Most family businesses today have never-ending conflicts and a race to superiority. At Al-Sayer, one person’s accomplishment is everyone’s achievement. When you talk to any member of the family, you notice that they first represent their family name, then their first name. As if they are reminding you that one’s family name was written nine months before one’s given name. Here we narrate the story behind the solid unity that is the Al-Sayer family and business.
One hundred and nine years ago:
Mohammad Nasser Al-Sayer’s first son, Bader, was born in 1902 and his last, Nasser, in 1929. In between there were eleven further children, each of whom lost their lives during the plague of 1931 which cost half the Kuwaiti population their lives. For Al-Sayer, this devastating event served only to bring the family closer together; a relationship that continues through to this third generation of today.
Fifty six years ago:
Nasser was a dedicated student. He first enrolled in Al-Anjari private school, and then moved to Al-Mubarakiya and Qibla government schools where he finished his intermediate education this was the highest level of education available in Kuwait at that time.
He did, however, recognize the importance of mastering the English language, a knowledge he pursued through two teachers Hashim Al Qina’i and Israel (a Christian of Iraqi descent). His deep interest in furthering his education led him to join his elder brother, the late Bader Al-Sayer, who had set up a business in Manama, Bahrain. The twenty-seven year age difference between the two brothers effectively established Bader a father -like figure and mentor for his younger brother Nasser. While in Bahrain Bader taught him the key principles of business while Nasser was continued his education in the English, Persian and Urdu languages.
At the age of twenty-five Nasser returned to Kuwait and prepared to open his own office in the New Street (the current location of Central Bank of Kuwait). He imported two Skoda cars in 1954 but found little interest for them other than from amongst the small number of Armenians then living in Kuwait. He continued to write to other companies until he saw a magazine advertisement for Toyota.
One of Nasser’s main passions was hunting, and he was very impressed by the sight a Land Cruiser he saw in the Reader’s Digest magazine. He imported three vehicles in 1954, one for him, one for his brother and one for his father. By the time the vehicles were shipped to Kuwait Nasser had received an offer for the cars at triple their original price, and through this offer he ended up selling them to the Department of Public Works.
Nasser was convinced of the exceptional capabilities of the vehicle, and saw a promising future for the model in the region. He took the decision to travel to Japan seeking Toyota’s approval to handle their representation in the region. This was a brave venture, and one without precedent in the region.
It’s worth recalling just how different Kuwait was those years ago. In 1955 there were only three international airlines servicing Kuwait Airport, and the British Bank of the Middle East was the only bank in Kuwait. Nasser Al-Sayer remembers: “I arrived in Cairo carrying a bag containing about $50,000 cash. I met with my friends Mohamed Al-Adwani and Abdulatif Al-Thuwaini in the hotel. I told them of my desire to go to Japan, which was surprising to them. Al Thuwaini told me it is not safe to stay in the hotel with such an amount of money. So we moved to an apartment”. He added, “Then I had to go back to Kuwait to resume my trip to Tokyo through different destinations including Karachi, Calcutta, Bangkok, Seoul and Taipei. This took forty -five hours and was very painstaking and exhausting, some of the journey being by helicopter as they were a common aircraft used for travel then”.
On his arrival in Japan for the first time, “I was greeted by Toyota officials at the airport. It was a wonderful feeling. I visited their 4WD vehicles and truck plants. We struck a deal appointing me their dealer for Kuwait, East Saudi Arabia, Dubai, Qatar, Bahrain and Lebanon. I ordered six more Land Cruiser units”, says Nasser Al-Sayer.
In the same year:
Nasser set up a partnership with his brother Bader in 1955, the establishment marked their determination towards the development of their business with Toyota. Bader proved an ideal partner for his brother Nasser, and it was their combined experience and collective relationships which put them on the path to continued success and greater achievements ever since. Today the business is mainly across the two sectors of automotives and real-estate.
Forty-four years ago:
In 1967 Bader Al-Sayer died at the age of 65 leaving behind him three sons, Faisal, Musaed and Sayer. His soul left his body but his spirit is clearly visible through the continuation of his work ethic, love and wisdom exhibited by his children and through the mentoring of their uncle, Nasser. It was Nasser’s farsighted decision to ensure the company shares would split evenly, and he saw to it that Faisal Al-Sayer was appointed as Vice Chairman.
Twenty one years ago:
The Iraqi invasion took place, and Al-Sayer businesses was affected as were all Kuwaiti merchants. Again, Al-Sayer took this potentially devastating event to grow stronger. On liberation they made the decision to diversify their businesses and expanding in the region, spreading their wings as far as they could.
Al-Sayer Projects Company was found, focusing mainly on the region and having 80% of their investments outside of Kuwait. This entity has four arms, investments, industries, real-estate and franchise.
Fourteen years ago:
Al-Sayers’s continuing commitment to excellence was recognized in 1997, when MNSS received the ISO 9001 (for both Group Service and Parts) thereby achieving unprecedented breakthrough in the middle east as the first Lexus / Toyota distributor in the region to achieve such certification. Al-Sayer has built its businesses on superior customer services, earning one of the highest reputations for quality in the region.
Six years ago:
Al-Sayer group celebrated their 50th anniversary in 2005. “It is a 50 year journey for many people, but for me it is the quest for self-exploration and identification of one’s potential for living up to challenge and endurance” said Nasser Al-Sayer
When you enter Al-Sayer offices, you are surrounded by the young bloods of the Al-Sayer family, each and every one carrying on the work that Bader and Nasser started fifty six years back. Today Nasser sits as the chairman of this group, and the second generation make up the board members and top management team. The third generation are spread across daily operations of all businesses falling under the group’s umbrella.
Today, Al-Sayer Group deals in automotive, insurance and brokerage, general trading and contracting, soft drinks manufacture, holds a variety of franchises, has an animal feed factory, and is a distributor for tires, oils and paints. Their sister-company Al-Sayer International covers other GCC countries.
First published in Men's Passion issue #28 February 2011