Foresighted Diligence and Determination
An Interview with the Solico Founder
He is from Amol, in a few years he will be sixty. A life of creative hard work and efforts. He is interviewed in a situation of being back to work from months of recuperation of an automobile accident's injuries, nevertheless like before, active and energetic. He loves his work and believes in it. He talks about the country's industry: "This country needs production and industry; we have a number of Technical Universities but not enough industries or knowledge of its importance.
His words contain a lot of connotations. He talks about his failures and frustrations, about his private teachings and paying the worker's wages by using his earnings, about let-downs and disappointments and above all he talks about his undisturbed attitudes towards obstacles.
Soleimani is a prototype and exemplary Iranian business developers. He has innovations and new ideas in production followed by financial rewards and improved technologies. He has welcomed risks, dedicated efforts and persevered until he has accomplished success. Now that he has gained a little national expansion, he doesn't waste any time when it comes to observation and research. He looks here and there to know more about similar fields in countries with more advance technologies. He doesn't miss any exhibitions in related fields, reads management books, he is not a stranger to management advisers, and benefits from advantages of the management strategies. The range of the products that are manufactured under his control and management is so diverse and different; in such a way that sometimes we are concerned this diversity might become problematic. We interviewed Gholamali Soleimani in autumn of 84 in his office located in Ajarbayjan Avenue East.
Please introduce yourself:
Gholamali Soleimani, date of birth 25/3/1325 – Amol. I spent my Elementary and Secondary school in Amol, and then moved to Tehran. I tried 2 years to enter the university; finally I got to the Melli University and majored in mathematics. From the second year in the university I started working, from that year on I paid my tuition myself, my father was upset about it and didn't talk to me for this reason. Starting the third year and forth year, I was the first student who stopped paying tuition to the university. In response to Professor Pouyan, "God bless his soul", who asked me: "Why don't pay your tuition" I answered: I have no money what should I do, and I am not prepared to work and pay my tuition, with all this oil money what difference does it make if I pay my tuition or not? He asked: What did you do last year; I said I got a bank loan. He asked: "Why don't do the same now? I answered: I don't find it appropriate, now should I stay or should I leave? He answered: Stay. Then I said, Professor the university pays 300 Tomans student's aids, is it possible if I could receive this money? He answered: I don't know if you're here to pay or to get paid? Nevertheless he approved for me to get that 300 tomans monthly.
I also worked during my compulsory military services, I used to teach once a week in the College and the rest of the week I taught private classes. This is the time that we established a company and tried to sell proforma invoices. We visited different embassies to get information and addresses, those days mostly proforma invoices for construction materials were in demand.
From 1350 to 1357 I started to work seriously, by then I had established 2 companies; the one I mentioned before and the other one was a company by the name of Marketing and Research with the collaboration of an American and an Indian, this company had some income to make up for the expenses of the other one and the rest was covered by bank loan. Making it short; after the revolution my partners both left Iran. The companies practically generated no income, therefore by teaching private classes; I covered my own expenses as well as my employees' salaries.
In 1356 I started my own business right in this place where we are now. This locaton then belonged to my sister. They were planning to rent it for 17 Tomans a month. I suggested to my sister that I would rent this place for 20 Tomans per month from her. They asked me: if I had any money and how I was going to pay the rent? I answered: "No I don't but I work and earn money and pay the rent."
Eventually, I rented this very place that you see from sister and started from nothing. I started the sausage and cold meat division with the Gillan Kalbas Co. This is the story: That time garlic powder was 28 tomans per kilo, but we had obtained proforma invoice from China for 7 tomans per kilo. We didn't have even 7000 Tomans to import one Ton into the country. Gillan Co. accepted to buy 5 Tons and we imported and delivered the goods to them. One day the director approached me with a job offer and he was very persistent, I said I had my own company, but he said you are an honest and persistent person, you called me about 2 and half years once or twice a week to sell garlic powder, for doing so and your follow ups you must come and work with me. I said I had my own business and my work, it didn't make any sense to leave it, and of course we were not doing that good in our business. So, we reached an agreement to work together here with equal shares. We decided to start the Gillan Co. and also I was assigned to be in charge of provision and procurement of the raw materials purchased internally or imported into the country. It was agreed I get paid a salary of 10000 Tomans a month, after a few months they decided not to be a part distribution system.
During the period of 2 months that I worked there, the production tripled. Before I started working, the daily production was 4 Tons, later it was increased to 12 Tons. Before we would bring one full van and we were suppose to sell it in a week. Now we would bring one truck every day and would sell it the same day. I encouraged the workers to stay overtime and work day and night shifts and would pay their wages myself. On the other hand I would profit from the distribution and would pay the workers 5 to 10 tomans, so that they would stay and worked long hours. Mikaelian had a partner who would say: It's either my place or this guy's place who works so hard, and for sure he is going to own the company soon. It's either his place or my place, you have to choose. Finally I had to clear the accounts and separated from them. After the death of Mikaelian, his wife approached me again, and asked me to help them in production, without revealing the fact to her partner I became a partner with 15% shares and started the job. I maintained the plant capacity at 12 Tons per day and because I was earning enough I didn't get the 10000 tomans salary either.
Those days they had a number of machineries that were not installed; Mrs. Mikaelian was not in agreement with her partner who didn't want these machineries installed. She asked my opinion; I said the factory doesn't have to be in Gillan we could take it to Amol. We obtained the permit and I spoke to one of my friends who had background experience in Pichak and Yekoyek companies and asked him to team up with us. I offered him a job with 25% increase over his current pay at Pichak.
When I got his approval, later his wife said she didn't want to live in Amol, she liked to live in Tehran. She worked in the Ministry of Industries; I told her if she could get a permit for a cold meat factory in Tehran, I would move and live there. She was originally from Shiraz and they recently had a new born and her mother had come to Tehran to take care of the baby. I went to their home for a visit, I noticed she had to go back to work and the baby needed care, anyhow the situation was not that good. I told her: "Why are you being so stubborn, you can go back to Shiraz and work in the Ministry of Industries while your mother would take care of your father and your baby, you can also obtain a permit for us, then we could move there and establish a cold meat factory in Shiraz." We had a representative over there; I called him up and asked him if he could rent a location for the factory. He said that he already had a site, so my partner and I visited the place. We agreed to give him some shares of the business in lieu of the rent. We moved the machineries from Gillan and my friend with 2 backgrounds in factory work and production became the production manager. Now the factory was ready but we didn't have any money to buy meat and start the machineries. So we initiated borrowing from anybody we knew to buy meat. I approached one of the people who were close to Mikaelian and worked in his factory, I told him:" you are an expert in cold meat production, I am asking you to come to Shiraz and teach us what you already know" and he accepted. This whole episode happened before the revolution.
At beginning of the revolution, one day early morning at 6 am I was going to go to the office, one of the floating distributors by the name of Shater Hossain met me on the street and greeted me. I asked him how he was doing, he hit himself on the head and said, I had nine children and my wife gave birth to a twin yesterday, now I have 11 children and you don't have any sausage and cold meat, now I don't know how to feed them. I told him not to worry; God is great, although, I was really upset for Shater Hossain. At the same time one of my customers that I had imported 2 hamburger maker devices called me and told me he didn't need the devises, and asked me to sell them as soon as I could and send him the money. It was 8 in the morning, and that day we had not received any sausages and cold meat from Gillian and meat was scarce. That afternoon I went and bought a meat grinding machine, and decided to start a hamburger making plant right in the office. I kept those 2 devices for hamburger making and talked to people who had experience in this field and asked them to teach me how to make hamburgers. The first day from six in the morning until 12 midnight with the help of 4 workers we made 197 hamburgers. Sausage and cold meat were scarce and people like Shater Hossain were too many. They would come to the front of the office and took the freshly made hamburgers from us therefore; we didn't need to take them to the cold store. That's how we started hamburgers right in this office and sausage and cold meat in Shiraz.
Tell us about your parents and your family:
I was born and raised in a 100% religious family. My father was a lawyer. Then schools had only 4 classes. My mother also had that much school. My father had started from Maktabkhaneh (old school) and since the new schools did not exist in those days, after Maktabkhaneh he had moved to Tehran and had finished his studies there. He was a clergyman first and then became a lawyer.
In the birth order of the siblings which one are you?
From my father's side the 10th childand from my mother's side the first born.
How many siblings do you have?
All my brothers died young. Now I have 3 brothers and 3 sisters, who are all younger than me. One of my brothers is the Managing Director of Amol Meat factory and the other one is the Managing Director for Kalleh Dairy Co.
When you talk, it's obvious everything turns around one person, and that is Gholamali Soleimani. When did you feel that you cannot work with anybody else?
I have always felt that I can work with others. But here people are not very much work oriented. All the people who started working with me, I forced them to become my partner. For example when I started the hamburger business I asked one of my friends to come and work with me, I offered him 50% increase over his previous salary and a share of the profit. He said: "if you wouldn't be able to pay me, then what?" Of course he was right, at the time in order to pay his salary every month, I taught private classes.
So this is the benefits of mathematics?
No, it has 2 benefits, first it activates the brain cells and then one knows which path to take, of course I don't want to be condescending towards others.
I am still waiting to hear the answer to my previous question.
From eight or nine grade I was always thinking to start a business. At that time, I used to tell my class mates, some of them still my present colleagues; we could buy a taxi cab with 2000 tomans and worked together in Amol. Actually then we could do this. Especially one of my class mates was well off and could raise this money. But all of them would laugh at me and said I was crazy.
Later in the university, I always thought that I had to work. Despite the fact that I was raised in a well to do family, I often thought about starting a business. My father didn't agree with me. He would always say, one should study and become a scholar. He was fascinated with education. But I didn't believe only in educations. I always said that you should live, and for living in addition to thoughts and wisdom, you need money. To get money you should work. Therefore I always thought about the kind work I should be doing. When I was a student I had an income of over 1000 Tomans per month. I would get 300 tomans from the university. Twice a week I worked in a school which brought me 300 tomans. About 600 or 700 tomans was my income from private classes. In short I was better off financially than any other student. Because I believed I had to make money to live a better life. Since then I always said that; the people I work with shouldn't necessarily be rich, I should somehow make them a partner in my business. I would suggest to them: "you become a partner, this is your salary and this is your share." So everyday they wouldn't come to me and tell me their salary was not enough. In reality the more the profit, the more their income would be. I brought everyone with affections; I assigned production to people who were experienced. Of course for choosing my partners I had logic. I knew all these people very well through relationships and negotiations. Based on the knowledge I had about each individual I would choose that person for a job and would become a partner. Of course, all these people before being a partner they were my advisors as well.
In fact, I knew the machineries and the market. I could see the demand and had the knowledge of the industries. Among 30 to 40 different industries I chose the meat business. The Marketing and Research Company helped me a lot. Although at the time the roads and constructions were the pick of business, I chose the food industries, because I had a vision for better future in this field, among the food industries I chose meat industry because it was more profitable.
At some point on the way, you formed a board of directors, how many of the members are your family?
In the beginning when I established a company such as Solico, Dames or Tehran Company, I would choose the board from my partners. When I set up Amol, since my brother lived in Amol, the members consisted of 2 of my brothers a friend and me. In Boushehr the board consisted of 4 individuals all of them not family. In Kalleh because I was the main shareholder, the board members in addition to myself, were 2 of my brothers and a friend. But the decision maker in all of them is I, myself.
What is the job of the 4th member?
Actually the plants are managed by 2 people. The 4th board member is in charge of the management of the company such as planning, marketing and sales. Purchases of machineries has always been my own responsibility and are finalized by myself, everyone else only executes my decisions.
Why? What is your philosophy that you don't let members of the board have their own management sectors?
It is because when the work started for the first time; we didn't have enough possibilities and funds to arrange jobs based on technical advisors. Each sector that I initiated I started from scratch. Even the property was purchased on a bank loan; I bought all the machineries second hand and all of them with the minimum possible budget. All the solutions and ideas were mine. It was possible that I assigned the distribution to someone else, but only under my supervision, and my command and planning. I have shouldered the responsibly for the companies to take shape. I manage all th