Suliman Olayan passed away in July 2002 at the age of 83, but his legacy endures. The Olayan Group remains guided by the vision of this self-made business prodigy.
He journeyed from Unayzah to Wall Street during an era in which caravans gave way to global commerce. Along the way, his values – hard work, determination, insatiable curiosity, and professionalism – became embedded in the enterprise that thrives today.
Suliman believed that giving to those in need is not just an obligation, but a personal privilege. The Suliman S. Olayan Foundation, the philanthropic arm of The Olayan Group, was founded in 1982 to positively impact communities in Saudi Arabia, the Middle East, and beyond.
Suliman concentrated his philanthropy on two of his greatest interests, education and healthcare. He placed particular importance on education, often telling his employees and children: “Whatever you learn, you elevate yourself.”
Suliman played leadership roles on boards and councils of established corporations and institutions. Within Saudi Arabia, he was the founding chairman of both The Saudi British Bank and Saudi Spanish Bank. He served on the boards of Saudi Aramco, Saudi Arabian Airlines, and Riyadh Bank. Suliman chaired the Riyadh Chamber of Commerce and Industry and later, the Council of Saudi Chambers. From 1980 to 1992, he co-chaired the high-level US-Saudi Arabian Businessmen’s Dialogue.
Suliman began investing internationally in the early 1960s with a small portfolio of US-listed companies. He bought minority stakes in corporations such as First Chicago, Occidental Petroleum, Transamerica, CS First Boston and Chase Manhattan among others, including European names such as National Grid of the UK.
Under Suliman’s leadership, The Olayan Group expanded into private equities, real estate, and other alternative asset classes including direct investments and investments with leading regional and international partners.
Meanwhile, Suliman was also developing key business alliances, pioneering in Saudi Arabia the concept of strategic partnerships. Through GTC and GCC he acquired exclusive distributorships for Kimberly-Clark, General Foods, Pillsbury, Hunt Wesson, Cummins Engine, Kenworth and Atlas Copco.
In the 1950s, buoyed by GCC's success and with his entrepreneurial drive now in high gear, Suliman undertook a series of trailblazing projects. He played a key role in developing Saudi Arabia's earliest electrical power companies ultimately founding the country’s first public utility, the National Gas Company.
In the wake of World War II, the oil industry was expanding rapidly. Sensing a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, Suliman set out on his own in the summer of 1947. With a personal loan secured on his home, he established General Contracting Company (GCC).