I was attending a large conference that brought together guests and experts from across the globe to exchange expertise and get to know one another. During a short conference break, I engaged in a conversation with an old friend of mine whom I had not met for quite a long time and who attended the conference accompanied by an American businessman. The conference was covered widely by the media and sponsored by major Arab companies. Commenting on the Saudi ‘Bin Laden Group”, one of the conference sponsors, the American guest, who was visiting the region for the first time, said “this name will always be associated with the 9/11 attacks.” I interrupted his “expected” discourse by stressing that the Bin Laden Group represents one of the greatest success stories in Saudi Arabia and the Arab world thanks to its participation in various infrastructure projects in all sectors in the Kingdom, including airports, seaports, roads, power plants, construction, skyscrapers, and more. Of course, we must not neglect the most prominent project that the Bin Laden Group has been involved in, namely the on-going expansion of the Two Holy Mosques.
This company has adopted a truly unique discourse in managing and implementing major projects with complex specifications and tight deadlines, which have always been met in a distinguished and striking manner. This has allowed the Bin Laden Group to accumulate expertise and develop its work culture to allow it to become one of the world’s largest construction companies, thanks in large part to the efforts of its late founder Mohamed Bin Laden. The company also developed thanks to the efforts of his sons, many of whom have demonstrated their proficiency in management and administration which has allowed the company to achieve unprecedented successes. Following the passing of his bother Salem Bin Laden, who unfortunately died in an airplane crash, the Bin Laden Group’s leadership passed to Bakr Bin Laden, who successfully managed the company and developed it into a renowned major international firm, whilst also developing its management in an excellent manner.
As a result, the Bin Laden Group entered new fields and implemented new projects in a proficient and skillful manner. Engineer Bakr Bin Laden, who is also known as Abu-Nawaf by those close to him, restructured the company in accordance with the different sectors it is involved in, developing the management of the family business. Today, in addition to some of his distinguished brothers in the Bin Laden Group, including Yahya, Ahmed, Saleh and Mohamed Bin Laden, and others, there is also a third generation of grandsons who are now holding senior executive positions. The Bin Laden Group has also been keen on developing strategic partnerships with a large number of major companies across the world in order to benefit from their expertise and competitive qualities.
One of the benefits that the Bin Laden Group has achieved, thanks to its Saudi projects, is that the company has expanded beyond the country’s borders to undertake projects across the world, including in the UAE, Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Malaysia and elsewhere. The company was awarded huge contracts in these countries amidst a climate of fierce rivalry with major international and local companies. The Bin Laden Group’s professionalism has increased, as has its capabilities and expertise, particularly after it entered the manufacturing business. It is now producing and manufacturing all materials and commodities required by its projects to a high-standard.
In fact, I am surprised by those who downplay the Bin Laden Group’s success by saying that it was in an exceptional position to acquire this new business, as this is incorrect, because there have been other companies that have had the same “special privilege”; some of whom were successful in benefiting from this in order to develop and improve, whilst other companies failed to do so. Al Rajhi Bank was the first bank to be licensed as an Islamic bank, and it seized the opportunity to do very well. In addition to this, there is Aramco which has the exclusive right to drill for oil in Saudi Arabia, and it has done so extremely proficiently. However we cannot say the same thing about “Saudi Airlines” that enjoyed truly unique privileges but whose operations lacked ambition. I explained all of this to the American businessman to clarify to him that the Bin Laden Group and the Bin Laden family that established and own this company represent a unique and important success story which every just, honest and fair Saudi citizen can be proud of, particularly as this company is the product of long years of good governance, perfect operations and planning and development.
I think that I was successful in demonstrating to this American businessman that the superficial dismissal of names and cultures based on stereotypes is a form of naiveté and is something that must be completely rejected. Therefore the success story of the Bin Laden Group is the best evidence that sometimes there is a bigger story behind the name.