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SAM BUILDS HIS EMPIRE; THE SAM HAMMAM STORY.

Byline: Steve Tucker

AS legend has it, one of the biggest coups of Sam Hammam's early business career was shipping sand to the desert!

The story goes that the young engineer was engaged in building a palace for an Arab prince.

Despite the proliferation of the commodity close at hand, the sand needed was not of the right type. As a result, Hammam was charged with bringing in some 'special' sand from elsewhere.

Apparently, relating the story years later, the Cardiff City owner said with a chuckle: 'I made a lot of money from that one, I can tell you.'

Is it true? Maybe.

Or perhaps just another example of the hyperbole that Hammam has used over the years to draw a veil over his past.

One thing is for sure - any reporter asking Hammam: 'So Sam how did you make your fortune?' is unlikely to be invited in for tea and cakes at Ninian Park.

According to published 'Rich Lists', Sam Hammam currently has a fortune of pounds 40m amassed from 'football and property.'

He is credited with being the joint 19th richest man in Wales, alongside Hollywood star Sir Anthony Hopkins, and the joint 874th richest man in Britain, sharing the honour with golfer Nick Faldo and former racing driver Nigel Mansell.

But a fortune of pounds 40m would seem a conservative estimate with the likely wealth of Hammam standing nearer pounds 100m.

At Companies House he is currently listed as a director of three companies.

One is Cardiff City Football Club Limited, the operating company at the centre of the club since 1910, the year Lord Ninian Crichton-Stuart opened the ground.

Here Hammam gives his occupation as 'owner of a professional football club'.

For the other two companies he simply refers to himself as 'engineer.'

One is Cardiff City Football Club (Holdings) Ltd, established in August 2000 - the time that Hammam took over the club. It is the company that holds all the shares in the club, of which Hammam owns 82.5 per cent.

It was formerly called Ferwood Holdings Limited, a company Hammam had a majority interest in. Ferwood was formed to enable Hammam to buy the club.

It has been reported Hammam paid pounds 3.1m for shares.

The final company is Rudgwick Limited, registered in 1993.

This is the company to which Hammam controversially moved the ownership of Wimbledon Football Club's Plough Lane ground prior to selling it to Safeway for pounds 8m in 1998.

After selling Wimbledon Football Club, by then a subsidiary of another Hammam company - the Virgin Islands-registered Blantyre Venture - Hammam walked away with pounds 36m, having paid pounds 40,000 for the club in 1981.

But for a young Hammam, leaving university decades earlier, the idea of being a major player in British football would probably have seemed preposterous.

After graduating from The American University of Beirut with a degree in civil engineering, Hammam used his training to move into the construction trade.

Did he enter a construction company at junior level?

It would seem the obvious route for a young man learning the ropes in any business.

But it seems unlikely a man like Hammam, who likes to be in control and answer to no-one, could have endured being a subordinate for very long.

It is more likely he struck out on his own as soon as possible.

The Lebanese capital of Beirut was enjoying a building boom in the relatively peaceful years of the late 1960s and early 1970s.

The opportunities for Hammam were there and perhaps contacts made while at his university's faculty of engineering and architecture gave him the start he needed.

But it was outside of his own country that Hammam's first big break was to come.

In Abu Dhabi, in the United Arab Emirates, a major airport was being built.

Hammam was involved as a business contractor and it is fair to say it launched him into the realm of the millionaire property developer.

A series of other building projects across the oil-rich Middle East cemented his success.

As his career blossomed Hammam's private life also took a dramatic turn.

He met and fell in love with the woman he was destined to spend the rest of his life with.

Little is known about how Hammam wooed and won Nada. For a private man such matters are obviously the most personal.

One can imagine she was impressed by his ambition and drive, and his love of romantic poetry probably did not hurt either.

The couple went on to marry and have three children, Dina, Zayd and Samar.

Hammam is now a very proud grandfather of two.

A former colleague of Hammam's said: 'Whatever people may think or say about Sam, he is very much a family man.

'Whatever else has happened in his life, his family will always be the most important thing to him.'

These strong family ties were illustrated after the World Trade Centre terror attacks in New York on September 11, 2001.

At the time Hammam believed his daughter Samar was working in the Twin Towers and his son Zayd was also working nearby.

As the news broke Hammam rushed from Ninian Park to be with his wife in London.

It turned out Samar was working in a building nearby.

She had witnessed the dreadful carnage, but had managed to escape.

Her brother had survived too.

After hearing the good news, an emotional Hammam said: 'I thought we had lost them.

'I'm still shaking. I cannot describe how the last few hours have felt.'

But September 11 was not the first time Hammam had feared for the safety of his family.

Back in 1975 Hammam and his wife had one child and another on the way.

In Beirut in April of that year full-scale civil war broke out between Christian and Muslim factions.

At one point Israel invaded the nation. The war was to rumble on for the next 16 years, devastating the Lebanon and leaving 100,000 dead and a further 100,000 injured.

For Hammam and his young family the war must have threatened to destroy everything they had built for themselves.

It was time to make the decision that would change Hammam's life forever.

Business was good, but it seemed the whole Middle East could be plunged into chaos at anytime.

Hammam and his family left for a new life in Britain. Perhaps those school lessons in British history and culture back in his home village influenced that decision.

In 1975 the Hammam family settled in South London, in Wimbledon to be precise.

Some have said Hammam's love of tennis led him there, but it was not to be the sport of tennis which would make the name Sam Hammam famous.
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Publication:South Wales Echo (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Jul 22, 2003
Words:1124
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