A teacher and a great entrepreneur

They call his name and the sound of applause fills the room. Gholam Ali Soleimani walks up the stage to receive his award as one of the 10 Most Influential People in the world of Islamic economy. The stairs that he walks up to get to the stage symbolize the challenges that he has gone through to now stand at the peak of an international position and he is seeing the result of his efforts. This ceremony gave us the chance to interview him and to get to know this man better. During our talk, he proves to be exactly the positive person that everybody had told us. He has a warm and friendly personality and he is stylish and charming. What you read here is a report of our interview with him, the president of the Solico Company Groups.

Q: Mr. Soleimani, you were recently recognized as one of the 10 most influential people in the world of Islamic economy, a title that you received after great many efforts and many hardships that you endured in the duration of your work. We are very interested to know more about you and how you started on this path.

I was born in Amol. Had my elementary and secondary level education there and received my high school diploma in mathematics. I finished my college and undergraduate level studies in the former National University. but since I was facing difficult financial problems, I tried to start a business to help me solve my problems and that is why from the second year of college I began actively working and tutoring to help me earn money. I was studying at the same time that I was working to overcome my financial difficulties. In 1971 I graduated with a bachelor’s degree and began planning to enter the field of food services and production business. For various reasons I did not succeed in this business at first and lost a fast-food shop I had.

Q: So you were a teacher. You had worked hard in the field of education to make knowledge available to the students. It seems that your management style still resembles the role of a teacher and mentor. What does being a mentor mean for you?

Perhaps being a teacher was an occupation at a point in time for me, but now that the years have passed, I look at it as a step towards my path of success. It began for me as a very good chance to learn many lessons and face many opportunities in order to launch a successful business later on. And I am thankful to God that the attitude of a mentor or a teacher has become a habit for me that helps me transfer my knowledge and experience to others.

Gholamali Soleimani at Muslim World Biz 2015

Q: When we hear the life stories of successful people like you, there is always one element that plays an important role in their success. This element is "having an important and major goal.” You mentioned that you had plans for working in the field of food industry. Tell us about the start of your career in that field.

In the beginning years of my career, I worked in many different areas from becoming an automobile spare parts dealer to starting a marketing and research business. All these were steps for me to earn enough money and savings for building my own factory. This was probably my one big goal, but another was to create job opportunities for my fellow citizens. I was always hoping to become an entrepreneur and thank God that I am here now.

To enter the business, I rented a small apartment in Azerbaijan Street from my sister, which is still my main office. Then I entered the business by working in the distribution of processed meat products for companies such as Gilan and Arezuman and since it was the early years of the Islamic revolution, I could manage to progress greatly in my business and I learned a lot about the production processes as well.

I needed a capital for building a big production line and in the time of revolution there weren’t many investors and the banks would not grant loans to help me with that, therefore I began with the small business of making.

I always wanted to work for myself and I believe that if people have the determination and purpose they will achieve their goals. I have to say that this was not easy. Because from 1971 to 1977 I kept facing one failure after another, the point was that I did not give up.

Gholamali Soleimani at Muslim World Biz 2015

Q: Did those hardships discourage you?

Not at all! Giving up was not an option for me and I never thought of myself as a failure. Although I did not have much income, I still worked from 6 am to 10 pm, kept my faith in God, and trusted my efforts. Thank God that I can see the result today.

Q: Today the Solico Group is one of the biggest production facilities in the country and sends a great variety of products to the market. Many of these products were first created with the initiative and knowledge of yourself. Tell us more about them.

Most of these products were the result of the innovative minds and creative ideas of a team and I have been involved in some of these processes as well. For many of these products I have interesting memories from the times they were created. One of which was the story behind the production of Seven Yogurt line.

Once our sales department announced that demand for yogurt products was high and if the company could increase its production capacity, we would have a greater share of the market. On the other hand, to increase that capacity we needed more production area, which could took us up to 6 months to build. At that time, there were many tanker containers in the factory and we had no use for them. I asked the production team to use the tankers in our factories to produce yogurt.

We offer our final product to the sales department, but the product we had made had a different texture from that of the common yogurts in the market. It looked more as a stirred yogurt. Our sales department reported that the consumers want a yogurt to have a thicker consistency in a way that a spoon would leave a mark on it, so if we want to sell this product we must lower the price. It was there that I decided to make this new yogurt the most delicious yogurt available in the market. In only a few months, our market share of only 4% increased to more than 20%.

Gholamali Soleimani at Muslim World Biz 2015

Q: Considerable portions of Solico products are always present in the daily diet of the Iranian families and one could truly say that it actually covers our food needs from morning until night. Considering its importance, where does “health promotion” stands in your opinion and that of the group of companies you manage? The rumors regarding these issues especially in connection with the Seven Yogurt products raised many concerns recently.

Naturally, I am truly happy that people are enjoying so many of our products and I consider this a duty of me and my staff to give highest priority to the health of our customers and our products.

Seven Yogurts received a good feedback from consumers and that seems to have triggered many rumors as well. One of these was a rumor regarding the use of palm oil in these products. The Ministry of Health approves all our products and we do not take any steps without their approval.

Therefore, many of these rumors are actually publicity stunts to stop our success.

I am looking for innovation. Last year, we introduced more than 4,000 types of cheese to the market. With all these new products, what should we cheat? For money? If I had money in my mind I would have gone after trading businesses not production industry.

I always believe that a manufacturer should consume his products too. In our home, we use our own factories’ dairy and meat products. Certainly, the Iranian people are dear to me like my own family and their health is very important.

It must be said that in the palm oil case, the only sector that was harmed was the industry and the only sector that took advantage of the situation were unregistered bulk sellers.

Production companies are fragile like glass and vulnerable as well. Anyone could greatly harm them. One days its rumors about Contaminated meat, another day it is the palm oil and the next day its rumors about dilution with cleaning products… we are facing these day by day.

I am not a business dealer. My job is to serve the people of my country. Many people like me are proud to serve their people. Today I can live anywhere in the world that I choose and have my factories anywhere in the world, but I am devoted to Iran. Since "Iran" is the name of my mother too, I respect it even more and will serve it as long as I live.

Gholamali Soleimani at Muslim World Biz 2015

Q: Let us get back to your personal characteristics. As one of the most successful local entrepreneurs and managers, you have good ideas for working with the younger generation. Please tell us more about them.

I believe that part of my success was due to the correct allocation of human resources including students of well-known Iranian universities. In my opinion, creating job opportunities for these people keeps them motivated to stay in the country.

With the same point of view and with the help of my executive influence in the group I collaborate with these people. I have started a partnership with them and we make their new ideas operational. I always have been and still am convinced that the use of up-to-date knowledge by dispatching of executives to study and learn relevant skills to export markets in more experienced countries can ultimately lead to success at home.

Q: One of your personal characteristics is the gift of foresight and planning. How do you envision the Solico Group's place in the future?

I strongly believe that we can have higher export rates in non-oil related products than oil products. That is why we have been very active in the area of ​​exports. We started the export of our dairy products at a rate of $ 8,000 per year. This year, we had nearly 205 million dollar exports. I believe that within the next few years we will be able to achieve a $ 1 billion record. My goal is production. A country that is not active in production industry will not have enough jobs and will definitely be in trouble. For this reason, we have various development programs on the agenda, and I am trying to achieve these goals.

We are proud to announce that our Kalleh Company is among the 50 top brands in Asia and Pacific region. In addition, I intend to enter the Kalleh and Solico Group companies in London and New York stock market. If I manage to do so I can say that I have achieved my goal.

Gholamali Soleimani at Muslim World Biz 2015

Q: Again, you want to go back to your position as one of the 10 most influential people in the world of Islamic economy. This honor is the result of your efforts. How do you feel about that?

The Malaysian authorities give this award to 10 people who were involved in the economic activities of the Muslim world that I was among the 10 people who received this award. I spent most of my life working in industry and production and such events are not exactly my main goals or incentives, I would rather spend my time working on the development of our food industry. My goal is to advance the production, and I think, if a country forgets its production industry it has no future.

With many thanks to Mr. Soleimani for his time, we left his office wondering how devotedly any of us have followed our dreams of our youth.