AMS Baeshen & Co. is one of Saudi Arabia’s oldest trading families. It is mentioned in the same breath as the other great family merchants of Arabia: Ali Reza, Jamjoom, Bin Zagr and others. More than any of the other merchant families, however, AMS Baeshen & Co. has recognized the mandates of modernization, reassessing product lines and revolutionizing corporate structure to meet the challenges of the 21st century.
AMS Baeshen & Co. is unique among the great traders. As far back as the introduction of Abu Jabal in 1920, the Baeshen brothers, Ahmed and Abdulkader, were not just importing the brands of others. They were building their own brands. Bee Sugar, a market leader in its segment still today, soon followed the introduction of Abu Jabal as a proprietary brand.
During much of the 20th century, AMS Baeshen & Co. imported and distributed a wide range of products, including textiles, soap and detergents, condensed and evaporated milk, rice, mango juice, ghee, spices, cigarettes and even, somewhat ironically, coffee beans. The company has handled some of the world’s best-known multinational brands. It also introduced the iconic tea glass (1958) to Saudi Arabia, which is now a ubiquitous fixture in homes and restaurants across the peninsula.
Product quality and continuity of leadership have long been a mainstay of the company’s success. Baeshen ads have always placed emphasis on quality and “unconditional guarantees” have been part and parcel of many of its consumer products.
Since its official registration in 1957, AMS Baeshen & Co. has experimented with and refined its product line. It slowly shed its underperforming products and began to focus on its own brands: tea and sugar. Having registered Rabea in 1969, the company ultimately expanded the variety of teas available under the label. Today, Rabea comprises more varieties of tea than any other brand in the region.
To diversify tea sourcing, better control quality and to have more operating flexibility, the company decided to vertically integrate its business and started tea blending and packing. Something of an industrial “revolution” had already swept Saudi Arabia in the ‘70s and ‘80s. With the influx of new wealth, some of the more far-sighted titans of Saudi industry recognized the financial and cultural advantages to establishing local manufacturing operations. South Jeddah, a long a literal wasteland, became crowded with manufacturers and warehouses.
In 1994, AMS Baeshen & Co. joined the crowd, assembling the Kingdom’s largest tea factory in a bold step towards constructing a vertically integrated tea industry. Company officials scoured the globe in search of state-of-the-art machinery. Once the machinery was acquired, continuing expenses included maintenance and spare parts, none of which the company had to worry about when buying packed tea from Sri Lanka. Today, however, the factory’s Tea Lab is considered one of the world’s best and the factory has earned numerous international certifications.
Nevertheless, the new facility came with many advantages. It freed the company of contractual obligations to buy only Sri Lankan tea and made it possible to blend non-Sri Lankan teas with Sri Lankan product. With tea plantations flourishing in various parts of the world, the company was able to produce tea products blended with teas from around the world, better controlling quality and hence improving both customer satisfaction.
As the 21st century dawned, many inherent family businesses were still new & emerging with many limitations, and few bylaws to organize it, however, the local marketplace and the increasing globalization of the business environment demanded the modernization of corporate structure. AMS Baeshen & Co. tried to follow up with this new era and face all its challenges.
Today, AMS Baeshen & Co. operates with best practice corporate governance and has transitioned into a closed joint stock company after three to five of years of deliberate planning and due diligence. With their openness in thinking, the shareholders have incorporated in the company’s bylaws the election of independent board members who should be at least equal to the number of board members who are shareholders.
The transition to a closed joint stock company involved more than a change in mindset on the part of family members. For the company, it meant adhering to rules that are nearly identical to those governing publicly owned companies. Increased transparency, regular and detailed audits and clearly defined rules of governance are now the order of the day.
What does the future hold for AMS Baeshen & Co.? The efforts to professionalize the company will continue. Brand building, both in the Kingdom and internationally, will be stepped up and the possibility of developing new business alliances and product lines explored. The emphasis on proprietary brands will continue and will fuel an increase in the international presence. Currently operating in 14 MENA markets, AMS Baeshen & Co. will explore additional international opportunities, choosing the best distributors and marketers for building a brand rather than simply pushing the product onto foreign shelves.
In its constant evolution to meet the demands of the modern world, AMS Baeshen & Co. has three objectives: to control its own destiny, to control its own brands and not to revert to a simple distribution company. Meeting these objectives, with God’s blessings, will guarantee the company’s continued success.