Saleh Kamel: Founder of Dallah Albaraka
Sheikh Saleh Abdullah Kamel is the president of Saudi Chambers of Commerce and Industry and one of the best-known businessmen of the country. He is as well a member of several bodies and commissions and has been in the public eye for over four decades. He is also chairman of the General Council of Islamic Banks. Even at 70 years he is still active despite his age-related problems which in any case are not grave. Probably he is best known for his famous Dallah Albaraka conglomerate situated along Makkah Road in a building all it’s own.
That was where I met him after he called me for a chat amid a British uproar about his decision to enter the banking sector there. Despite earlier concerns whether he was abiding by British laws on transparency, the government and the press were later convinced that he was following the right procedures.
He received me in his office in the building without much fanfare as he was practically alone working late in the evening with only a skeleton staff on the same floor. But it was a chance for me to talk to him about various matters since he was not easily accessible then for interviews. He is now much easier to talk to or to ask questions because he is available almost every other day in the Saudi press which covers his frequent meetings and attendance.
Since he is an excellent speaker and a knowledgeable man in various spheres it is always a pleasure for reporters to attend to him and report what he says. He has a degree in business administration from King Abdul Aziz University in Jeddah and is so widely read that he is rated as one of the best-informed businessmen in the country and certainly in the Arab world.
Sheikh Saleh was born in Taif and started business quite early in life, in fact during his college years by borrowing money for a copying machine early in the 1970s and selling copies to classmates and others when copying machines were popular but not cheap to buy. So he managed to make some money with which he moved on to other pursuits.
As a born entrepreneur he obviously noticed a trend and plenty of opportunities for business growth. With the Kingdom launching its huge five years plan in 1974 and oil prices rising to unprecedented heights the road was open for anyone wanting to do business — like Sheikh Saleh Abdullah Kamel.
Right from the beginning Sheikh Saleh was recognized for his daring ideas, and soon enough for his big companies from which sprang Dallah Albaraka and his wonderful seaside city called Durra Alarous meaning the jewel of the bride .The bride is Jeddah.
In an interview with this newspaper of Aug. 10, 2012 he estimated the total value of Islamic zakat in the Kingdom at SR 1 trillion. “Such a huge amount could be used to solve many economic and social problems in the country.” He said that people should pay zakat for real estate properties that have been offered for sale. “We Muslims should understand the economic wisdom behind the system if we collect and use zakat properly for it can bring about substantial improvement in our economic conditions. If we had collected zakat from real estate property we would not have faced housing or land problems.” He recalled discussing this matter with German Chancellor Angela Merkel. "I can tell you," he said that Islamic economics offers solutions for world problems.” Referring to global economic crises he said they would not have occurred if we had implemented an Islamic Hadith by the holy Prophet which says, “Do not sell what you do not own or possess.”
In l982 he founded his flagship Dallah Albaraka an investment group including commercial, financial, tourism, banking, media, real estate and other pursuits too vast and too varied to enumerate here. He undertook some huge contracts in post, telegraph and telephones as well as municipal cleaning contracts that he agreed to carry out when others demurred. Naturally he was not always successful and some projects had to be abandoned or reduced in size. But overall he was doing fine and continued to make money on a big scale since he was more competitive than others specially foreign companies which at times would quote 10 times more than he would.
In one interview he revealed the origin of the name Dallah the nickname for Abdullah as it is known in the western region. “My grandmother,” he said "Used to call my father Dallah, so I used the name for my big company.”
He recognized early in his career the attraction of the media and satellite television production so he went on to establish ART which he owns as well as has partnership with the famous MBC television which competes with the other great company Al Jazeera of Qatar.
n Farouk Luqman is an eminent journalist based in Jeddah.