From pearls to providence: A family business history of diversification

Established in 1946, the Mohamed Hareb Al Otaiba Group is one of the oldest trading organisations in United Arab Emirates. This is a unique insight into the story of their diversification through the years.
Now a cornerstone of Abu Dhabi and the wider UAE, the Mohamed Hareb Al Otaiba Group (MHAO) has come a long way over the last century, with this family business part of a history that is deeply woven into the fabric of our nation.
By Kay Marham
Tue 02 Jan 2018 04:17 PM

Now a cornerstone of Abu Dhabi and the wider UAE, the Mohamed Hareb Al Otaiba Group (MHAO) has come a long way over the last century, with this family business part of a history that is deeply woven into the fabric of our nation.

In the spirit of the UAE and learning from our past, the current success and standing of MHAO has been achieved through the industrious minds and painstaking work of the early founders of the business.

Theirs is an intriguing story that originated centuries ago, when the historic families of the UAE came to prominence. These are the major milestones the business has so far reached in its history of innovation and diversification.

A dazzling start - pearling in Arabia
Centuries before oil became the ‘black gold’ of Arabia, the region’s most lucrative commodity was pulled from the sea by skilled divers working for weeks on end from dhows in the Arabian Gulf. For 7,000 years, pearls were the key export and the major source of trade with the rest of the world.

The pearling trade brought regular contact with foreign markets such as India, Europe and America and for those with the business acumen came the opportunity to accumulate great wealth and influence.

The winds were set to change, though, and only the smartest saw it coming. In the late 1800s and early 1900s, the pearl trade experienced a global boom – but it proved to be the final surge for this historic market. For a period of time pearls became more valuable than ever, offering a brief opportunity on which to capitalise.

Those who did were able to profit and reinvest in the growing economy and community of the region and establish their family names among those of high standing.

One family in particular flourished immensely from this period of change. Graciously given the title the ‘King of Pearls,’ the Al Otaiba family oversaw a fleet of 85 ships on the Gulf and exported Arabian pearls to France and India. As the 20th century progressed, however, the heads of the family were astute enough to recognise that the world was changing and the time had come to diversify beyond the pearl trade.

In 1946, the MHAO group was launched.


The pearl trade offered a brief opportunity to capitalise and reinvest

The diversification of MHAO
In its early years, MHAO diversified the family business into a successful offshore services and trading company. Yet more successful developments were to come, following the arrival of the late Mr Hareb Al Otaiba at the helm of the group in 1970.

Through his vision, courage and integrity, the business began to diversify into completely new markets, securing exclusive rights to import an array of overseas branded products, from office equipment to bowling lanes. Three years into his tenure, Mr Hareb Al Otaiba opened a major showroom in the rapidly emerging destination marketplace of Dubai.

A journey of prestige
A core value of the group has always been to establish new lines of business in the region whilst doing what they could to improve the overall quality of life for its inhabitants. Since the luxury automobile market was relatively new in the UAE, it incorporated the notion of both progress and innovation that Mr Hareb Al Otaiba was always keen to explore.

Thus the transportation sector became the next foray for the MHAO group. And to this day, from chauffeur-driven high-end vehicles to rent-a-car services, the group now offers a wide range of transportation services. By franchising the Avis corporation in 1975, the group was able to bring a new level of service and convenience to the region.

Over the subsequent years, MHAO’s transportation operations grew to become a vital part of national life in the UAE.

Soon after the franchise of Avis, the group established the famous Bright Spark Auto Repairing service and Al Otaiba General Transport LLC, which provided leading travel services to the region.

Not only did these additions bring affordable transport to the UAE, it also helped to support the economy.

Changing consumer markets
MHAO had already shown how a business survives and thrives when it learns to change with the times. Toward the end of the 20th century, the nature of the consumer markets had shifted in tone. The advancements in technology meant that homewares were fast becoming an area of great business opportunity.

The inception of Homewide LLC was a direct response to this opportunity and has proven to be one of the most integral arms of the MHAO group in the years since. It brought with it a contemporary way of living that had previously not existed in the region.

Among the wide variety of models and brands under its umbrella, it was the first and only supplier of such trusted brands as Bosch and Blomberg home appliances. The vision was as pure as it was simple – quality homeware products for every home to respond to changing consumer needs and tastes.

Now a household name, the Homewide brand won over the nation with its innovations and broad array of products. Things that we now take for granted, such as coffee machines, toasters and washing machines, were suddenly made readily available to consumers all over the region.


The original founder of the Mohamed Hareb Al Otaiba family business

The challenge of the new generation
Tragedy struck in the mid-1990s when Mr Hareb Al Otaiba suddenly passed away. As heir to the family business, the young Mohammed Hareb Al Otaiba – who had recently finished university and begun his professional career – was called upon to take over. Despite his youth, the new leader proved to be more than capable of running a business. He was tasked with one overriding challenge: to drive the group into the modern world.

Working in line with the Economic Vision
With every new turn, the MHAO group has grown and expanded into diverse new industries. One of the more recent ventures has been into the realms of hospitality and tourism.

The group is associated with well-known brands in this sector, including the Indian Sports Club, Holiday Inn Hotel Dubai and City Bowling Centre.

Abu Dhabi is no longer just a business hub. Over the years it has become one of the most popular tourist destinations in the region, so much so that the Department of Culture and Tourism is now promoting the values of diversification and expansion.

The campaign is about more than just attracting visitors; it is about aligning with the Abu Dhabi Economic Vision 2030 and the Abu Dhabi Plan and staying true to the cultural integrity of the UAE. It is with these plans in mind that MHAO plans to drive the tourism sector forward into the future.

The march towards the next development
In the last century, we have seen a transformation in our region. The UAE is one of the top global locations for business and innovation. It is, therefore, crucial that the enterprises that trade here have the latest technology available to enable them to progress.

MHAO supports this goal is by offering new technological advancements to the area, with one of the brands in the group, Corporate Connection, providing information systems and print equipment.


The current chairman of the modern incarnation of the firm is continuing the tradition of diversification

Stepping into the future
Despite MHAO’s many successes, the business empire could barely have survived without the support of the greater community and the sense of kinship – one of the signature characteristics of the UAE. It follows, then, that giving something back is not simply a duty but something the group is honoured to be able to do each day.

Since its beginnings, sailing the Gulf searching for fortune benea th the waves, MHAO has built up a sizeable portfolio of charitable work. A few years ago Xerox Emirates launched its ‘Supporting you.

Supporting them’ Facebook campaign, the profits of which have gone to local charities and deserving causes. Acts like these allow the group to reinvest in the UAE region and its ever-growing economy.

The group will continue to push the boundaries of the consumer and business markets, offering new products, services and support as they move into the future. Mohamed Hareb Al Otaiba, Chairman of MHAO intends to continue to engage with and give back to the community, on he basis that it is by helping the nation as a whole to prosper that we prosper individually.

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