My grandfather Mohammed Obeid Binzagr started the business. His father Obeid had married a local Jeddah girl from a family called Zamka. His father died when he was still very young. Following the death of her husband, she married a man named Mansour Harbi a sea captain. He owned a big ship that sailed out of Jeddah to Suez, Aden, Bahrain etc. He effectively became my grandfather’s guardian. He would take him along on his seafaring trips.
After the death of his stepfather, he inherited his role as a merchant sea captain. We estimate that in about 1881, he stopped travelling and became a land–based merchant in Jeddah. He traded in the same kind of commodities as before, until his death in 1920. My grandfather had two sons, my father and my uncle. They were minors when he died. By the time of his death, the business was a private partnership.
Around the 1930s our business shifted from bulk commodities to manufactured products. We started importing manufactured cigarettes from British American Tobacco Company, from their agent in Aden. We imported starch from a Belgian company that was eventually acquired by CPC. It became Best Foods and was finally bought out by Unilever, which makes Knorr and Mazola. In the 1930s we started bringing in starch, Mazola corn oil etc.
At about the same time we started working with Unilever on certain products like soap. It wasn’t branded soap like Lux that we get today. That was the second stage, where we imported and sold manufactured products from western companies and multinationals, as they later became known. To this day, we are still with Unilever.
In the 1950s, my oldest brother, who has since passed away, joined the business. Then it was Faisal my second brother, and Mohammed my third brother, and I, we all joined the business by the mid-1970s. In this third stage of the company, there were many changes. Subsequently in the 1970s we began building factories and industrialized. In those days we were working with Lever Brothers for soap, and the Dutch Margarine Union, for hard fats etc. We’ve been working with Unilever for longer than Unilever has been a company. With World War II, a lot of the trading activity stopped, not much trading happened in those days.
We started manufacturing soap with Unilever in the early 1970s. We started industrializing and had joint ventures locally in Jeddah. Initially we made powder detergent and then Lux soap. Then we built a match factory with a German company. We built a soft drinks factory with a Danish company, making what is now called Suntop and Sunquick.