Foreward

Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Ashraf’s


We became very friendly with the Ashraf family who were one of the local dynasty’s that had built up their trading business from the earliest days when the Indian sub-continent had been the main traders with the Arabian Gulf in all sorts of goods and services. In fact in the latter days of British Rule in the early 1970’s, Bahrain still used Indian Rupee as it’s day-to-day currency.
Ashraf’s like a few other families had become naturalised Bahraini’s although they were originally from India. Anwar the father and his brother had taken over from their own father, who had founded the business, and Anwar had subsequently built their business up beyond recognition since the end of World War 2, but not without the skills and devotion of his wife Inge.
Inge was Austrian born, and she had fled to London aged 15 at the end of the war, lying about her age and got a job working in hospitals doing any job she could manage.  She went to night school and learned secretarial skills and gained a real job working for a shipping company in London that handled Ashraf’s goods to Bahrain. She met Anwar and ended up marrying him and returning to Bahrain with him, living with and cooking for his extended family in their house in Manama.
With her western attitude and business skills, she was soon dealing with a number of leading European companies and gained many agencies for Ashraf’s over the years for the entire Arabian Gulf Region, notable Kodak, Sony, WMF, Kenwood, etc. She also played hostess to all the visiting sales representatives and added her own style to the business. I am certain that she built the modern day company and without her, Ashraf’s would not be where it is today.
Anwar and Inge had three children, Samir (Sami), Romana (Romy) and Reshma.
Sami was good friends with Andre Padrut and Violin, so Bob and I became friends with him. Sami drove a green BMW 633i at the time and like many other customers complained of the lack of service in Bahrain. We ended up taking care of his car and in turn all of the Ashraf family cars. Inge had imported a red LHD Jaguar XJS and this was forever costing Anwar a small fortune in repair bills.
One day Inge called Bob and I and told us flames were coming from under the bonnet! We drove up to the house and went with their driver to see the car stranded on the highway. It had virtually burnt out the engine bay. We reported back to Inge that evening and she said, “I don’t care what it costs, I want my Jaguar repaired.” Anwar was not too happy but went along with her as he usually did.
Anwar was a terrible driver and I was always on edge whenever he drove ma anywhere usually in a small Toyota and he could not understand why his wife needed a big fancy car. Anwar was a man of very simple means, although very wealthy, but he knew the value Inge had bought to the family business and she invariable got what she wanted. We eventually repaired the car and gave Anwar a huge bill and he immediately paid us our money promptly as normal. However, this time he said, “Can’t you drive that car out in to the desert, dig a big hole and bury it!”
We were invited up to the Ashraf’s four or five times per week and in fact when Bob and I were hungry, we just called in and Inge always invited us in for a chat for a few minutes. This always turned into dinner, wine and a long chat lasting all evening.
At that time, she had just moved into her dream house in West Riffa that Andre Padrut had designed and built for her. This house was absolutely magnificent and decorated and furnished to the highest standards. However Inge was always complaining that the plumbing was not working correctly and that Andre was useless in solving her maintenance problems so consequently Bob and I used to do odd jobs for her whilst we were there.
This turned into a regular system and soon we were getting as much money from Inge’s house repairs that we were getting from repairing cars. The plumbing was not really badly designed or fitted, just a bit complicated and suffered from lots of air locks if the mains water got cut off. This was a common occurrence in Bahrain in those days. So if Inge called, we just pitched up and back flushed and bled the system, got all the air locks out and all was well until the next time the mains was cut off and their tank ran low. Inge wanted to set us up in a House Maintenance business but we respectfully declined knowing that Porsche was our future.
Sami called me in one day to his office and said he was interested in looking into buying a Porsche. I played to his vanity and told him he could make history and become our first real Porsche customer in Bahrain and that did the trick. We sat down together and he specified the colour, trim, options and then he placed his order with us for a 924 Turbo. This was 1982 and the Turbo had just been released into production in Europe so no other person had one in Bahrain. As Sami was buying the car through his company, as he was Managing Director, he asked us if we would take a Letter of Credit to guarantee payment instead of cash, to which I said yes, not even knowing what a Letter of Credit was! However, we soon found out talking to his financial controller and they placed their Letter of Credit on our Performance Cars Bahrain (PCB) account at Grindlays Bank in Manama.
As we were now dealing with international finance, Bob and I made an appointment to see the Bank Manager, Tim Gray, who was Canadian and explained our position. He was very helpful and suggested we back-to-back Ashraf’s L/C so he could raise a new one for us to Porsche AG to pay for the 924 turbo in full including insurance and shipping to Bahrain.
I cannot recall much about our banking prior to starting with Porsche, but basically Sheikh Rashid took over dealing with Bob and I on a day-to-day basis and his brothers stayed in the background, although we met them regularly. We did not have a company legally registered under the commercial laws of Bahrain at that time. Sheikh Rashid said he had a general trading C.R. (company registration) and that we could use this number and a copy of his registration to open our bank account and if we encountered any problems he would step in.
We asked Rashid what he wanted from the business and he told us just a small percentage for him and his brothers, but in the main, they just wanted it known in their community that they were behind us in the Porsche business. This was very much a pride thing with them and the money aspect was secondary. So we drew up a one-page Sponsorship Agreement signed it and shock hands on it.
Our relationship with Tim Gray at Grindlays Bank grew and I really liked Tim and the way he conducted business for the bank. Tim’s attitude was entrepreneurial saying that the bank needed to take say ten calculated chances at backing new business ventures, knowing that maybe 6 or 7 would fail and the few remaining would grow to be valuable long term clients for the bank and cover any losses the others may have made, (although I never heard of any bank losing money). Tim saw a lot of potential with us and Porsche and he advised us how to finance more sales. We did this by taking a 20% cash deposit with each firm order (L/C and other financial instruments stood on their own merits), which he used, as a margin to open up an L/C to Porsche AG for us.
The Bank then took ownership of the cars once they were shipped to us in the forms of the Original Bills of Lading, which were forwarded from Porsche to the bank, and copies to us with the invoices. When the car arrived, we cleared it through customs and deposited the balance funds with the bank and they released the papers allowing the particular car to be registered at the Traffic Department.
Under the law we could only mark up the duty paid landed cost of a new car by 18%, which was evidenced by a price certificate for each individual car noting the chassis and engine numbers on it issued by the Ministry of Commerce, which was also required to register each car, so Porsche were very good value for money in Bahrain.  

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