The Olayan Family

Last year was a brilliant year for Saudi conglomerate Olayan, owned by the Olayan family. Smart investments across a range of sectors saw the family’s coffers bulge by some $4bn, which just goes to show canny money dealings are just as effective in a downturn as in the good times.

Any businessman in the Gulf will be familiar with the Olayan name. The conglomerate owns more than 50 companies, with hefty stakes in various multinationals and blue-chip names such as Credit Suisse, in which it last year upped its stake from 3.4 percent to 3.6 percent.

In August 2010, Olayan played a major part in the setting up of a $1bn emerging markets fund with the Swiss banking company.

Established in 1947, the Olayan Group began as a trucking concern. In 1954 its founder, Suleiman Olayan, launched General Trading Company (GTC), the group’s food and consumer distribution business and was instrumental in bringing commercial insurance to Saudi, founding Arab Commercial Enterprises — which went on to become the region’s largest insurance and reinsurance broker. In the 1960s, Suleiman turned to international equity investing, an activity which would eventually establish the group as an influential participant in global capital markets. He was also developing business alliances, pioneering in Saudi Arabia the concept of strategic partnerships and strengthening his relationship with US engineering and construction giant Bechtel.

Moreover, through GTC he acquired exclusive distributorships for Kimberly-Clark, General Foods, Pillsbury, Hunt Wesson, Cummins Engine and Kenworth. Today, the group has stakes in MetLife, First Boston and AIG. Alongside Suleiman’s widow Mary, the four children — Khaled, Hayat, Hutham and Lubna — share the group’s multibillion dollar fortune.

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