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).
Suliman joined Aramco in Dhahran just one year prior to the monumental discovery of oil there in commercial quantities. He was in the right place at the right time.
He continued working for the company during World War II, when oil became a global strategic asset.
Then, in April 1947, King Abdul Aziz Al Saud made a historic visit to Aramco headquarters in Dhahran. Suliman, by then a company liaison and translator, was in the center of it all.
In Bahrain, Suliman attended local schools where he quickly mastered English. He proved to be an exceptional student overall with a prodigious memory, great curiosity and an ability to see possibility in the midst of challenge.
In 1937, by then a young man, Suliman returned to Saudi Arabia to take a job with the California Arabian Standard Oil Company, forerunner of the Arabian American Oil Company, today known as Saudi Aramco. By 1947, Suliman had risen from transportation dispatcher to storehouse supervisor to a position in government relations.
Suliman Olayan was born in 1918 into a merchant family in Unayzah, an oasis town located in north-central Saudi Arabia. For centuries, Unayzah had been a haven for caravans venturing across the Najd, Saudi Arabia's heartland. The merchant families of Unayzah played a vital role in opening central Arabia to trade with the outside world.
The history of The Olayan Group is intertwined with the life and accomplishments of its founder, Suliman Saleh Olayan. Over a 55-year career as an independent businessman, he served with distinction as entrepreneur, investor, business leader, and philanthropist.
Photo: Downtown Al-Khobar, 1950.