Friday, 24 February 2012

Prince Naif

In February 1981, one of our customers Bob Storey introduced Bob Grafham and me to Prince Naif in Kuwait, who was the son of the Emir of Kuwait. Prince Naif was officially head of the Kuwaiti Air Force, but he had set-up a number of business ventures called Rakan International Enterprises, named after his son Rakan.
Rakan also had an office in Bahrain, which was managed by Bob Storey, one of our customers, who approached us and arranged for us to visit Kuwait to discuss possible partnership with Prince Naif in Porsche.
We flew up to Kuwait and a policeman at the visa arrivals desk met us, as we needed a pre-arranged visa to enter Kuwait. This policeman then took us through immigration and customs and into a car destined for Prince Naif’s offices. We had agreed to stay over in Kuwait if required for a few days and that evening we met Prince Naif in his office in the Meriden complex attached to the hotel.
Bob and I sat down with Prince Naif and he told us what he was doing in business globally and it was frightening. He told us that he had sent 1,200 Personal Computers (which were new in those days) round to various Ministries “on loan” and three months later, he sent them the invoice!
It was apparent that Prince Naif loved Porsche and he told us he wanted to take over Porsche for the entire GCC States. He planned to convert a Boeing 727 (he had a specialist aircraft company in the USA) and make it into a flying Porsche showroom! We talked for an hour or so about his ideas were literally “off the planet!”
He took us downstairs to the garage and he showed us his Porsche 928S which had number plate No.1 on it. He said he had purchased this car in Germany and imported it privately and that he wanted to sell Porsche across the region. I told him Bebehani were the importer in Kuwait and although they were not very active like us, I was unsure if Porsche AG wanted to change, but I agreed to ask Philip Kaes and get back to him.
Back in his office, Prince Naif opened a cupboard and took out two Porsche Design Compass watches and gave one to each of us as a present. We were a bit startled by this, but I knew some of these wealthy Sheiks did this sort of thing, so we gratefully accepted. Bob and I both looked inside the cupboard and it was completely full of Porsche Design watches! Prince Naif said he had to go but we agreed we would meet up the following afternoon. He had arranged hotel rooms for us both in the Meridian, which were on his account, so we were treated like VIP’s.
 On the way out, the Indian secretary asked us both to step into the telex room, which we thought a bit odd. She asked, “Do you have the bottles?” We looked completely blank and she explained that everyone that visited from Bahrain bought a bottle of Scotch for the office, so where we her two bottles? No one had told us and we promised to bring one each next time. Kuwait was dry, but apparently customs turned a blind eye to the odd bottle bought in by non-Muslim expatriates.
The following day Bob and I looked around the Meriden shopping complex and the met up with Prince Naif’s general manager a British chap called Adrian. He had us in fits of laughter at some of the episodes he had been involved with in Prince Naif.
We met Prince Naif in the afternoon and he took us around to show us some potential showrooms and land for building a new Porsche complex. He drove his manual Porsche 928S absolutely flat out all the time in all the gears like he was on a racing circuit! Bob and I took turns in the back and we drove through and around the city of Kuwait. But to be honest, I was frightened out of my life most of the time.
Back at the office later, Adrian told us Prince Naif was on his third clutch in his Porsche 928S which raised some questions from us as to how this had happened. The first one was destroyed racing a Mirage fighter plane down the taxiway at the airbase. Prince Naif had one of his pilots take off on the runway and he raced the plane in his Porsche 928S, burning the cutch out in the process. A new one was fitted and he had destroyed that after a few thousand kilometres and now he was on his third one! When I asked Prince Naif about this later, he said, “My pilot cheated by pulling the after burner to win!”
I made an initial approach to Philip Kaes at Porsche AG and he agreed to fly over and meet us in Kuwait and talk with Prince Naif. A few weeks later we had our meeting and things went better than expected, as there seemed a possibility to work together. Philip had explained that Bebehani were only selling a few cars in Kuwait and Porsche wanted them to be more proactive which they consistently resisted. They were not doing a bad job and they always had a couple of cars in stock, but we were selling more cars in Bahrain than they were in Kuwait, which was potentially a much bigger market, if handled properly. The truth was, Bebehani were just not that interested in Porsche, so they did the absolute minimum to get by to keep their agreement valid.
Negotiations continued once we were back in Bahrain but suddenly one day they stopped. Apparently Prince Naif had gone around starting several new ventures and we were one of those with us and Porsche. He had recently employed an American as CEO to run his Group of Company’s and when this American took over, he put the brakes on all new business expansion overnight. I tried calling this man but all we got was a telex stating Prince Naif had given him the authority to run the Group and he was not interested in looking at any new ventures at this time as he had his hands full consolidating the existing businesses. However he would be willing to look at Porsche in a year or so, which we took as, “thanks, but no thanks.”

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