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Founder of Al Ghurair Group, Saif Ahmed Al Ghurair died in Dubai at the age of 95. Image Credit: Gulf News arhives

Dubai: Prominent Emirati businessman and founder of Al Ghurair Group Saif Ahmed Al Ghurair died in Dubai on Tuesday. His funeral prayers will be held in Dubai on Tuesday afternoon at Al Qusais graveyard. He was 95.

Saif Ahmed Al Ghurair was born in Deira on the shores of Dubai Creek in 1924. The eldest of five sons born to Ahmed Al Ghurair, he soon became involved in the family business which at that time was pearl diving. Even as a teenager, he would spend up to four months at a time at sea, living off rice, dates and fish.

As the nokhada, or owner’s representative, on board, one of Saif’s most important duties was to safeguard the pearls which he would place in a small wooden box inside a compartment on top of which he slept.

By the 1930s, the emergence of cultured pearls from Japan made pearl diving a far less lucrative business and the family branched into trading. The small pearling boats were reconditioned for longer voyages and heavier loads and they began taking dates from Iraq to Africa and India from where they would return with textiles and teak logs for boat building. Later, gold was added to the cargo as Dubai became an important centre for trade in the precious metal.

During one stormy voyage to India, the wind and water lashed into Saif’s face, causing agonizing irritation in one eye. “When I got to India it was hurting so much I went to the doctor to stop the pain. He said he could stop the pain, but that I would lose my eye. I told him to stop the pain. Thank God it was only one eye!”

According to his profile on Al Ghurair Gorup website, in the late 1950s Dubai began to experience dramatic growth. Spearheaded by the then Dubai Ruler Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum, whose ambitious vision was backed by significant investment in infrastructure, the emirate’s economy began to take off.

It was in that context that Saif established Al Ghurair Group in 1960 to bring together the family’s diverse and expanding business interests. Under his stewardship, the Group diversified into numerous business lines, including retail, manufacturing and real estate. Each venture was assessed based on its ability to contribute to the growth of the Group and that of the Dubai economy – a model that served both stakeholders extremely well.

Saif also drilled into his employees the importance of excelling in customer service.

“The core of [the Group’s] success has always lied in its winning corporate culture; that promotes growth and fosters innovation, and in its customer-driven strategy, that is guided by quality, creative solutions, and a non-stop search for better ways to serve our clients,” he said in his statment published on Al Ghurair Group website.

Condolences from the business community have started pouring in as prominent Emirati businessman Khalaf Ahmed Al Habtoor, Founding Chairman of Al Habtoor Group, conveyed his condolences to the family of the late Saif Ahmed Al Ghurair. He tweeted that the late Al Ghurair was a pillar of Dubai's economy.