Gollar: The late 1970’s were like a roller-coaster ride. I hate roller coasters. Parviz, my brother and Youssef Khakshouri’s only son, was our father’s right hand and took an active part in managing the business. When he and his wife decided to leave Hamburg and move to Zürich, he suggested that the whole family move together and transfer their whole business from Hamburg to Zürich as well.
Our family — Sasson, the kids and I — didn’t want to move to Switzerland, but Parviz, the only son, wanted to move, and the whole family followed him in order to stay together. First, in 1976, my parents and Louise and Nissan’s family. We stayed in Hamburg for one more year, but I felt very lonely without my family, because we had been together all our lives. So we joined them in 1977.
A negative turn in the partnership
Sasson: My brother Nissan, who was my obedient younger brother in Hamburg and always complied with what I said, suddenly became independent, and it was harder for us to get along together. Although he knew that we were the biggest importer of hand-woven and antique carpets from Russia, he fell in the trap of an evil lying merchant in Turkey, got enchanted with the Turkish market, and tried to expand to this unknown territory as well. He soon began to travel to Istanbul frequently to make purchases. The negative effect on the business was a loss we could absorb. The real problem was all the tension it created between the partners. Nissan and Parviz always argued, and eventually after a few years we couldn’t continue working all together.
A positive turn in business
Relocating our business to Zürich had adverse consequences: income plummeted and expenses skyrocketed, impeding the continuity of our work. But thank God, we launched a new collaboration with Metro, a retail group in Germany and all over Europe, and carpet trade took a positive turn again. Two German banks, Warburg and Vereinsbank, and the newly founded German–Iranian Commerce Bank, granted us unlimited credit, as our company had become the largest importer of hand woven carpets from Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan, Armenia and Dagestan.
Sasson: While we were working with Metro, sales were good in the beginning, but then suddenly they started going down! We asked the salespeople why this was happening, and they said things are slow everywhere. But I decided to make some inquiries, and found rumors going around that Metro sales people in the carpet department would approach German customers in the store and say: “Here it’s expensive, why buy here? Take my private card, call me in the evening, and I’ll take you somewhere better.”
Still, I had no proof, and with my looks and accent I couldn’t pretend to be German.
It was my cousin Gabriel Harouni who came to the rescue. He hired a German man to go into Metro’s carpet department and express interest in buying. Sure enough, the salesperson gave him a card, and offered him a better deal outside!
The German went with him to the other trader, who had a deal with these salespeople and paid them commission, and Gabriel documented everything with photos. We presented the photos to the management at Metro, they opened an investigation, and ﬁred one salesperson after the other. The problem was solved, and sales went up again.
A negative turn in ﬁnance
Gollar: Soon after we moved to Zürich, there was a sudden rise in exchange rates with the Swiss Franc. Our income was still mostly in Deutsche Mark, and the sudden 25% devaluation of DM against SF increased our expenses unexpectedly. These problems increased the internal stress in our family, and the atmosphere between the partners became even worse.
Looking back, moving to Zürich was the right decision in the sense of collaboration with Metro Retail Group, that insisted on working with a Swiss-based company, but that was the only advantage. In all other respects it was a great business and family mistake. When we made this decision, we didn’t realize the implications; we only knew it would be a difficult task that might cost us many customers. What we didn’t consider was the effect on our children: Tearing the kids from the tight knit Jewish community of Hamburg, where they had a stronger Jewish identity, and we had the support of a whole community, was very bad for them. Even today, they’re still in touch with their childhood friends from Hamburg, but that only proves what a mistake it was to take them out of their natural environment at that age. Zürich had bigger Jewish communities, but they were either too liberal or too orthodox. Something in the middle, like us, didn’t exist.
We certainly couldn’t anticipate the tragedy that was about to happen in our homeland!