From pearls to providence – 7 milestones in MHAO’s remarkable diversification

From pearls to providence – 7 milestones in MHAO’s remarkable diversification

Centuries of success – the essential qualities every family business needs to survive
November 27, 2017

Now a cornerstone of Abu Dhabi and the wider UAE, the Mohamed Hareb Al Otaiba group (MHAO) has come a long, long way over the last century. And this family business has a history that is deeply woven into the rich tapestry of our nation.

Since we may learn from our past, it serves us well to understand that MHAO did not come to prominence overnight. Its success has been achieved through the industrious minds and painstaking work of those who came before us. Theirs is an intriguing story that originated a great many centuries ago, when the historic families of our land came to prominence.

Let us now recount the seven greatest milestones we have passed so far in our history, and look forward to what the future may hold. 

A dazzling start – pearling in Arabia

Centuries before oil became the ‘black gold’ of Arabia, the region’s most lucrative commodity was pulled from the sea by skilled divers working for weeks on end from dhows on the Gulf of Arabia. For 7,000 years, pearling was the key export and the major source of trade with the rest of the world. The pearl trade brought regular contact with foreign markets such as India, Europe and America and for those with the business acumen came the opportunity to accumulate great wealth and influence.

The winds were set to change, though, and only the smartest saw it coming. In the late 1800s and early 1900s, the pearl trade experienced a global boom – but it proved to be the final surge for this historic market. For a period of time pearls became more valuable than ever, offering a brief opportunity on which to capitalise. Those who did were able to profit and reinvest in the growing economy and community of the region, and establish their family names among those of high standing.

One family in particular flourished immensely from this period of change. Graciously given the title the ‘King of Pearls,’ the Al Otaiba family oversaw a fleet of 85 ships on the Gulf and exported Arabian pearls to France and India. As the 20th century progressed, however, the heads of the family were astute enough to recognise that the world was changing and the time had come to diversify beyond the pearl trade.

In 1946, the MHAO group was launched.

Vision and courage – the diversification of MHAO

In its early years, MHAO diversified the family business into a successful offshore services and trading company. Yet more successful developments were to come, following the arrival of the late Mr Hareb Al Otaiba at the helm of the group in 1970. Through his vision, courage and integrity, the business began to diversify into completely new markets, securing exclusive rights to import an array of overseas branded products, from office equipment to bowling lanes. Three years into his tenure, Mr Hareb Al Otaiba opened a major showroom in the rapidly emerging destination marketplace of Dubai. By carefully selecting only the most prestigious industry names and being the first to bring them to the UAE, Mr Hareb Al Otaiba made MHAO into one of the pre-eminent businesses in the region. 

A journey of prestige

A core value of the group has always been to establish new lines of business in the region whilst doing what they could to improve the overall quality of life for its inhabitants. Since the luxury automobile market was relatively new in the UAE, it incorporated the notion of both progress and innovation that Mr Hareb Al Otaiba was always keen to explore.

Thus the transportation sector became the next foray for the MHAO group. From chauffeur-driven high-end vehicles to rent-a-car services, the group now offers a wide range of transportation services. By franchising the Avis corporation in 1975, the group was able to bring a new level of service and, indeed, convenience to the region in one stroke.

Over the subsequent years, MHAO’s transportation operations grew to be a vital part of national life in the UAE. Soon after the franchise of Avis, the group established the famous Bright Spark Auto Repairing service and Al Otaiba General Transport LLC, which provided leading class travel services to the region. Not only did these additions bring affordable transport to the UAE, it also helped support the economy.

Delivering quality into every home

MHAO had already shown how a business survives and thrives when it learns to change with the times. Toward the end of the 20th century, the very nature of the consumer markets had shifted in tone. The advancements in technology meant that homeware was fast becoming an area of great business opportunity.

The inception of Homewide LLC was a direct response to this opportunity and has proven to be one of the most integral arms of the MHAO group in the years since. It brought with it a contemporary way of living that had previously not existed in the region. Among the wide variety of models and brands under its umbrella, it was the first and only supplier of such trusted brands as Bosch and Blomberg home appliances. The vision was as pure as it was simple – quality homeware products for every home.

Now a household name, the Homewide brand won over the nation with its innovations and broad array of products. Things that we now take for granted, such as coffee machines, toasters and washing machines, were suddenly made readily available to consumers all over the region. It’s no wonder that the individual market shares boomed almost instantaneously.

Tragedy struck in the mid-1990s when Mr Hareb Al Otaiba died suddenly. As heir to the family business, the young Mohammed Hareb Al Otaiba – who had recently finished university and begun his professional career – was called upon to take over. Despite his youth, the new leader proved to be more than capable of running a business. He was tasked with one overriding challenge: to drive the group into the modern world.

A warm reception

With every new turn, the MHAO group has grown and expanded into diverse new industries. One of the more recent ventures has been into the realms of hospitality and tourism. The group is associated with some of the most prestigious brands in this sector, including the Indian Sports Club, Holiday Inn Hotel Dubai and City Bowling Centre. 

Abu Dhabi is no longer a mere business hub. Over the years it has become one of the most popular tourist destinations in the region, so much so that the Department of Culture and Tourism is now promoting the values of diversification and expansion. The campaign is about more than just attracting visitors; it’s about aligning with the Abu Dhabi Economic Vision 2030 and the Abu Dhabi Plan and staying true to the cultural integrity of the UAE. It is with these plans in mind that MHAO will drive the tourism sector forward into the future. 

Stepping into the future

In the last century, we have seen a transformation in our region. The UAE is one of the top global locations for business and innovation. It is, therefore, crucial that the enterprises that trade here have the latest technology available to enable them to progress. MHAO supports this goal is by offering new technological advancements to the area.

In the years since the group’s launch, there has been a surge in forward-thinking technologies. The Xerox brand, which MHAO brought to the UAE and is now at the heart of the our tech services, offers both print and digital solutions to small and large ventures across the UAE. Another brand associated with our group, Corporate Connection, also offers information systems and print equipment.

Looking ahead – the next development

Despite MHAO’s many successes, our business empire could barely have survived without the support of the greater community and the sense of kinship we find here in the UAE. It follows, then, that giving something back is not simply a duty but something we’re humbled to be able to do each day.

Since its beginnings, sailing the Gulf searching for fortune beneath the waves, MHAO has built up quite the portfolio of charitable work. A few years ago Xerox Emirates launched its ‘Supporting you. Supporting them’ Facebook campaign, the profits of which have gone to local charities and deserving causes. Acts like these allow us to reinvest in the UAE region and its ever-growing economy.

The group will continue to push the boundaries of the consumer and business markets, offering new products, services and support, but that is not our sole aim as we move into the future. As always, we will continue to engage with and give back to the community and region around us. After all, it is by helping the nation as a whole to prosper that we prosper individually.


About the Author: Mohamed Hareb Al Otaiba, Chairman of MHAO
It was clear from an early age that MHAO’s current chairman, Mr Mohamed Hareb Al Otaiba, was destined to follow in the entrepreneurial footsteps of his father and grandfathers who led the Emirati family holding company before him. He would, however, be called to the role earlier than expected due to the unfortunate passing of his father in 1995 while Mr Al Otabia was just 2X years old. His young age would in no way deter him from fully embracing the leadership position, and since taking over the family business he has led with focus and drive to further accelerate the upward trajectory of MHAO, securing additional big-name brands for the company’s portfolio. Today, Mr Al Otaiba has a wealth of experience in sales and operations management and boasts many prestigious and long-lasting business relationships with top global organisations, including Avis, Bosch, and Xerox. Looking to the future, Mr Al Otaiba’s goal is clear: to make MHAO a household name synonymous with high-quality, throughout the UAE and beyond.