Dr Mahbubul Haq, the then Chief Economist of the Planning Commission, had declared in April 1968 that 22 groups or families were controlling a majority of industrial, banking and insurance sectors, having crucial impact on national economy. The Noons were among those identified richest families that included the Saigols, the Adamjees, the Dawoods, the Bawanys and alike.
Times change. Zulfikar Ali Bhutto nationalised industries and other entities in January 1972, and most of these 22 families did not survive the ravages of time and were no longer considered the influential business families. Somehow, the Noons were not adversely affected, and continued in the business as normal, rather flourished. Then came the privatisation of state enterprises including nationalised entities in the 1990s. The winds of change thus saw in 2017 the emergence of 31 rich business families, mostly the “nouveau riche”, some super-rich. Hardly any of the 22 families identified by Dr Haq could make to the updated list. Sadly, the Noons, at one time among the large conglomerates, were not amid even the 40 richest families identified by then.
Noon family is the most influential landlord and notable politician dynasty of Punjab. Sir Malik Firoz Khan Noon, one of the founding fathers of Pakistan, was the 7th Prime Minister of Pakistan (1957-58), who was active in politics since 1920. Earlier, he had served in various important positions such as Governor of East Pakistan (1950), Chief Minister of Punjab (1953-56), and Foreign Minister (1957). Besides being a distinguished parliamentarian, he was an eminent lawyer and accomplished author of five books. His second wife Lady Viqar-un-Nisa Noon, originally from Austria, spent her entire life working as social worker. In her last days she served as Minister of State/ Chairperson of the Pakistan Tourism Development Corporation (PTDC) for a long period. Historically, Pakistan owes the strategic Gwadar, the natural deep-sea port, to Sir and Lady Noon, who brought it under the domain of Pakistan in September 1956. It is unfortunate that present generation may not even be familiar with their names, what to say of knowing their major contributions that shaped the future of Pakistan.
Noon Group was established by Firoz Khan Noon’s scions namely Nur Hayat Noon, Azhar Hayat Noon and Manzoor Hayat Noon. Though the family had managed a ginning factory in Bhalwal, District Sargodha since 1911, they conceived the idea of setting up agro-based industries in the area in a big way. In fact, it was Azhar Hayat Noon’s brainchild to establish Noon Sugar Mills in Bhalwal, the first-ever venture of a landlord-turned-industrialist in the country. He however had to migrate with his family to Switzerland in early days of the project and never returned. The sugar mill was thus later owned and managed by other two brothers.
Noon Sugar Mills Ltd was established in 1964, initially of a 1,500 tonnes cane crushing capacity per day (TCD) producing white sugar of good quality. In subsequent years, its installed capacity increased to 4,000 TCD and later to 9,000 TCD
Noon Sugar Mills Ltd was established in 1964, initially of a 1,500 tonnes cane crushing capacity per day (TCD) producing white sugar of good quality. In subsequent years, its installed capacity increased to 4,000 TCD and later to 9,000 TCD. Two ethanol distillery units of cumulative capacity of 80,000 litres of ethanol per day were also installed meanwhile. It is one of the most progressive industrial units in the country, maintaining high profitability over the years, with, in general, good rating in the stock exchange. Its sales during October-December 2021 amounted to over two billion rupees, and net profit (after taxes) was Rs254 million during this quarter, with earnings per share at Rs3.97.
Noon Pakistan Ltd, employing state of the art technology, started its commercial operations in 1972. Its complete range of dairy products under the popular brand of “Nurpur” are marketed across the country. In recent years, Noon Pakistan Ltd was divested in favour of Fauji Foundation, the Noons keeping a minority share, and it is now renamed as Fauji Foods Ltd. The erstwhile Noon Group was also actively engaged in textiles, beverages, pharmaceuticals, and other industries, and trading. National Bottlers Ltd had the Coca-Cola franchise in Lahore, which was later sold. The group had also introduced tangerine juice in the market but was not successful. Sales and service of Olivetti (Italy) products was carried out under Avanti Ltd. The group had trading house, Noon Brothers Ltd, representing global manufacturers of textile machinery, flour mills machinery, power plant machinery and other products. These group enterprises included both listed and unlisted companies.
In 1986, Pioneer Cement Ltd was established at Chenki, District Khushab. First production line of 10,000 tonne per day (TPD) clinker was commissioned in 1992. Two major capacity expansions were undertaken in 2005 and 2006, and currently its installed capacity is over 4.55 million tonnes of cement annually. Production at Pioneer Cement, a well-known brand in Punjab and Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, remained high and low over the years based on industry dynamics. The company was divested by the Noons, and management was transferred to foreign investors in 2009.
Currently, Salman Hayat Noon (son of Manzoor Hayat Noon) and Saif Ullah Khan Noon (son of Adnan Hayat Noon) are managing Noon Sugar Mills, which is the only mentionable industrial unit they own these days, besides a couple of trading houses. Pakistani investors have seen the downfall of the Noons with deep sense of disappointment and sensitivity since the group enjoyed good reputation and high respect, and companies were well-managed by professionals. A variety of reasons may be enumerated for the steep downfall of the Noons, such as natural divisions and disintegrations over the years. The group had major setback after the death of Nur Hayat Noon, who remained unmarried, and later of Manzoor Hayat Noon in 2010. One of the most important factors for decline in their business and wealth was the family being in active politics for long, without ever seeking personal gains whatsoever.
Nur Hayat Noon, many times a member of National Assembly, was Minister for Culture, Archaeology, Sports and Tourism in Z A Bhutto’s 1977 government, and in the cabinet of Muhammad Khan Junejo as Minister for Communications and later Minister for Health. Manzoor Hayat Noon was member of Majlis-e-Shoora under President Zia-ul-Haq’s government. They spent tens of millions of rupees in politics but remained clean and honest. Perhaps this is the only political family in Pakistan which did not exploit its positions and connections ever for money-making or promoting their business.
Adnan Hayat Noon was the youngest MNA in the 1997-99 parliament and was offered a ministerial slot by Nawaz Sharif, but Adnan’s father Manzoor Hayat Noon declined. In fact, Manzoor Hayat advised his son to withdraw from politics saying that politics would shortly become a business, rather a dirty business. And since then, the Noon family does not take part in national politics. Otherwise, the legacy lives on while the Noons focus on developing their agricultural farms.
The writer is former chairman of the State Engineering Corporation