Born in Makkah in 1934, the youngest of six children, Kabbani attended primary school in Taif where his father was a renowned general practitioner. Actively acquiring new skills throughout life to deal with day-to-day medical needs, epidemics, ophthalmic problems and various surgeries, his father was so devoted he even traveled to France to enhance his knowledge.
A gifted child, Kabbani was awarded a scholarship to the American University of Beirut and could have become a doctor despite being warned off by his father. However after two years of medical studies he switched to economics and then attended the exclusive Swarthmore College near Philadelphia, which is renowned for its rigorous academic instruction and located in vast woodland slightly reminiscent of Abha.
Consistently ranked as one of the top American colleges, Swarthmore alumni include three Noble Prize laureates, 36 members of the National Academy of Sciences and several senators.
Kabbani who since childhood has been fascinated by nature and with a scientific temperament knew of the effects of wind excelled at his studies. Meanwhile away from the lecture halls he took advantage of the location and began crewing on Olympic-class sailing boats racing 100-mile courses on Lake Champlain in Vermont. After graduating in economics and international relations, he took his Masters at Columbia, New York and appeared destined for high office in government or a life in academia.
Opting for public service in 1959 he joined the Saudi Ministry of Foreign Affairs. By 1962, he was the Assistant Chief Economist of OPEC and in 1967, he was appointed as Head of the Economic Department at the Ministry of Petroleum and Mineral Resources.
Throughout this time, Kabbani’s passion for sailing went unabated with him starting to sail regularly around Obhur Creek in a sailing boat he finished building after it had started by someone else.
He also bought a Flying Dutchman and sailed this at Half Moon Bay when based in Dhahran while on moving to land-locked Switzerland with OPEC his passion was undiminished with him finding time to sail a small boat on Lake Geneva.
In 1970 Kabbani resigned from OPEC in order to build his own business empire. This was despite the advice of colleagues to take leave of absence as he had a family of two young boys Hassan and Wael to support.
His eldest brother had started a small uPVC pipe factory in Jeddah and Kabbani wanted to help market and sell production to make it succeed. It was a time of recession shortly before the 1974 oil boom but Kabbani felt by having no way back into OPEC his personal commitment to the success of the business would be total.
Through hard work, drive and persistence plus a cautious approach a platform for sustained growth was built with Kabbani recognizing from his earlier OPEC travels to the Far East with the importance of Japanese trading houses as an economic model for companies to import raw materials and export finished products.
With the Kingdom embarking on a rapid development course, this concept had added potency and from modest beginnings in the uPVC factory he created a multifaceted family run business.
The Isam Khairi Kabbani Group of Companies (IKK) now acts primarily as a holding company for totally owned affiliates, joint ventures and associated firms created to participate in the continuing commercial and industrial development of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the Middle East covering trading, manufacturing, construction and services.
Kabbani is also on the board of several international companies including Textainer, the world’s largest container company based in Bermuda and San Francisco.
“Opportunities come in life but it is how to grasp them and see the potential. I think I have made the best of my good luck and managed to focus on my family, business and sailing hobby,” says Kabbani, who never thought the business would develop so successfully.
When in the Kingdom, Kabbani spends weekends sailing with his family on Obhur Creek close to where he now lives in a fine beach home. But he never loses respect for the ever-present dangers.
“The sea is always dangerous and must be respected,” Kabbani concludes