Family Business: Three generations of ‘Alfardan’

‘Alfardan’ is a name synonymous with business in Qatar. Kamahl Santamaria met three generations of the family, and found the original pearl and jewel business is still very much at the heart of their billion dollar empire.

With the huge amounts of cash splashing around Doha these days it would be easy to assume that good old-fashioned business values have been sidelined by the quest for massive acquisitions and expansion plans. But to succeed, those good old-fashioned values need to be at the core of any sort of business, no matter how much money or infl uence you might have. Case in point: the Alfardan family, who I had the pleasure of interviewing recently for Counting the Cost, the business show I host on Al Jazeera English. It is rare to get access to people who are not only high up in the company but are actually ‘the name’, so I was pleasantly surprised to be able to speak to three different generations. What I gleaned from them was an obvious desire to evolve and grow – the family is worth US$3.4 billion (QR12 billion) according to Arabian Business Magazine’s Rich List – but also to never forget where the whole operation came from and that it remains, at heart, a family business. The patriarch is Hussain Alfardan, who effectively saved the business after the pearling industry declined during World War Two. While everyone else went looking for newly created oil jobs in Qatar, Hussain persevered with what he knew – pearls and jewels – and opened a sole jewellery store in Doha, along with a currency exchange. Today there are dozens of such outlets, which still hold the Alfardan name. In interviewing him, I found a man with a true passion for pearls and the original way pearl trading was conducted. He proudly showed me and our viewers how the pearls were sorted, weighed, priced, and taken to market. I almost got the feeling he would be quite happy going back to that sort of humble business, even in the frenetic business world of 2012. So upon meeting his son Ali I expected a more hardened, modern businessman. Make no mistake – he is that man. But the family thread is still there, even for someone in charge of a portfolio, which includes BMW, Rolls Royce, Kempinski Hotels, Chopard and Longines, to name just a few. When speaking of the core jewellery business, he said: “All the others, you could have a system and it’s running. You have management, which you assign – for example, St Regis or Kempinski – and they take care of the management. But this part of our business, your own touches have to always be there. You have to be present there. You cannot have it as a system or management to deal with that. You have to have your input.” As if to underline that, his daughter Noor is having direct input into the company too. Rather than simply join the family business and have to dodge the regular preconceptions of nepotism, Noor went to Sharjah and London and got herself a degree in gemmology. She told me: “I wasn’t just going to go into the company and just continue everything the way it was. I want it to expand, I want it to grow.” The result is ‘Noudar’ – her self-designed Arab-inspired jewellery, which forms part of the Alfardan stable. She is a businesswoman in her own right, but still with strong links to the family. In the end, what I took away from the Alfardans was a sense that the obvious signs of their wealth and business – the marquee brands, the high-rise towers – are a product of what they do, not necessarily the end-goal. Again Ali spoke fondly of the original jewellery business when he said: “This is the most important for us. That’s why we enjoy our business, because of those touches.” And therein lies a lesson for anyone in business – enjoy what you do, and it will never truly feel like work.

Kamahl Santamaria is a Doha-based news anchor with Al Jazeera English and host of the channel’s business and economics programme Counting the Cost.

This article first appeared in TheEDGE 4.4, April 2012.


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