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The rise and rise of a business dynasty

Posted by By YINKA FABOWALE, Ibadan on 2008/08/05 | Views: 1918 |

The rise and rise of a business dynasty

Mention the name: Zards, and what immediately pops up in many minds is the multi-million naira octopoedal business empire of Zard Holdings or, perhaps, the close – knit Lebanese family who owns and runs it.

Mention the name: Zards, and what immediately pops up in many minds is the multi-million naira octopoedal business empire of Zard Holdings or, perhaps, the close – knit Lebanese family who owns and runs it.

Based in Ibadan, the conglomerate’s business interests span virtually all the strategic sectors of the economy – from agriculture and agro-allied industries to construction, civil engineering, manufacturing, transport and haulage, steel works/fabrication, furniture making, industrial packaging, food processing, printing, and contracts which churn out billions of naira yearly for their promoters.

Indeed, Assad Zard, the progenitor of the Zard brothers – Raymond, Maurice and Eli, must be having a ball in heaven to see what his sons have made of his modest career as a cocoa produce merchant.

One of the first generation of the Lebanese community in Nigeria , the late Assad had fled his home country in 1919 in the wake of a famine and persecution by Turks, and settled in Nigeria in the 1920s. He raised a family of six children with Latife, whom he married in 1930, while partnering, his uncle, C. Zard in trading in cocoa. The latter had been in the country a year earlier.

The team did so well that in 1925, they bought 8,000 tonnes of cocoa out of a total crop of 49,000.
But his sons have proved to be more keenly business-minded than Assad as they diversified into other fields. Today, the companies under the Zard Holdings include but are not limited to Zartech; Kopek construction Limited; Interpak Limited; Energy Foods Co Limited (EFCO) manufacturers of captain biscuits, mummies shortcake and chocko cabin; Sweetco Limited, makers of milkose sweet and chewing gums.

Besides these, the Zards are also into livestock, poultry and fish farming and are believed to own a sizeable portion of the landed and developed property in Iyaganku and the largely commercial Dugbe district in Ibadan, the Oyo State capital.
The combined staff strength of the firms is put at about 2,000. The business success of the Zards has been attributed partly to their shrewdness and business practice, but more importantly to the philanthropy and charismatic leadership offered by one of them, Dr. Raymond Zard.

Raymond, who recently retired from active service on health ground, is a great mixer and ubiquitous face where any cause needed a helping hand from the private sector – a fact, which endeared him to those who mattered. Long before his naturalization as a Nigerian and conferment of the Order of Federal Republic (OFR) national award, the Central Council of Ibadan Indigenes (CCII), have already valued and accepted him as one of their own, having been born at Jericho Nursing Home in the ancient city in May 1938.

Due to his activities, the Olubadan honoured him with the Balogun Babalaje of Ibadan land. He also holds the titles of Baloro of Ife and Bobajiro of Ila Ijebu, and honourary doctorate awarded him by the University of Ibadan (U.I).
Educated at the U.I Senior Staff School, Heaton Moor College, near Stock port, Cheshire and Manchester University, U.K, Raymond speaks four languages including French, English, Arabic and Yoruba fluently. Indeed, the story is told of how a cheeky secretary to a business-executive-friend almost landed herself in trouble for being insolent to Zard. The secretary had according to accounts unnecessarily kept Raymond waiting in her boss’ ante-room, while gossiping in Yoruba about the ‘oyinbo’ who normally came but never “dropped something” for her.

When finally, Raymond was allowed to see his friend and the latter was seeing him off at the ante-room, the Lebanese – Nigerian was said to have burst into Yoruba: “Joo bami bere nkan ti mo se fakowe e, ti ko fe kin ri e o” (please, ask your secretary why she wouldn’t allow me to see you). The secretary was reportedly shell shocked!
In philanthropy, Raymond Zard, who is the life vice president, Ibadan chamber of commerce and industry is the vice patron, Red Cross, Oyo State and the chairman of the Alaanu Endowment Fund, University College Hospital (UCH) which takes care of the bills of indigent patients with serious health problems.

Aside from this, the tycoon awards scholarships to University students and secondary school pupils, in addition to donating books, buildings and boreholes to the institutions.
He is also currently funding the experimental trials for the establishment of domesticated sericulture (Silk) cottage industry at vocational schools in Ilesa, Osun State. Observers say the venture should produce the first natural silk fabric in Nigeria. According to them, if the experiment, which at the moment offers employment to some five million people in five thousand villages in India, proves viable, it would signal a new dawn for cottage industry in Nigeria, which would not only contribute to the reduction of rural-urban migration, but might in fact reverse it.

Despite all this exercise of corporate social responsibility, there are still allegations that his factories notably EFCO and Zartech are a slave camp where workers are exploited. What has further lent credence to this allegation is the secretive manner the Zards conducts their businesses. The media, although not outrightly declared an enemy, are not welcome as guests at the plants.
But a source close to the group denied this, boasting that Zartech in particular was often the first company to pay nationally prescribed minimum wage, or increases, right from the Obasanjo administration. He added that the company’s salary structure was the highest in the agro-allied industry in Nigeria.

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Comments (9)

Kim Worley(Greeley, Colorado, US)says...

I heard this in a song and had no idea what it meant. Googled it and this came up. Very Cool. ????????????????

Obinna(Newark Nj)says...

I want to know more meaning and significant of this name obidike in igboland

Olusola Okhiria Nee Sodunke(Newport, Newport, UK)says...

This is a great piece of history, which is dear to our hearts as people and very much appreciated.

Many thanks to the people who worked hard in the past and those who are still making efforts to keep the institution.

The labour is obviouly worth it. We are proud of you all.

A lot still to be done, with the motivation of the champions of this course, others will follow as well to maintain the institution

May God continue to keep the edifice for development of future generations to the glory of God and the benefits of our fatherland.

Joel Efiong(Calabar, Nigeria)says...

This is a great piece. The examination bodies should hire you as ICT consultant.

Sunday Mbe(Kaduna, Kaduna, Nigeria)says...