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Late Sultan Al-Athel …. The Story of the “Arab Stephen Hawking”

By Taha Sakr

Tremendous achievements and accomplishments marked the career of the late Sultan Al-Athel. Despite the neuromuscular disease, Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, also known as ALS, Sultan Al-Athel, was determined to succeed, making exceptional philosophical decisions in working with his employees. This approach ensured success throughout his life.

Initially, Sultan Al-Athel entered the Capital Institute in Riyadh. In 1980, he graduated from the Department of Electrical Engineering at the University of Portland, USA. His dissertation on atomic reactors was highly appreciated.

After that, Sultan Al-Athel received a degree in time management from the Covey Leadership Center, then a certificate in the field of variables and leadership principles of the twenty-first century, at the Franklin Covey Center.

Sultan Al-Athel was one of the co-authors of a 1017-page book entitled “Man and Disaster.” The book is a collection of administrative and technical professional guidelines that narrate ten companies’ experience in various fields, employing about ten thousand employees.

Wise Investment Decisions

The economic growth of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia pushed him to create his trade orientation. Since his experience was not related to his investment orientations, and he did not have enough experience to create a stable investment base at the beginning of his career, Sultan Al-Athel began cooperation with professionals from various fields to overcome all difficulties.

His advisors and partners were the most experienced individuals in the business community. Sultan Al-Athel never tired of working and learning more about the nature of the work and investment strategies. As a result of this sincere devotion and opportunities created for the Saudi business community by the government of Saudi Arabia, he managed to make the right investment decisions and became one of the leading entrepreneurs of the 21st century.

One of the most prominent role models for Sultan Al-Athel was his father, Sheikh Mohammed bin Saleh Al-Athel, who had a significant influence on his life. Sultan Al-Athel inherited his father’s seriousness, futuristic thinking, and common sense. All of these components shaped his leadership and professional qualities.

Shahia Food Limited Company

When Sultan Al-Athel studied in the United States, he visited Dunkin’ Donuts stores and liked the concept of a particular business. He believed that launching the Dunkin’ Donuts chain in Saudi Arabia would be a result-oriented investment. In 1986, the first Dunkin Donuts chain of stores was opened in Riyadh. Shahia Food Limited became one of the first major chains and coffee shops in Saudi Arabia after it won an exclusive franchise agreement with Dunkin’ Donuts International. The company started by opening its first Olayah Branch store in the Olayah Road area in Riyadh. This served as a starting point for expanding and increasing company capacities and opening new stores. Currently, more than 400 stores are located in most parts of the Kingdom, starting from Riyadh (Al-Muzahimiya, Diriya, Wadi Laban), the Western region, including Mecca and Jeddah, to the Eastern region, including Dammam, Khobar, Jubail, and Ras Tanura and Qasim region (Buraydah and Unaizah).

SMSA Express

SMSA Express is a Saudi Arabian based Domestic & International Express Courier Company and Licensee of Federal Express Corporation, USA. SMSA Express is a leading provider of transportation and logistics services in Saudi Arabia with over 20 years of experience. SMSA in addition to its specialized logistics services, seeks to satisfy the needs of citizens and enterprises in the delivery of parcels within the country and abroad. The company has a reliable business platform that has provided services to tens of thousands of enterprises and individuals in the Saudi Arabian market since 1994.

SMSA Express maintains a fleet of over 1,424 vehicles, covering the largest regional network of 325 cities, villages, and towns in the Kingdom. The company offers the service of delivering personal data at a specific time with the help of more than 212 retail centers throughout the Kingdom and more than 2700 qualified employees working in 5 large distribution centers, 25 stations, and 8 gateways.

The vision of SMSA Express and its team is to be a provider of ground freight services and logistics solutions tailored to customer needs in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and around the world.

Sultan Al-Athel An Entrepreneur and Leader

Since the start of his entrepreneur career, Sultan Al Athel became the Chairman of a large number of companies, including SMSA Co. (Saudi Arabian based Domestic & International Express Courier Company and Licensee of Federal Express Corporation, USA); Chairman of Shahia Food Ltd. Co. (franchisee of Dunkin Donuts of USA) in The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia; Chairman of Arabian Security & Safety Co. Ltd., (AMNCO), Kingdom-wide private security organizations; Chairman of Arabian Secured Transport Services Ltd. Co., (AMSCO), etc. From the visionary young engineer, Sultan Al-Athel grew into the leader and Chairman of more than 10 thousand employees in all his companies.

Facing the Disease with A Brave Heart and A Clear Mind

Despite his health condition in which he was diagnosed with a neuromuscular disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as ALS, Sultan Al-Athel did not stop his activity and business career. On the contrary, he became a fighter and brave enough to live with such an illness. Since 2002, he began to breathe through a breathing tube connected to a respirator, and the only method of feeding was through a tube that reaches the stomach with an opening, but this did not prevent him from practicing his career. Consequently, in 2009, he founded the global “Meal” Company Ltd., specialized in the field of nutrition.

During his career, Sultan Al-Athel was lucky to meet the right people, at the right time, who became both his mentors and friends for life. They provided the best leadership and the necessary advice, as well as the opportunity to pursue a career. And when Sultan Al-Athel succeeded and achieved his goals, he took on the role of a supporter. Sultan Al-Athel sought to use his employees’ capabilities, giving them complete confidence and freedom in choosing the appropriate means to achieve their goals, and he involved them in making some strategic decisions.

On April 12, 2020, Sultan Al-Athel died after a struggle with ALS, which lasted almost 23 years. These 23 years were marked by the tremendous achievements of Sultan Al-Athel, who, due to the similar illness, was known as “Arab Stephen Hawking.” Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, a disease that did not stop any of these unique personalities from growing and self-improving.