The story of Baqer Mohebi: How one small shop on the Dubai River became a family empire

When Baqer Mohebi opened a small shop on the Creekside in Bur Dubai in 1931, he was in his early twenties. Over the years, the store has grown into a massive empire that is now Zainal Mohebi Holdings. All thanks to the hard work of his son, the late Zainal, who was about nine years old when he started working for his father. In 1967, a 27-year-old Zainal took over the family business when his father Baqer Mohebi passed away. The rest, as they say, is history. Those who have lived in the UAE long enough would be aware of the legacy of the late Baqer Mohebi, father of the late Zainal. The Baqer Mohebi supermarkets are synonymous with big discounts on snacks and groceries. It is popular for the Dh1 deals in certain stores’ stores. The food store founded by Baqer Mohebi in 1931 was one of only 15 stores set up in Dubai at the time. Zainal Baqer Mohebi, the man behind the success of Baqer Mohebi Enterprises and its parent company Zainal Mohebi Holdings, passed away on July 11, 2019. His son Mohammed Zainal Baqer Mohebi (49), CEO of Zainal Mohebi Holdings, recalls how he has made this family business a success over the years. Zainal’s son Mohammed and his brother Mahmood Baqer Zainal Mohebi, board of directors at Zainal Mohebi Holdings gives an insight into the legacy of Baqer and Zainal Mohebi in the UAE.

Baqer Mohebi: The man who started it all

The original store that Baqer Mohebi opened in Bur Dubai was close to where the British Bank of the Middle East (BBME) was. Mahmood says his father Baqer was a kind of philosopher. ‘He used to read a lot of philosophical books. During his journey, he came up with ideas and concepts. He was a visionary and saw things before his times. ” ‘Zainal, who was the eldest son among the siblings, hung out in my father’s shop and helped him with his daily activities. “Unfortunately, my father passed away at a young age, and Zainal, as his experience and wisdom took over the business,” said Mahmood.

Dr. Zainal Baqer Mohebi: The man who took it to new heights

While Baqer Mohebi was the family business, it really was his son, dr. Zainal, Baqer Mohebi, who was a visionary, who took the family business to the next level. “He was a very hard-working man. “I found his blanket regularly in his office, which means he worked long hours and slept in the office earlier,” said his son, Mohammed. Recalling his father’s financial challenges during his business career, he says: ‘He always jumped back, what he did by staying in the game, innovating business strategies and having a vision for the company and the community as a whole.’ “My father would say I should not listen to rumors. People will talk, he said, and their answers will come on time. “Instead of wasting time on his problems, Zainal puts his heart and soul into making his business a successful business,” said Mohammed. ‘People are emotional, but the most important tool is to limit our reactions as much as possible. “I know he had to rebuild himself twice in his case – which is quite an achievement,” he said. “That’s what sets him apart,” he said. Mohammed said he learned a lot from his father’s achievements, but also paid attention to things where he could improve.

Passionate inspiration

Zainal loved cigars, and this is what the Baqer Mohebi Enterprise (BME) asked 50 years ago to launch a tobacco division. “He himself loved cigars and he brought the cigar culture to the UAE,” Mohammed said. Mohammed remembers how 80 percent of the cold room in their old kitchen was stacked with cigars. “He loved them so much.” Zainal introduced Habanos, the world’s best hand – rolled cigars that showed its passion for Cuban cigars, Mohammed said. Today, the company distributes cigars throughout the United Arab Emirates and Oman. As a result, La Casa Del Habano opened in 1988, the first exclusive retail chain for premium Cuban cigars, in the United Arab Emirates. Today, there are six stores across the region – in Abu Dhabi, Dubai, the Duty Free Zone in Dubai and Muscat in Oman. Zainal Mohebi Holdings The company is an amalgamation of companies in Dubai with diverse interests in the growing industries of food distribution, international freight management, real estate and other related businesses. Within the holding company, Baqer Mohebi Enterprises, specialists in the UAE for the distribution and marketing of consumer goods, are known to the residents of the UAE and visitors from all over the world. What’s sweeter is the fact that this home business from the UAE stayed within the family.

An anecdote to remember

‘My father loved Hoyo de Monterrey’s cigar brand. It was a very long cigar. I remember my dad cut it in half and smoked it. I asked him why he did it because the tip of a long cigar was to smoke it like that. ‘ His father replied that he smoked Romeo y Julieta when he first brought cigars to Dubai. His friends will mock him and say he puts a long thing in his mouth. The habit of cutting the long cigar in half comes from this incident. ‘Nobody understood cigars, but he turned the whole concept around. He single-handedly created a cigar culture in the UAE. However, he first brought the cigar for himself. “I would know my father was in the house by the smell of the cigar,” said Mohammed.

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Mohebi Center

Another groundbreaking work by Zainal was the establishment of the first department store in the UAE – the Mohebi Center. ‘It was in Bur Dubai near the Astoria Hotel. It was very well known at the time, “said Mahmood. ‘On the ground floor there was a supermarket and a shop with, among other things, toys, perfume, household appliances. We had big brands with us, ”he said. Mohammed added: ‘I remember the Mohebi center was very popular in those days. Bollywood personalities visiting Dubai will make a detour to the city center. Even after we closed the premises, we would receive offers from large companies asking us if we were interested in representing them. ”

More than just a business person: Zainal

Mohammed said his father Zainal was more than just a businessman. “He was a patriot and worked hard to establish dual-trade relations between the UAE and the Soviet Union. What was special about him was that he was a visionary. He was always ahead of his time. ” Zainal passed away in 2019 after a long illness.

Fast forward to Mohammed’s journey

Mohammed joined the family business in 1994 after completing his studies in Geneva, Switzerland. He graduated from the College du Leman, Switzerland, and then studied business administration at the European University, Switzerland. He has also done various training programs, including the module Leadership Management at IMD, Lausanne, Switzerland and at the London Business School (LBS). “My foundation was strong. There were principles my father laid down. I learned a lot from his values, but I also learned from his mistakes. I could no longer feel blessed to be part of the family. ”

Falling in love with Switzerland

He recalled falling in love with Switzerland during his high school and college days. “I went there for my high school and when I told my father I wanted to study in the country for my undergraduate degree, he was more than happy to send me back.”

Join the family business

Shortly after joining the company, Mohammed became secretary general of the group until he was appointed CEO of the company in 2002. In 2005, Mohammed founded Mohebi Investments to become its chairman and CEO. With the Mohebi Logistics initiative, he ventured into the logistics and supply chain management area to establish the benchmark for the sector. Today, Mohammed is responsible for overseeing the Group’s operations. He also serves as vice chairman and board member of the Group’s joint ventures. Mohammed oversees the formulation of the policies and procedures that the group provides the blueprint for conducting business.

Maintaining the company strategy

Mohammed said the company’s historic strategy was not to tackle retail to a large extent. ‘The strategy was to go to food services, agency lines and so on. Of course, my father also set up businesses in other areas such as shipping and real estate. ”