Taking on everything from freight to food, Bakhresa Group is an industrial conglomerate based in Tanzania, East Africa. From simple beginnings, its entrepreneurial founder is now a Tanzanian billionaire, and Bakhresa is without a doubt one of the biggest and broadest collection of businesses in the region. But who are Bakhresa Group, and who is their Chairman and Founder, Said Salim Bakhresa?
Bakhresa Group’s story began in 1975, with Said Salim Bakhresa opened a small, independent restaurant named AZAM. As he explains; “’AZAM’ is coined from the word ‘Azeem’”, an Arabic word meaning ‘greatness’. He opened his business in Dar es Salaam, a port city in Tanzania. At the start, he was pursuing a simple dream, but it would grow into much more, to the point where it almost isn’t possible to cover every area of activity for Bakhresa Group in one article.
In brief, what began as a restaurant now operates as a product manufacturer and supplies in the food and beverages sectors, which is a natural expansion, and from there, the step into packaging and logistics also seems organic. In essence, what began as a love of food has moved outwards and outwards, packaging said food for wholesale, and then gradually bringing the steps of this export in-house. However, it doesn’t stop there – Bakhresa also works in marine passenger services, petroleum and entertainment: it no longer seems to only be about the food! All of this brings the group a notable US$800 million turnover a year, utilising and supporting a staff of over 8,000 people.
No longer confided to Tanzania, the Group’s various operations have reached Zanzibar, Uganda, Kenya, Rwanda, Burundi, Malawi, Mozambique and South Africa, and it is by no means stopping there. Further expansion plans exist, and will do as long as business continues to do well and there are parts of Africa still to conquer. To date, the group has achieved recognition as a Pan-African level, which is says paves the way for it to become a global platform.
Whilst it has left its restaurant origins far behind, not everything about the Group’s humbler past has been forgotten. In fact, AZAM is now the brand name for Bakhresa’s efforts, serving as a trademark and a sign of quality. It began on Bakhresa’s food products, a nod to the restaurant that made it all possible, and from there it moved outwards: now, the AZAM name and logo can be seen on the side of the Group’s transit lorries, on ‘AzamTV’ adverts and packages (not to mention on-set trailers!), and even Azam Football Club! If you can think of it, Bakhresa seems to have it branded.
In total, the actual products that Bakresa Group produces (rather than football players it sponsors) are as follows: wheat Flour and wheat bran; maize flour and maize bran; biscuits and bakery products; carbonated soft drinks & malt flavours; natural fruit juice, bottled water, ice cream, plastic packaging, paper bags, ferry and air passenger service, road transport services and, as mentioned, more out-of-left-field product voices such as Azam Media and Amaz football club. Azam chocolate and ice cream is the most popular in Tanzania.
Said Salim Awadh Bakhresa was born in Zanzibar in 1949. Far from a likely billionaire, he dropped out of school at 14 to instead sell potato mix. In time, he opened his restaurant, Azam, and from there, he expanded his business ventures into grain milling. This area of operations remains a central one to the group to this day: the main products from Bakhresa’s company are still those from the Kipawa Flour Mill, which processes a range of rice and grain products. In fact, its output from this mill is so significant that Rwanda is dependent on it to provide 120,000 tons of wheat flour per year, with the aim that this supply with ease pressure on food prices (the countries are neighbours and so this supply reduces import cost).
Meanwhile, whilst part of Bhakresa’s operations are aiding a food crisis, in a completely different area of the business, the Azam Marine division provides international tourists with quick ferry services as more people discover Tanzania. These ferry rides travel to Zanzibar, as well as Lake Victoria and Mount Kilimanjaro
While the company is managed by his sons, overseeing the many different areas between them, Bakhresa owns the group itself. Listing its many companies could go on and on: Said Salim Bakhresa & Company Ltd (SSB) was its flagship company, and this still oversees 2,500 tons of milling per day, with a storage capacity of 160,000 tons. Then, there is Azam Bakeries Company Ltd (ABCL), Azam Dairy Products Ltds, Azam Polysacks Ltd, United Petroleum – you get the picture.
Now a self-man billionaire, what is Said Salim Bakhresa doing with his new-found wealth and success? He understands the importance of protecting the people who work for him, and therefore, the group offers a fantastic program for protecting its people against the risks of malaria. He doesn’t just throw funds at this problem, either – he tackles it intelligently. Instead of spending US$10,000 a month to heal sick workers, he instead spends US$3,400 a month to protect his workers from getting sick in the first place, which is win-win for everyone. He did this by moving away from monotherapy drug Fansider to instead use artemisinin-based therapies that utilizes polytherapy. Other companies in Tanzania are following suit, and between them, they are hoping to greatly impact, slow or even stop the spread of malaria in their region. This benefits not only Bakhresa’s employees but also the wider community.
When one reads of a vast conglomeration that spans industries and has a billionaire at its head, it’s tempting to assume that the founder was always wealthy, and that their ownership of said group is a result of acquisitions and mergers rather than something they built from scratch. Bakhresa Group, however, is very much the result of loving labour, and this will be passed on to Said’s many sons, who are already deeply involved in the business. Not only is this gratifying, but seeing this same group impact those around it positively in significant ways such as combating malaria or easing food prices and shortages is both heartwarming and inspiring. The fact that all of this could come from a simple restaurant opened by someone who dropped out of school at 14 is even more impactful.