furthermore, the Haji Yusuf’s noble character also earned him the role of settling disputes amongst people, sometimes even outside of Bahrain. On one such occasion, he was requested to travel to the United Arab Emirates, as the Emirate of Ras Al Khaimah, two tribes were in conflict over a water-well. He set sail to Sharjah, as he wanted to meet with both tribes before coming to an agreement over the situation. His journey was not an easy one as he fell from his camel en route to Ras Al Khaimah and decided to not travel any further, but to settle the disagreement from that very point. To this day there is a monument marked Nidd Kanoo, (Kanoo’s Rise) to mark the occasion.
In his book published in 2000 “The House of Kanoo: A Century of an Arabian Family Business”, Group Managing Director and Deputy Chairman, Saudi Arabia, Khalid Mohamed Kanoo, said: ‘…the young will respect their elders and elders will be kind to the young.’ This, in conjunction with self-discipline, living decently without extravagance, and serving both community and country is our family’s basic credo.” Proving that doing ‘good’ really is good for business, he added: “…more than studying macroeconomics and political risk. Our bottom line is not profit, but the human factor…. You have to win people’s hearts to sustain longevity.” And that really is the definition of success.
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