From pearls to providence: A family business history of diversification


Pearl Diver
Dec 7, 2006
Established in 1946, the Mohamed Hareb Al Otaiba Group is one of the oldest trading organisations in United Arab Emirates. This is a unique insight into the story of their diversification through the years.

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

In the spirit of the UAE and learning from our past, the current success and standing of MHAO has been achieved through the industrious minds and painstaking work of the early founders of the business.

Theirs is an intriguing story that originated centuries ago, when the historic families of the UAE came to prominence. These are the major milestones the business has so far reached in its history of innovation and diversification.

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 in the Arabian Gulf. For 7,000 years, pearls were the key export and the major source of trade with the rest of the world.

The pearling 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.

Interesting articles ... 7,000 years of pearling, wow! Thanks, Mikeyy :)