Blessings in the Sand: Inking a Legacy
Alexander A. Nehme, his youngest son, is the Chief Shared Services Officer of Nehmeh, the company founded by his father that continues to evolve and adapt to changing times and placed as the leading industrial solutions provider. He spoke with Society about his father Antoine's legacy and the rags to riches tale he authored, 'Blessings in the Sand: The Antoine Nehme Legacy'.
When asked why he chose to write this book, Alexander A Nehme said: "As Arabs, we unfortunately read too little and write even less. We lack a continuous linage of written records and opt for the oral history instead. The aim of the book was to document and share the history of this great man and the legacy that is for everyone to learn from."
The book's title is a clever play on words. The family name 'Nehme' translates as 'blessing' or 'grace' in English. The sand symbolizes the abundant opportunities to be found in Qatar. The book is further given to all new employees at the company to help them understand the culture, roots, philosophy and values that have led the company to success after success. These aren't just buzzwords either. Walking up the steps of the company headquarters, I immediately noticed a picture frame that recognized all of Nehmeh's long serving employees.
In the 1950s there were minimal border controls in place. Antoine Nehme's family was in dire poverty after the Nakbeh and returned to their ancestral home
in Lebanon. A few years later, when an opportunity arose in Qatar Antoine Nehme did not think twice. He flew in on a small propeller plane which had to transit multiple times to reach the final destination of Doha, landing on a sandy runway and walking straight into town in his sandals and quite literally only the clothes on his back. During the next two years, he lived as simply as possible, often going to bed hungry as to send as much money as he could back home to his family. When his two year contract finished, he decided to stay. With the little money he'd saved, he started a small shop front a few years later where he sold spare parts for the newly forming automotive industry in Qatar. Over time, his entrepreneurship mirrored Doha's remarkable economic rise, leading to the company of hundreds of employees it is today.
Nehmeh is credited to a number of firsts in Qatar – from the first importers of aftermarket batteries, automotive paints, and industrial equipment even to being one of the firsts Qatari-based companies online on the internet! Nothing holds dearer as the placement by virtue of merit the "Made in Qatar" label. Items included heat exchangers of all kinds, radiators and recently the first Qatari Air Handling Units for central air conditioners as examples. If you saw an industrial product in the 1990s with the words "Made in Qatar", there's a good chance some of them were proudly made by quality-endorsed Nehmeh.
Antoine Nehme's work ethic was inspirational to his children growing up but it wasn't always easy. He travelled extensively and so much so that his young children would barely recognize him. Even at such a young age, the children would attend to business along with their father in Qatar, and sometimes with comic results. Emil, Antoine's eldest son, recalls a time when their brother, Simon, 'returned home one day entirely covered in paint as he had apparently had fallen into a barrel of paints."
By all accounts, Antoine Nehme was also a very generous man. He would occasionally come home with no shirt because he had given it to someone less fortunate who needed it. Although Alexander has fond memories of his father and nostalgic past memories, he along with the leadership team at Nehmeh also plan for the future. The location of Nehmeh's headquarters and shop front has moved from its previous home in Msheireb. In a twist of irony, the company that Antoine worked for when he first arrived was the same one that was contracted to demolish it as to make way for the Msheireb regeneration project in the heart of Doha. In a changing business world and different times for the company, his views on the current economic situation are surprisingly optimistic.
"My father used to say, 'life is like a pulse. If there are no ups and downs, you'd be dead.' At the moment, perhaps it's a quiet pulse, both locally and regionally, but it's an opportunity as the markets are forced to be productive, efficient which filters the market from solid businesses with strong foundations and those less so. I believe only the most lean and competitive businesses will be the ones that come out on top."
Antoine Nehme's story is remarkable and a unique portrait of a man that inspired so many. His story is essential reading for anyone interested in the development of Qatar into the 21st century, evolution of family businesses, discipline and business continuity. It is a trip down memory lane, to a simpler time where traditional values were at the heart of things. Yet, the Nehmeh story is entering a new chapter.
For more information, visit: http://www.blessingsinthesand.com
Alexander A. Nehme