Ahmed Fitaihi: A jewel of a man
To see Ahmed Hassan Fitaihi the first time I simply walked into a small shop in Qabel Street in downtown Al-Balad. It had already got a big reputation as one of the oldest jewelry shops in the country. Fitaihi had become synonymous with superior but expensive jewelry studded with diamonds or just plain diamonds. He was standing behind one of the showcases attending to customers who were mainly women with expensive cars waiting outside despite traffic police vigilance in a street that was then the main shopping street in the country’s commercial center.
A few minutes later he escorted me to his main office in the Queen’s building not far from the shop. It had become the city’s newest office address as it was then the finest there was. There he talked about his business and his career expressing surprise that I was writing, without a tape recorder, in English while he was speaking in Arabic. I told him that way I was saving time for with a few words here and there I could prepare my story the same day, especially if I was typing because I knew what I was scribbling due to my bad handwriting. He smiled and continued to speak in very good Arabic and with confidence developed over the years he spent first with his father, the pioneer of the trade, and then alone as one of the leaders of the industry.
Since then we have met many times in his jewel of a building, the Fitaihi Center on Madina Road as you drive to the city center. It was so marvelous that the owner of the National Commercial Bank Sheikh Salem bin Mahffod was impressed enough to assure him of his full backing if he needed it.
Sheikh Ahmed was born in 1942 in Jeddah in a family of jewelers extending back several generations, which is still producing topnotch makers and traders in fine jewelry. One of the reasons of his success he told me is the willingness of his company to take back and refund any piece that the customer complains of and has a genuine reason to return after sale. That is the kind of reputation that comes with being in the business since 1887 when the founder started dealing in silver and some gold.
His Madinah Road shop of several stories is a luxury department complex that is spotlessly clean, almost gleaming in every corner from high priced diamonds to bed sheets and bathrobes, all quality products. In 1964, he and his father established a limited liability company under the name of Fitaihi and Son. In 1984, the company opened the first department store in the Kingdom, which according to the biodata, “permanently defined the family name of Fitaihi as a provider of luxury goods and services to the elite.”
The group followed with a second department store in Riyadh, followed by a series of showrooms all over the country.
A special occasion was the time Fitaihi was mentioned in the Guinness World Record Book when Sheikh Ahmed acquired in 1995 the world’s second largest diamond, the Star of the Season which weighs just over l00 carats.
It was then worth several million dollars. It was no secret deal since the news was flashed all over the world by agencies and not denied by Sheikh Ahmed. It is probably worth much more today since such diamonds are rare and are not often offered for sale by auction.
Carrying the tradition of the family, his son Mohammed opened a subsidiary called Fitaihi Junior on his own while remaining a board member of the Fitaihi holding company.
The holding company was transformed into a public share holding company and in 2003, Fitaihi opened the first outlet in the country run by women. Mohammed introduced Baby Fitaihi targeting newborns and children. Since most of the customers are women alone or women accompanied by men it stands to reason that they would shop for jewelry for their babies. It was good planning I thought.
The idea for a top class hospital in Jeddah must have occurred to Sheikh Ahmed when his son Dr. Alwaleed graduated from the United States or maybe it was suggested to him by Alwaleed himself during his studies.
Both father and son worked together to create the International Medical Center in Jeddah, which has become arguably the best of its kind in the country, according to specialists I have talked to as well as specialists in children’s health, women’s health, pain and headache management, diabetes, plastic surgery, dermatology and musculoskeletal ailments.