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Half a century of partnership
Bemanjan Nadimi, reporter, it was difficult for me to believe what I heard. It was against everything I learned since I was a child. I had to interview them face-to-face to understand what they have done all these years that they are still partners and friends as well. It has been half a century since they started their work. A business that started in the 60s and today it is one of the most popular brands of food products.
The story of fifty years of partnership of the founders of Kambiz food industries is the story of friendship and trust that set the ground for a creative and innovative action at that time. Mohamad Foruzanfard and Mohammad Pirooz Hamidi, produced the industrial and pasteurized form of the traditional Kashk for the first time in Iran. They said that they even designed the production line and the required machinery themselves. These two were partners with other people but their partnership was ended and became bankrupt. However, they threw caution to the wind and started a new partnership together. A 50-year-old partnership and now the second generation of these two partners follow their path. Their children are married together, which kept their hope alive for maintaining their business. I told them that even brothers might fight, how is it that you two are still satisfied with your partnership? They answered: “To be partners you need to make concessions. It does not mean that we never had any disagreement. No, but our disagreements were on account of our goal which was developing Kambiz that ended in its progress. We were never upset with each other not even for a day”. Yes, this is the secret to the maintenance of a partnership for half a century. Something that you rarely see in today’s world.
Long-term partnership is not an accepted opinion in Iran and we have even seen two brothers who could not work together as partners. However, your 50-year-old partnership disproved the belief that the partnership is not good and it approves that we can not be one hundred percent certain of anything we believe. Probably our audiences are wondering whether you completed each other or you were just too similar?
Hamidi: Our destiny was the same. We both were hurt by our former partners. Mr. Foruzanfard was hurt by his former partner and so was I. When we found each other we used our past as guidance for our future. When we started this job we needed each other. I worked in sales and he worked in the production field. But we were both bankrupt on account of our former partnerships. We were distant acquaintances. One day I went to Mr. Foruzanfard to trade goods and I found out that his partnership was failed just like mine.
Foruzanfard: We were friends for two or three years before our partnership. This friendship was formed based on working together. When we started our work, I took the responsibility of production due to my experience in that field and Mr. Hamidi accepted the responsibility of the sales unit because of his skills. We each carried out our job independently. Job division was fair. We never had a conflict. Because our goal was clear. It was development and progress. We had to elevate Kambiz.
Two brothers who live in the same house may have some disputes and they might drift apart. How about you? How was your relationship as partners for 50 years?
Foruzanfard: I cannot think of anything that caused any conflict or dispute between us and even if there was it did not last. We never insulted each other or shouted at each other. Well, if you want to be successful, even in a marriage, you need to make concessions. Mr. Hamidi and I made concessions. If we only try to see the weaknesses in each other, even partnership with other people will not work. Anyway, every person has their weaknesses and strengths. Mr. Hamidi and I are not exceptions. The way two people think can never be the same. Even if they are the same, it is wrong. The differences lead to progress. We had different opinions but not like in other partnerships. And we have always ignored these problems.
Hamidi: We were similar in our morals and behaviors.
Foruzanfard: These 50 years were like 5 years for me. If I was to start again I would choose this job again and this time with more training and experience and more ambition. I love my job and I can continue my partnership with Mr. Hamidi for 100 years.
How much money did you have when you first started this job?
Foruzanfard: We had no money. We were both the same. But people trusted us. We did not even have 5 tomans in cash.
Hamidi: Some people say that they started at zero but we started below zero. Because we were already in debt and at first we had to settle them.
Why do most partnerships fail in our society?
Hamidi: Partnership has some prerequisites. Besides honesty, you should make concessions. Either financial or physical. Imagine that Mr. Foruzanfard did something and I thought that he insulted me, at that time I have to think about Mr. Foruzanfard’s good traits. We never had any problems and when there was a disagreement about something one of us would compromise.
Why did you choose to pasteurize Kashk among all these food products?
Foruzanfard: Someone called Ahmad Madani was the first person to do this before us. Well, not in the same way as we do. Before starting my partnership with Mr. Hamidi, I produced, pasteurized, and packaged Kashk under the brand name of Sasan. Because we had no money when we started our partnership and established Kambiz, we poured the Kashk inside a wash-tub and pasteurized it. Afterward, we started doing it with a machine. It was my idea to pasteurize the Kashk since I did that before.
Hamidi: When I met Mr. Foruzanfard he was already a producer and distributor. Until he found out that I was bankrupt and was in debt. We decided to start a partnership and produce Kashk together. As he already mentioned. That was how we established Kambiz. We used simple tools. And gradually imported devices based on our needs. The ideas to build devices were ours. There was no factory to manufacture glass. Mina glass factory was the first that was established in Iran. Before that, we bought the glasses of the products that were imported to Iran and used them to package our products. Some people bought these glasses and sold them to the packaging companies.
After you registered the brand of Kamiz and developed your work, were you not interested in expanding your work to other industrial sections other than food products?
Foruzanfard: No, there are many reasons for the development or failure of a company. Especially for people like us who started their job without any money and could accomplish their goals. Most of our colleagues started subsidiary jobs when they succeeded. They were not focused on their main job. Therefore, they could not succeed at the beginning of their work. Some started construction building and others started dealing lands. I believe that if you want to be successful in your job, you need to take the direct and principal path. People fail in their business because they occupy themselves with subsidiary jobs. They focus their time, money, work, and capital on the subsidiary jobs. Like a car that is deviated from the main road and entered the gravel road. Now that person might turn the wheel and escape from the danger or keep going till the end. We stayed away from the subsidiary path and unnecessary expenses and did not include ourselves in activities that had no knowledge about.
Did you sacrifice the quality to more profit to save money?
Foruzanfard: Quality is our first principle. Considering that I was working inside the factory, I was very careful with the expenses. I even carried out 50 to 60 percent of the work myself. I went to the vegetable and fruit market and did not do it through a phone call. I created invoices, worked instead of the workers, even when we needed new employees I identified the smart workers, and hired them for the new job. In difficult conditions, I enhanced the productivity of our workers. That’s how we save money. Mr. Hamidi was in charge of keeping accounts in the office of Tehran. We did not have an accountant back then. Our colleagues had several offices in different parts of the city. But we had only one office in Yaft Abad, Tehran, Iran. Every day at 6 I went to the factory from Tehran, it was 60 km away from Tehran. Mr. Hamidi worked in Tehran’s office and I had no objection. I went to Tehran’s office merely 10 times per year, at most. This was our work routine for almost 35 years of this 50 years of partnership. After that, we hired some certified accountants and one operator for Tehran’s office. We started our work with only one worker and now we have more than 100 workers in the factory. And more than 30 people who are working in the office. We never laid off any workers. But gradually hired more people.
Hamidi: Despite the redundancies in other factories, last year the Social Security Organization granted us a letter of recognition because we did not lay off anyone but hired more workers and employees. As Mr. Foruzanfard said quality is more than anything else. There is a story about Molla Nasreddin. It says that once Molla was standing at the beginning of a road and sold a pill that enhanced intelligence. One person bought the pill and after he took it he realized it was sugar. The next day he went to Molla and told him, yesterday you sold me sugar instead of intelligence enhancing pill. Why did you do that? Molla Nasreddin said you did not realize that yesterday but today you did realize that it was sugar. So you are smarter today. Now it is the same with our consumers. Unfortunately, they buy everything that is cheaper, while by only a ballpark figure they will understand that it is not the product’s real price and that is a low-quality product. We always put the emphasis on quality. Since we believe that quality helps preserve your brand, not just advertisement. We did not advertise in the beginning. In recent years we did some advertisements. Our advertisement is the quality of the product that we deliver to our customers.
What was the most important factor that stabilized your business?
Foruzanfard: I think one of the significant factors is that Mr. Hamidi and I led a simple life. We were content. For example, I never ate food different from what the personnel ate in the factory. I never let myself think that I am better than my workers. We live in the same neighborhood as we always have. I live in Pasteur street and Mr. Hamidi lives in Monirieyh. We did not let any other person start or handle our work. Because quality is of great importance for me. I had direct supervision on the quality of the product. Some of our co-workers put a label on their product and release it to the market immediately after production. But I keep all my products in quarantine for 15 days to deliver a flawless product to the market. So hardly ever our products return in Tehran or other counties.
Were you always this precise?
Foruzanfard: I started working since I was 12 and until I was 22 I worked as an apprentice. I was a shop apprentice in a store in Bazaar that produced Shadab lime juice. My precision is the result of working in a store that was brand at those years. This lime juice was quite popular back then.
When did you enter the market as partners? What led you to the market?
Foruzanfard: Before working at Shadab, I used to work in a tailor shop. One day the Shadab store owner came to the tailor shop. I was so quick. The tailor shop owner asked whose son is he? When he heard my father’s name, he said that we are from the same town and then he gave me a job in his own shop and that’s is how I started working in Bazaar.
Hamidi: I used to work with my father. My father was a fruit and packaged good wholesale dealer. I was going to school at that time. After I finished school, I started working for myself. I entered a partnership and became familiar with the market and production. Spice and salt packaging was my first job. There was no such equipment back then. No machines and no advanced devices. But that job did not last for long. My brother and I were partners in that job. But our partnership was ended. After that, I started working on my own and started distribution work. I transmitted the products in my car and sold them to the stores. Both in the counties and Tehran. That is why when Mr. Foruzanfard and I started our partnership I took responsibility for the distribution of our products. Anyway, we started our job. Due to being familiar with the market, we were even able to expand our job to the counties. Most of our customers are from the time that I used to work independently and the Kambiz brand had not yet being released to the market.
You mentioned that you had an office in Tehran. Did not you have any agencies in the counties?
Foruzanfard: We have representatives in counties and without them, we could never have been so successful. One of the advantages of working with Mr. Hamidi was that he was already in a sales job, as he already mentioned, and he knew the market. Therefore, we sold our products to those customers at first. But our distributors or wholesale representatives worked perfectly. We were producers. But the Kambiz distributors in the counties acted as our wings. Before that, we worked with distribution companies in Tehran. But now we have started distributing our products. You cannot trust others. Some of the former distributors that we worked with double-crossed us.
What were you doing before the Islamic revolution, do you have experience working in the 60s and 70s. At which period working was more difficult?
Hamidi: We started our work in 1967, which was the middle of the 60s. It was the decade of the propensity of the Iranian economy that was started in the 50s and continued up to the 70s. I distinctively remember that everything was prepared for development. The production prices were low back then. Everything was based on principles. In the 70s we started developing, either financially or technologically. We added modern machines to our business. One of the reasons that Bazaar was able to close down to support the revolution was the low cost of production. Nothing would happen even if we were closed for one month. But now as you can see if you close down the bazaar you will suffer from an enormous loss. Naw most of the factories either laying off their workers or close down forever. Even in some cases, the producer makes no profit. We had no problem before 1978 and after the revolution, we continued our work. Until raw material ration. At that time, producers who had a good relationship with the authorities could receive this ration. But we didn’t know any authority. And we didn’t even want to use favoritism. There was a sugar ration and we needed sugar to make jam. The authorities calculated the capacity of each factory and provided a part of this capacity. But they told us that you should deliver the product to us and carry out your works based on our instructions. I remember that there was a group that was cooperating with the people in charge of ration. They handed over the rationed items to that group and they sold them in the market at their real price. Our ration was too little that we had to buy the rest from the market at a higher price. But we managed to maintain our customers. Our raw materials were not rationed. But we did not raise our prices. We didn’t get involved in nepotism, however, we neither reduced our production nor raised our prices and despite the rationing of some of the raw materials, we did not raise our prices. If we did that we would lose the competition. That was the most difficult period of our work life. When the war was over in 1988, the market went back to its normal routine.
You exported your product as well. What was the reason to do so?
Hamidi: The Iranians who live in foreign countries even take the Iranian Cheetos with them. The Iranians are used to our products Therefore, we decided to expand our work beyond the border of this land. But it is quite difficult these days to export your product. The products that are exported from Iran have Iranian, Arab, and Turk customers. The European taste is different from ours. For example, once Canadians asked us to make pomegranate paste in Canada based on their taste. But we did not accept it because it was not cost-effective. But we export our product to Canada, the European Union, England, Australia, and even America. Anyway, considering the condition of our country it is difficult to export your products. The transportation cost is too high. We used to send our products using containers to Bandar-e Abbas and then our products were sent to Canada but now our product should go to Dubai first and then, the documents must be changed and register them under a name in Dubai and then it is transferred to Canada. Well, it takes too much time and costs a lot more.
Your business has low marginal profit and too much effort. There are ups and downs in all businesses. What motivates you to continue your work?
Foruzanfard: I can say with certainty that if we sell one-third or one-fourth of the assets that we possess now and put it in the bank and receive 5% benefit, its profit will be more than what we are making now. But I think that is wrong. We should create jobs for other people as well. You enjoy creating these jobs. When you know that you can create a job for some people it makes you feel good.
Hamidi: I believe that the time you spend on working. That is the asset of your life. You have to preserve it. Besides, we become enamored with this job. On the other hand, as Mr. Foruzanfard said many workers make money in our business. They have children and they should provide for them. We have been able to continue our job until now and pay their salaries. There are a large number of young people in our country that are graduated from different fields and they need to work.
Foruzanfard: We have never been ambitious. Let me tell you a memory. Before the revolution, we bought each lid that was made in Germany for our product 3 Kerans and 10 shahies. Because we predicted that our relationships with the foreign countries will be reduced we bought a large number of these lids and stored them. We did not want to have a material shortage. After the revolution, the price of these lids was increased up to 3 tomans and 5 Kerans. If we had sold those lids and bought a tract of land with it we were landowners now. Even in the early years of the revolution, the price of these lids was increased up to 35 tomans. But the only thing that we cared about was to develop Kambiz and Mr. Hamidi and I were like-minded in this regard. We both loved grinding Kashk more than buildings. (laughing)
Mohammad Pirooz Hamidi
Born in 1937 in the village of Yal in the county of Saveh. His father was a trader and entered the market in 1953 and assisted his father. A few years later he entered into a partnership with his brother but made not profit and got bankrupt. However, in 1967 he met Foruzanfard and they start a partnership that lasted for 50 years. Hamid was specialized in sales and Foruzanfard was specialized in production. Therefore, they share their responsibilities based on their abilities and Hamid became in charge of selling their products. He already had some customers in the market and was able to sell their products. He said that some of their customers are from those customers before there was a product called Kambiz.
He was born in 1936 in the Pankhel neighborhood in the city of Kashan. Due to his father’s bankruptcy, he came to Tehran when he was 6 years old and started working in the market since he was in elementary school. The basis for working with food products started when he was an apprentice in the store of a person called Majdoddin Madani who produced lime juice called Shadab. However, his business partnership started by working with a person called Khorram in the field of production. However, as stated by him working with Khorram was exhausting since he was not into working. After that, he becomes partners with a person called Kamalfar who was a salesperson and they worked in the production field as well. However, after a while, Kamalfar ended their partnership and started working separately. Now he is still working with his third partner. That partner is Mr. Hamidi, who is in his eighties.