In 2016, BMMI marks an impressive milestone in its long, diverse and eventful history, with the completion of 133 years of uninterrupted international operations, spanning the 19th, 20th and 21st Centuries.
BMMI has lived a unique history, marking it as an extraordinary example of a Bahraini business’ success story. With roots as far back as 1847 and an official history since 1883, BMMI has endured and thrived across centuries to become a cornerstone of the Bahraini and international markets.
From a rather humble shipping line office, established in 1883, with just a handful of staff, BMMI is now a listed company holding very sophisticated, retail and distribution, contract servicing, retail leisure and hospitality businesses, with over 2,000 employees serving clients in eight countries across the world.
The significance of the Group’s 133 years’ heritage lies in its unique business growth evolution, embracing diverse forms of ownership and operating status. Through partnerships, mergers, acquisitions and joint ventures, BMMI has developed from a private, foreign-owned company into a public joint stock company listed on the Bahrain Stock Exchange.
During this time, the Group’s growth has mirrored that of the Kingdom of Bahrain. BMMI is proud of its enduring contribution to the nation’s social and economic development and its growing international recognition.
Establishing a presence
Robert Paul, founder of Gray Paul & Co.
While the ‘official’ history of BMMI started in Bahrain in 1883 when Gray Paul and Company established a shipping agency for the British India Navigation Company (BI), the Group’s real roots can be traced as far back as 1847, more than 165 years ago.
Three enterprising Scotsmen - William Mackinnon (later knighted for his services to the British Empire), Robert Paul and George Mackenzie- were responsible for laying the initial foundations of what is now the BMMI Group.
Between 1883 and 1900, the business of Gray Paul witnessed threefold growth, developing from a small shipping agency to a thriving maritime and mercantile concern. The Company benefited from the establishment of a regular steamship service by BI between India and the Gulf (carrying mail, cargo and passengers) and onwards to Britain via the P & O line; and also from its involvement in Bahrain’s thriving pearl fishing industry, for which it provided ship chandlery services and also handled the export of pearls to India and other countries.
Mirza Ismail Al Sharif (seated)
The Company’s first branch manager
In 1889, Robert Paul dispatched Mirza Ismail Al Sharif from Bushehr to set up an official branch office of Gray Paul in Bahrain. He was responsible for the branch until his death in 1925. His son-in-law and grandchildren continued to be closely associated with the Company by providing various contracting services. Mirza is the great-grandfather of Ali Al Sharif of the Al Sharif Group in Bahrain.
Diversifying & growing the business
Throughout the 20th Century, the Company experienced strong growth and expanded its business activities across numerous sectors in Bahrain. Contributing factors included World War 1, the discovery of oil, and World War 2, all of which provided new business opportunities for the Company’s services. This was followed by the petrodollar boom of the 1970’s, which heralded the beginning of the development of ‘modern’ Bahrain.
This period also witnessed many changes in the ownership and operating status of the Company. From 1919 to 1936, Gray Paul and Gray Mackenzie with other trading partners, acted jointly as the Mesopotamia Persia Corporation Ltd., until its disbandment in 1936.
Staff of Gray Mackenzie in the late 1930s following the merger with Gray Paul
In that year, Gray Paul and Gray Mackenzie merged to form Gray Mackenzie & Co. Limited. In 1951, Gray Mackenzie was taken over and became a member of the Inchcape Group of Companies. The year 1980 marked the establishment of BMMI as a joint venture between the Inchcape Group and local Bahraini investors; and in 1989, BMMI was listed on the newly formed Bahrain Stock Exchange as a closed shareholding company. When Inchcape divested its shareholding in 1999, BMMI became a wholly Bahraini-owned closed shareholding company.
Growth of the Group’s business activities
The spectacular post war development of Bahrain’s oil industry brought fresh opportunities, and Gray Mackenzie was quick to take advantage of the growing wealth of Bahrain and the Gulf region. The BMMI witnessed a dramatic expansion of its activities across numerous sectors, which contributed to the social, commercial and economic development of Bahrain.
These included: shipping line and airline agencies; travel agency services; insurance; food and beverage wholesale and distribution; supermarkets; bakeries; pharmacies; leisure outlets; port husbandry and ship chandlery; engineering and industrial services; and logistics and supply chain services.
Some of these were later sold off or integrated into specialist divisions of BMMI, as the Group embarked upon a major consolidation of its activities into the core areas of sales and marketing, logistics and supply chain and hospitality.
A Gray Mackenzie cutter used to ferry passengers between BI steamships and Manama Port
Bahrain’s pearl fishing industry
The pearl fishery at Bahrain was the country’s most important activity and domin
ated its economy prior to the discovery of oil. At the end of the 19th century, 4,500 boats manned by 74,000 sailors and divers were employed in the industry.
More than half of these vessels were operated under direct British protection so Gray Paul, as the only British mercantile firm with a branch in Bahrain, was closely involved in the trade, and carried a large proportion of the pearls to India and other countries. In 1866, pearl exports were valued at £400,000; by 1950-06 the trade was worth nearly £ 1.5 million.
A new strategy for growth & expansion
During the first 16 years of the current century, BMMI has successfully implemented a strategy that focuses on diversifying sources of revenue, increasing turnover and profitability and expanding the Group’s geographic presence.
This has proved to be a most significant period in the history of BMMI, heralding a new era of growth and expansion. Key strategic initiatives include the Groups entry in 2000 to the highly competitive international governmental contract services sector and the establishment of a growing regional and international presence.
To support the Group’s ongoing strategic direction, in 2009 BMMI restructured its business activities into two new core divisions- Contract Services & Supply and Retail & Distribution. At the same time, the activities of the previously standalone Logistics business were fully integrated within these specialist divisions to provide a more seamless and responsive service to clients. A key development during 2008 was the establishment of the Group’s new subsidiary in Africa, GSS Global Sourcing & Supply, which provides integrated facilities management (IFM), sourcing & supply, provision of camps & temporary structures and contract services for clients across Africa and the Middle East.
Since its formation, GSS has successfully provided a comprehensive range of contracted services to commercial, governmental and NGO clients in mature and developing markets. Constantly developing and with a solid and trustworthy reputation, the company has expanded its operations into Mali, Gabon, Ghana, Sudan and South Sudan, and also runs a new hub in Kenya, which provides access to the markets of Tanzania, Uganda and Somalia. This is in addition to BMMI’s operations in Djibouti and Iraq.
Over the past five years, GSS has offered services supplied to industries as diverse as NGOs, mining, infrastructure and oil and gas, with a focus on temporary structures, facility management and food and hospitality services in both onshore and offshore sectors. With high-quality services and continuous expansion, GSS has become one of the foremost providers of Integrated Facility Management solutions to a wide range of clients across Africa.
A bustling Manama pier in the 1950s
Discovery of oil in Bahrain
In the early 1930s, BMMI provided contracting and other services to the foreign firms involved in sinking artesian wells to discover much needed new sources of water for Bahrain.
These drilling activities ‘accidentally’ led to the discovery of oil in 1932, the first in the Gulf region.
The first oil well was situated in the middle of the desert, near to Jebel Al Dukhan, the highest spot in Bahrain. Following this breakthrough, Gray Mackenzie worked closely with the Bahrain Oil Company in helping to establish the country’s oil industry.
Respect for the past, focus on the future
As the Group marks over 130 years of uninterrupted operations, it continues to prove its commitment to growth, expansion, adapting to market needs and leading the way in innovation. During the last few years, BMMI has worked hard to expand its offerings and its operations and to improving its existing businesses and systems.
The Group has committed to ensuring the superiority of the systems that keep the Group functioning and to following best practices, while providing exceptional offerings. In 2011, the Group implemented an Integrated Management System (IMS), combining certifications in quality (ISO 9001), Occupational Health and Safety (OHSAS 18001), Environment (ISO 14001) and Food Safety (ISO 22000), proving the Group’s pledge to operate within the best international standards.
Since then, the Group has been recertified in these standards, becoming one of the first companies in the region to successfully pass audits for the 2015 revised global standards for quality and environment management systems. Furthermore, with the introduction of IMS earlier this decade, Alosra supermarket became the first in its industry to implement and receive such certification. In 2014, BMMI celebrated the 10th anniversary of operations in Djibouti, passed stage 1 and 2 audits and was recommended for certification in both Occupational Health & Safety (OHSAS 18001) and Quality Management Systems (ISO 9001)
Additionally, the Group marked its historic milestone with a future-forward venture. The Group launched a first of its kind, state-of-the art online shopping website alosraonline.com. The first such service in Bahrain, the online portal boasts the largest range of products, allowing customers to make online purchases, delivered straight to their doorstep anywhere in Bahrain. This initiative is a prime example of how BMMI has worked the hardest and led the way in providing its customers and clients with the most innovative solutions that respond to our ever-changing market needs and customer demands.
Furthermore, continuing BMMI’s legacy of exporting success stories internationally, last year, Alosra supermarket opened its first branch outside Bahrain, in Dhahran, Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Currently, more branches are in the pipeline for the KSA, with prospective plans for more locations in the region, as well.
In 1907 Gray Paul rented,and then in 1909 purchased, a large house
Enduring landmarks of the past & the future
In 1907 Gray Paul rented, and then in 1909 purchased, a large house and adjoining warehouse opposite Manama Port to serve as the new headquarters of the Company’s growing business activities in Bahrain. As early photographs show, this was on the seafront, before later land reclamation took place for the construction of Government Avenue.
The building was renovated and expanded on several occasions over the next 90 years, serving as the HQ for Gray Mackenzie and then BMMI. For over 90 years, it was a famous landmark at Bab Al Bahrain, until 1998, when the Group moved to its new purpose-built premises at Sitra. However, the heritage of this site lives on, with the construction this year’s launch of Downtown Rotana. Located in the Manama Suq, opposite the Bahrain Financial Harbour, the hotel is being operated through Banader, a company in which BMMI has a majority stake, having offered the remainder of the equity to other BMMI shareholders.
Additionally, as the Group turned 130 in 2013, BMMI acquired a 17-storey commercial tower and stand-alone car part to relocate their corporate offices, ideally located across from Seef Mall in Bahrain and in close proximity to most major financial institutions, as well as some of the country’s top hotels and leisure spots.
The purchase was a major investment on the part of BMMI and is a valuable addition to the Group’s various assets around the kingdom, proving, once again, that as BMMI marked 130 years anniversary, it continues to grow and prosper as one of Bahrain’s cornerstone businesses.
In 2014, BMMI successfully ventured into Bahrain’s competitive restaurants industry. With an investment of BD1.5 million, and leveraging on its relationships with beverage brands it supplies exclusively to the market, BMMI opened two unique restaurant concepts within one of Bahrain’s main dynamic dining districts, block 338 in Adliya.
La Vinoteca Barcelona, with its focus on modern Mediterranean gastronomic creations, sophisticated culinary fusions and an exquisite list of beverages, and Café Amsterdam, with its lively European design motifs, eclectically crafted menu and zealous attention to detail, became successes virtually overnight, garnering multiple awards within their first year of operation.
Gray Paul's office at Manama Port, following renovation in the 1950s
In 2015, BMMI achieved another major milestone by being the first recipient of the Sustainable Business Award, a part of the Bahrain Award for Entrepreneurship. The award highlights the importance of business sustainability and it recognises organisations that embed it into their principles, practices, operations, culture, products and services, as well as organisations that are achieving positive social and environmental impact. The Sustainable Business Award validates BMMI’s dedication to the betterment of the community. This is evident in the Group’s CSR & sustainability policy, entitled ‘Nourishing Life’, which aims to support and nourish BMMI’s customers, employees, communities, the earth and all stakeholders that interact with the company, reaffirming the Group’s commitment to being a responsible corporate citizen.
Today, with a diversified and growing portfolio of businesses and offerings, and a commitment to the development of the communities in which it operates, as well as record revenues and profits, BMMI continues to prove its place as one of the cornerstones of Bahrain’s thriving business community.
Looking ahead to the next 130 years & beyond
During the last 133 years, the Group’s growth has mirrored that of the Kingdom of Bahrain, and we take pride in our enduring contribution to the nation’s social and economic development, and its growing international recognition. However, while proud of our past, we are not complacent, and our Board and Management remain firmly focused on ensuring the future growth and expansion of the Group. We will build upon our achievements to date, consolidating our presence in Bahrain, the Middle East and Africa, while exploring new opportunities for business growth. BMMI is currently evaluating a number of very interesting business opportunities in different parts of the world, which include potential new strategic alliances and business partnerships. We will use these to implement our strategy of geographic expansion and diversification of revenues in areas where the Group can tap its core competencies and add value. As well as continuing to grow our retail and distribution, and contract services and supply divisions, we will also look at new business lines that complement our core activities, and which will enhance the Group’s synergies and economies of scale.
Strongly capitalised, with healthy levels of liquidity and an excellent track record, the Group is well positioned to meet the challenges of the future with growing confidence and determination.