Nasser Al-Kharafi, one of the richest men in the world, is president of Mohammed Abdulmohsin Al-Kharafi and Sons Group. The Kuwait company, one of the most active and diversified operating in the Arab world today, has long prided itself on cultivating strong ties between Kuwait's government and the private sector in order to bring the greatest benefit to the nation and its citizens. The conglomerate is actively involved in engineering and construction, agribusiness and food industries, finance and banking, manufacturing and industry, real estate, infrastructure, tourism, leisure, and hospitality. Top among its business sectors are contracting, investment, trading, development, and aviation and tourism. Through its wide network of enterprises, the group employs over 70,000 Arab nationals, has annual sales in excess of $3.9 billion (Forbes 2005), and provides thousands of new jobs every year. Dating back more than a century, the present Al-Kharafi Group, among the largest in the Middle East, and the largest in Kuwait, where its home office is located, was first launched in 1976 as the National Company for Mechanical and Electrical Works. High among the company's expanded priorities as it moves from strength to strength is an emphasis on strict ethical behavior while enhancing self-confidence and supporting teamwork and decision-making abilities. The company, although focused on Kuwait, has spread into the surrounding region. "Since Kuwait is a very small market, the only way of developing the group was to go international and take risks, as well as assuring the huge potential of the regional market," says the president. "First we ventured into other Gulf countries-Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates-and then to Egypt and on to South Africa."
The illustrious family, stemming from Mohammed Abdulmohsin Al-Kharafi, founder of the M. A. Kharafi Group of companies and one of the founders of the National Bank of Kuwait in 1952, includes Al-Kharafi's older brother Jassam Mohammad Al- Kharafi, former member of the Kuwait National Assembly and former Minister of Finance, and his sister, Faiza, a professor of chemistry, who served as president of Kuwait University from 1993 to 2002. Al-Kharafi is a firm believer in involving the younger generation in the family business, and his three sons are now active in various parts of the group's activities: Marzouk has taken over as chairman of the food company, and Badr and Faisal serve as vice chairman and general manager of Al-Kharafi Group companies.
Al-Kharafi is not only head of Al-Kharafi Group, but he has also served as chairman of the Egypt Kuwait Holding Company, member of the board of directors of the National Bank of Kuwait, and chairman of the Kuwait Food Company, Americana (now directed by his son Marzouk). He has also been managing director of the Aluminium Industries Company, WLL, and a member of the Kuwaiti Iranian Development Projects Committee. He is president of the Utilities Development Company of Kuwait, owner of Albanian Airlines, and a member of the boards of directors of the Dar Al Qabas Press Printing and Publishing Company, the Sheikh Sabah Al Salem Al Mubarak Al Sabah Foundation, and the Refreshment Trading Company The Al-Kharafi Group's projects are richly diversified, focusing on build, operate, and transfer (BOT) contracts, many of which are groundbreaking projects. BOT contracts have become a hallmark of the Al-Kharafi Group. An early such arrangement was the 1996 15-year BOT contract for the Beirut International Airport Car Park. This Lebanese project was followed in 1998 by the 40-year BOT contract for the building of the Marsa Alam Airport in Egypt. That same year a build, operate, and own contract for an 18 km area of the red sea coast was launched. The vacation spot includes villages, hotels, a marina, a conference center, golf courts, a yacht club, luxury villas, and commercial centers.
In Kuwait in 2001 the company won a massive BOT contract for the largest waste water treatment plant in the world, the Sulaibiya Wastewater Treatment and Reclamation Plant, officially inaugurated in 2005. The plant produces more than 80 million gallons of potable water of a standard far in excess of World Health Organization specifications, although the water is currently used for agriculture and industry only. This project not only introduced new technologies, it also featured financing by local banks in local currency and was the first such large infrastructure project to be undertaken by the private sector.
Nasser Al-Kharafi is also a champion of the role of the private sector and open market economy in development and infrastructure projects. In February of this year the Al-Kharafi Group sponsored a conference on the role of the private sector, organized by the Kuwait Commercial Markets Complex under the auspices of Kuwaiti Minister of Finance Bader Al-Humaidi. Al-Kharafi has also been a key force for liberalization in leading investments in developing countries.
In addition to many environment and infrastructure projects, the Al-Kharafi Group boasts, through its subsidiary company, Americana, the largest food company in the Middle East. Americana owns franchises for a variety of American food chains such as Pizza Hut, Baskin Robbins, and Kentucky Fried Chicken. Six hundred outlets in 11 Arab countries distribute such popular consumer goods as Heinz ketchup and Cadbury's chocolate.
The Al-Kharafi Group currently has contracts in South Africa, on the red sea coast, and in Albania. Companies include Cairo-based E-MAK (paper), Kharafi National (electromechanical contracting), the National Piling Company, and the Kuwait Ready Mix Company. Early Beirut projects were followed in 2004 by a $110 million Beirut hotel and a $50 million construction package for the Four Seasons project. In South Africa, the company developed an estate near Pretoria and a manufacturing complex in Cape Town. In recent years the group has moved into Iraq, rebuilding the financial sector, the phone system, and developing the mobile phone industry. Other recent innovative starts include a smart car manufacturing plant in Cairo and a border post and customs warehouse BOT project. Openings are developing in China and East Asian countries.
The spirited diversity of the group's entrepreneurial commitments reflects Nasser Al-Kharafi's firm belief in the importance of the human element in any successful business. Born in Kuwait in 1943, Al-Kharafi studied business administration at the Liverpool College of Commerce in the United Kingdom. He is a lover of gardening, photography, and sports activities, which he supports throughout the Middle East. He is married, and, in addition to the three sons working with him in the company, has two married daughters.
Al-Kharafi's business acumen has been granted ample recognition in the form of honors, medals, and awards. In 2003 he was named Grand Officer by HE Yahya Jammeh, president of the Gambia, and in 2004, HRH King Abdallah II of Jordan bestowed on him the high Medal of Honor, the Istiqlal Medal in recognition of his economic activities throughout the Arab world. That same year he was named the Middle East Economic Digest's Businessman of the Year for his personal business achievements and for his outstanding management of the Al-Kharafi Group. At the Second Jordan Economic Forum in 2005, HM King Abdallah II presented him with the Life Time Achievement Prize. A dedicated philanthropist, Nasser Al-Kharafi is a frequent contributor to humanitarian relief and charitable organizations.