THE MERCHANTS: The Big Business Families of Arabia by Michael Field

THE MERCHANTS: The Big Business Families of Arabia

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Though this is primarily an orientation to Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States for the Western business community--Britisher Field combines financial reporting and consultancy in the area--it could also reward selective reading by others, just as broad-based works on Western business do. The modern Arab states emerge, indeed, as business cultures of a special kind--what with (for example) trucking as the lifeline of Saudi Arabia, the Juffali/Mercedes truck monopoly, the bedouin truck driver's identification with a particular gray-green, 1960s-style, desert-adapted model. (Brand loyalty, and dealer monopoly, together result in some of the world's largest, most lucrative dealerships.) Field profiles eight of the major business houses, all of them family firms--leading off and setting the scene with Saudi Arabia's House of Alireza: based in the relatively sophisticated coastal Hajiz, exposed to British India (and, in turn, to Egyptian, British, and American schooling), close to successive royal regimes--philanthropists, diplomats, Ford/Caterpillar, ITT, etc., etc., dealers. In the family compound, children pop in and out of the offices; Field tells of their sitting in on an ITT conference, to ""listen and learn."" (But the ""much-noted"" return of young Arabs from abroad, he observes drily, may have less to do with culture than with ""the unequalled opportunity to make large sums of taxfree money."") Preceding further profiles, and interspersed with them, are other succinctly informative chapters: characterizing Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States, and distinguishing among the latter; describing the various ethnic communities within Arabia's seemingly homogeneous society; discussing the relations between merchants and rulers; and focusing, at times amusingly, on marketing techniques. These background chapters also bring two (derived from earlier works, and some historical research) on non-idyllic pre-oil Arabia--""a harsh place, desperately poor and riven by internal strife""--and the demise of pearl fishing, not only because of Japanese introduction of cultured pearls, but because the oil companies ""offered easier and more rewarding employment."" Old Arabians, claims Field, are not nostalgic. With a brief look ahead: understated expertise.

Pub Date: March 1st, 1985
Publisher: Overlook--dist. by Viking