Sheikh A.L. Jameel: The man behind Toyota in Saudi Arabia
HE was one of the most famous businessmen of the Kingdom, as he is now, when I met him for an interview for this newspaper in the 1980s. He was a leading entrepreneur by virtue of being the sole agent for Toyota brand in the Kingdom, which was then and now the premier car brand in Japan and one of the leading brands in the world.
Sheikh Abdul Latif Jameel was a modest person to the core despite being a prominent entrepreneur. He was seated in a simple chair in his old office by the Palestine Bridge when I met him for the interview. Later, he moved his office to the new location near the old airplane at Prince Majed Street. By the time he shifted to the new premises his company had grown to be one of the largest family-owned corporations in the Kingdom. His children had graduated and he had established and financed a business school at graduate level attached to the American University in Cairo, which was one of the prestigious colleges in the Middle East.
His own children led by his eldest son Mohammed are now in charge of numerous businesses and magnificently organized charities plus job creating enterprises that attract the attention and admiration not only of Saudis but the Arab world in general.
Sheikh Abdul Latif spoke about his humble beginning in the car business of which he had known very little. When I asked him how he started his business he smiled and said he was at first attracted by the Toyota four-wheel jeep style all purpose cars but because he had not enough money he ordered four of them and won the agency for all the Toyota cars.
That was a huge success and he had probably not imagined that one day it will become the cornerstone of his empire. Since I had known the famous British Land Rover all terrain vehicle I asked him about any similarities but he said his first cars were similar to the American jeep that had played a great role during the World War II and won plaudits then and since. He smiled when he told me that the four vehicles took time to sell so he did not import more, until he gathered enough money for a second order.
Within a few years Toyota had become a great name to be reckoned with competing with much older models specially American ones. The British models had been eased out of the Saudi market as well as from most other markets except a few former British colonies whose armies were dependent on the Land Rover.
When I first met Sheikh Abdul Latif he was importing and selling over a quarter million Toyota vehicles a year making him one of the largest importers of the landmark Japanese car in the world and certainly in Saudi Arabia and the rest of the Gulf.
One would assume that as more roads were constructed fewer four-wheel Toyotas were being sold but that was not necessarily the case. With the opening of new roads all purpose vehicles were sold in good number which could go anywhere and open up better roads as they drove deep into the interior.
Since our meeting the Abdul Latif Jameel company has been importing the beautiful four-wheel drive cruiser. Others followed suit and now the Gulf countries including Saudi Arabia seem to be inundated with them either as first or second cars, even luxury saloons which would not have even contemplated making four-wheel drives are making them with greater enthusiasm bringing to them the grace and beauty of the origin versions, European and American ones.
Toyota Land Cruiser is a series of four-wheel drive vehicles produced by the Japanese car maker Toyota Motor Corporation. The Land Cruiser series is the longest running series in Toyota history.
Development of the first generation Land Cruiser began in 1951 as Toyota's version of a jeep-like vehicle and production started in 1954.
The Land Cruiser has been produced in convertible, hardtop, station wagon, and utility truck versions. The Land Cruiser's reliability and longevity has led to huge popularity, especially in Australia where it is the best-selling full-size, body-on-frame, four-wheel drive vehicle.
Toyota also extensively tests the Land Cruiser in the Australian outback — considered to be one of the toughest operating environments in both temperature and terrain. Main rivals include the Range Rover, Land Rover Discovery, Mitsubishi Pajero and Nissan Patrol.
The following information has been derived from the company site:
“Community services programs are among the most important initiatives adopted by the company since the early efforts of Sheikh Abdul Latif Jameel, may Allah rest him in peace, who actively contributed to different social programs.
“How we started ALJCI is not a new entity. Instead, it started in the early days of Abdul Latif Jameel Company, by sponsoring several local events, supporting certain government projects, launching cultural competitions and other diversified initiatives. By the end of 2002, the company introduced an initiative by creating job opportunities through launching the Taxi Ownership initiative. The first group of unemployed young males received 10 cars. The initiative proved to be very successful.
“In the beginning of 2003, Abdul Latif Jameel Professional and Vocational Rehabilitation Initiative was announced, and the initiative began to offer interest-free loans to candidates who were interested in receiving training for certain professions.
“In the same year, the Saudi Red Crescent Society Development initiative was announced in the Makkah area. In mid 2003, Abdul Latif Jameel Community Initiative (ALJCI) was formally started, and all initiatives implemented by ALJ Company were housed under the new AlJCI umbrella.
“Our Goals: Assisting young Saudi males and females to obtain job opportunities:
• To provide training initiatives which are supported with interest-free loans.
• To cooperate with government and private sectors to alleviate poverty and reduce levels of
• To design initiatives in cooperation with certain authorities to solve pressing problems in specific
areas of the community.
• To support small businesses and to assist the owners to achieve and develop their project.”
n Farouk Luqman is an eminent journalist based in Jeddah.