Nadhmi Auchi, KCN, KSS, GCFO, one of Britain’s most successful entrepreneurs, was born in 1937 to a professional family in Baghdad.
As a student at the University of Mustansiriyah where he studied economics and politics from 1955, Nadhmi Auchi joined the newly-formed Baathist Party. He was attracted by its goals of pan-Arab unity, economic equality and an end to the final vestiges of colonialism in the Middle East; however, his activism led to his arrest in 1960 along with 76 other party members, following a failed attempt to overthrow the government of Prime Minister Abdul Karim Qassim. Despite having only a minor and peripheral role, he was sentenced to three years “rigorous imprisonment.”
Following his release after two years, during which time Mr Auchi was beaten and tortured, he left the Baathist Party to help form a new political grouping, the United Socialist Moment. He married Ibtisam in 1963, graduated from university in 1967 and landed his first job as a junior civil servant at Iraq’s oil refineries administration.
A year after the successful 1968 Baathist coup, Mr Auchi was again arrested and imprisoned without trial by the new regime. He resumed his career in 1969 and rose to become the Director of Planning and Development at the Oil Ministry.
Entrepreneurship & Britain
Mr Auchi left the civil service in 1972 to fulfil business ambitions. Early ventures include a contracting firm and electrical manufacturing.
The rapid growth of Mr Auchi’s businesses led to the incorporation of General Mediterranean Holdings (GMH) in Luxembourg in 1979, the year in which Saddam Hussein became President of Iraq. The new company allowed him to extend his commercial activities in an increasingly globalised marketplace.
Within a year Mr Auchi had fled to London with his wife and two children. He did not return to Iraq until 2007, a year after Saddam’s death. His decision to leave the country of his birth had followed a bruising encounter with an enforcer for the head of Iraq’s intelligence service, Saddam’s half-brother Barzan Ibrham Al-Tikriti, whose activities included siphoning off funds on all government tenders valued above US$15 million. The episode convinced Mr Auchi that he could not pursue his business career without endangering his own life and that of his family.
In 1981 Mr Auchi established CIPAF (Compagnie Internationale de Participations Bancaires et Financieres) as the banking and investment arm of GMH. During this period, GMH continued to build its property interests with the 1984 opening of Le Royal Luxembourg, part of an expanding luxury hotel chain, and the creation of a UK real estate subsidiary, Tucan Investments, with more than US$150 million in assets.
In 1986 Mr Auchi learned that his brother Naseer had been killed by Saddam’s regime. Naseer had no record of political engagement, but had become aware of the extent to which Barzan Ibrahim Al-Tikriti was involved in creating a personal fortune based on corruption and extortion. When a power struggle between Barzan and Saddam Hussein’s son-in-law, Hussein Kamel Hassan al-Majid, was brutally suppressed by the dictator, Naseer was caught in the cross-fire; his knowledge of Barzan’s business corrupt dealings led to his being rounded up with dozens of others and hanged.
Business & Philanthropy
Reflecting his continuing interest in politics and international affairs in 1966, Mr Auchi became vice chairman on an advisory committee to the Institute for Social and Economic Policy in the Middle East at the John F Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, a position he held for four years.
In 1999 GMH celebrated its 20th anniversary. As a mark of recognition, Mr Auchi received a framed print of Westminster signed by more than 130 politicians, including Tony Blair, William Hague and Charles Kennedy, then the leaders of their respective British political parties. The gift, which has pride of place in his Hammersmith office, was presented to him in acknowledgment of his importance in British business life and of his contribution to humanitarian and charitable causes.
In 2002 Mr Auchi brought some of his charitable activities under a single organisational umbrella with the creation of the Anglo Arab Organisation, of which he remains Founder President. The AAO exists both to promote the greater integration of British Arabs into mainstream society and better understanding through dialogue between the UK and the Arab world.
In that same year Mr Auchi received the Key to the City of Uslan, South Korea, in recognition of his investment projects and his company’s major contribution to the country’s economy. GMH was involved in a project to build 10,000 housing units and is a major shareholder in Korad, one of the premier advertising and PR agencies in South Korea. In a similar vein, Mr Auchi also launched his media venture, Middle East Online, an internet-based service that provides coverage of news and current events in Arabic and English.
In line with his leisure sector interests, Mr Auchi’s GMH officially opened WaterGate Park, the 14,000 square metre aqua-park in Beirut, Lebanon. Among its many attractions, WaterGate boasts the 4.10 metre-wide, 150 metre long Mega Slide, the first of its kind to be built outside the USA.
Crescent Pharma, a pharmaceutical manufacturer with over 200 generic product licences, was acquired by GMH in 2003 as the company continued to build its pharmaceutical portfolio.
Mr Auchi’s long-standing work on behalf of inter-church and inter-faith dialogue was honoured in 2003 by the Roman Catholic Sacred Military Constantian Order, through the award of the Grand Cross of the Royal Order of Francis I. A year later this received further recognition when Mr Auchi was knighted by Pope John Paul II.
In 2007 he was awarded the Holy Cross Pro Ecclesia et Pontifice Medal from Pope Benedict XVI in recognition of his support for humanitarian and inter-faith understanding in former Yugoslavia.
The 2007 Presidential Award of the American University of Cairo was presented to Mr Auchi in recognition of his support for graduate education programmes and commitment to developing future leaders to serve the Arab World.
Mr Auchi’s endeavours were acknowledged again in 2014 when he was awarded the order of Knight Commander (KCN) in a ceremony in St John’s, capital of the former British colony of Antigua and Barbuda, in recognition of his longstanding contribution to charitable, humanitarian and inter-religious endeavour in Antigua and Barbuda, the Commonwealth and the wider world.
Back in Britain, every year over 200 diabetes patients a week are benefiting from the services provided the dialysis centre at Hammersmith hospital, which is funded by Mr Auchi.
And today GMH, the company that Mr Auchi founded in 1979, has assets valued at some US$4 billion and a presence in over 30 countries with more than 11,000 employees worldwide.