Quarter Century of Doing Business in Yemen [Archives:1998/39/Business & Economy]

September 28 1998

Mr. Harun Sethi began his career in 1965 as a freight forwarder in India. He studied at the India Institute of Foreign Trade (IIFT), New Delhi. Once an export officer of a well-known steel pipes company, he extensively traveled overseas promoting galvanized pipes. During his tenure at the company, over 40,000 tons were shipped to the world in the year 1976/77 – a record-breaking achievement.

In 1978, he established his own company. Pipes were, and still are, its forte. With support from Yemeni business, it branched out from traditional building materials to processed food, chemicals, agricultural products and a host of miscellaneous items to West Asia, Africa and Europe.
To celebrate the silver jubilee of working in Yemen, Mr. Harun Sethi talked to Adel J. Moqbil of Yemen Times, who filed the following interview.
Q: When did you first come to Yemen?
A: To Yemen was my first international trip after completing my post-graduate diploma in the Indian Institute of Foreign Trade, in 1972-73. Since then, and over the past 25 years, I’ve been coming to yemen for business. It has been a rewarding and mutually beneficial association.
Q: Why did you start with Yemen?
A: India and Yemen have strong historical ties going back to hundreds of years. I visited Aden first, then Taiz, and from Taiz I moved to Sanaa. Thewre was also the market potential.
Starting with galvanized pipes in Yemen, I have learned how to handle processed food, pesticides and other commodities.
Q: What was it like doing business in Yemen in the early 1970s?
A: Very difficult!
In South Yemen in those days, business was in the hands of the government. There were about 8 or 10 major state corporations, and it was very difficult to do business with them.
In North Yemen there were only 5 or 6 merchant households like Adhban, Watari, Jumaan. It was also somewhat difficult to do business. It took time to finalize a contract, to get the letter of credit opened up, etc. It was a time consuming process.
One needs to be posted in Yemen, spend a lot of time and mix with the people in order to understand how to do business. You should never push Yemenis to do anything immediately. You have to be patient.
Q: Are things better now?
A: Things have improved. There are computers all over the place. The communications and telephone systems in Yemen are better than in India. Transportation has also improved. There is a good bus and taxi service in between Yemeni cities. The roads are very good.
Q: Do you think Yemen’s conditions are conducive to foreign investment?
A: As far as trading is concerned, you have to be patient. You have to make it worthwhile to foreign businessmen and investors.
Things on the whole are getting better. For example, when I returned from India to Yemen on September 6th, the immigration people saw my passport and one said, “Welcome and have a nice stay in Sanaa.” It seems there is an all round improvement of public relations.
Q: Any last comment?
A: I would just like to say that it is not easy to run a country like Yemen, with all the different tribal allegiances. But I think Yemen has done very well, and I see a big future for it. You just have to understand the place and people to work here.