Ahmed Al-Juffali who supplied electricity to Jeddah residents
When I first rented a house in Jeddah, the landlord asked me to go to a company to get electricity connection and pay a certain fee. I was surprised because I had never taken up a house on rent and also because power connections abroad were in the hands of the government. So I went to an office owned by Al-Juffali, paid the fee and got the connection after which everything went smoothly. I encountered no trouble except when I misplaced the bill and power was cut off without prior notice. Disconnection used to be done in those days by pulling out two plugs from a panel placed outside the house. At present the government is more tolerant and allows the customer more time to remember where he might have misplaced the bill. Restoration of service now is normally fast, that is, the same day unlike in the past when it used to take longer.
After I got the power connection, I wanted to learn more about the company which was in charge of supplying power to the city. I was keen to meet the man behind the whole thing, Sheikh Ahmed Ibrahim Al-Juffali, who also owned the dealership for Mercedes Benz. Owning a Mercedes car was at one time one of my fondest dreams.
I was, in those days, conducting weekly interviews with people who mattered in all fields in the private sector, especially those with whom I could give and take. Ahmed was one of them. So I called him up and within a few minutes we agreed on a date, time and place.
We met in his gleaming new building on Madinah Road while he was giving the final touches to his empire, famed for its modernity and organizational skills. He knew it all and of course every senior person in the company since he was instrumental in its construction and founded and guided the whole enterprise from its inception.
He was born in Oneiza in Najd, the central part of the Kingdom, into a prominent family, and he had a flair for entrepreneurship or business acumen that some people seem to have from the beginning which helps them build their business empire. Ahmed was blessed, like many such successful people, with fine, well-educated children who carry on their mantle after their departure. This explains his astonishing success in building the first power utility in the country which surprised me when I went there to request an electricity connection.
From then onward, it was smooth sailing for him as he entered into partnership with some of the reputable multinational corporations including IBM, Siemens, Ericsson, Mercedes Benz, Michelin, Massey Ferguson, Electrolux, Kelvinator, Carrier, Dow Chemicals, DuPont and Butler and many others.
Sheikh Ahmed remembered it all by heart. He narrated to me the history of his company with ease since he oversaw the whole thing from its inception until he died in l994. He was survived by his wife, daughter and three sons of whom I knew Waleed through his open-house meetings in the compound of his house not far from the head office where he would smoke the hubble bubble or sheeshah and drink tea by the mug. He too was knowledgeable and exceedingly pleasant and easy to talk to. His other sons are Khaled and Tarek. Sadly Tarek died in 2006. At present the Tarek Ahmed Al-Juffali foundation is registered in the Bahamas and based in Beirut providing support to individuals, charities and nonprofit organizations in various areas, providing food, shelter, health care and education.
I do not venture to guess the wealth of those I meet because usually they do not like to boast about their riches although some of them actually are worth several billion riyals or dollars. But Juffali is certainly one of the top 10 companies in the Kingdom and the Arab world and was said to be one of the richest in the Middle East during the lifetime of its founder. It may be even bigger now since the company is certainly flourishing by all accounts.
From the Juffali website:
Since the late 1940’s, Juffali has played a major role in the development of Saudi Arabia. It has introduced many new quality products, as well as innovative services and advanced technologies to the country. It continually seeks to broaden its markets and in addition to a variety of business interests, Juffali has committed itself to training Saudi youth for various areas of employment.
One of Juffali’s first major projects was to help develop Saudi Arabia’s infrastructure through the building of electric power utilities. Moving on from there, its activities extended into telecommunications, transportation, information technology and air-conditioning, as well as many other products and services.
These undertakings enhanced Saudi Arabia’s economic life and the prosperity of its people. Today, activities of the Juffali Group include manufacturing, engineering and construction, as well as distribution and service.