Nothing about this unfortunate consequence was predetermined. After Suleiman’s passing in 1894, his amazing wife Farha assumed control of the company’s operations outside of England. She was confident and outgoing and had been accompanying her husband to work in the years before his passing. She saw no reason why she couldn’t immediately fill his shoes. Albert was apprehensive about having a woman in charge, but he was also aware that the business lacked a boss with her level of expertise. The mother of three, who was just 38, became the first woman to lead a multinational corporation.

She deserved Albert’s confidence in her skills. Despite the numerous difficulties the business faced, not the least of which was the threat to the lucrative opium trade, Farha quickly won the respect of her staff and garnered attention on a global scale. She set about modernizing the company’s methods and practices, imposing order on its sloppy borrowing and lending, and smoothing the counterproductive competition with E.D. Sassoon. A detail-oriented person, this is attributed to her studies of the complexities of the Bible and Talmud.

Farha’s spectacular reign, however, was to be brief. She lost an important protector when Albert passed away, and despite being the oldest and most seasoned partner, she was overthrown in a family coup in 1901.

Fahra was down but not out. After relocating to London, the family’s matriarch enthusiastically pursued her interests in women’s rights, Judaism, travel, and raising her children. When Flora (as she had come to be called in the UK) passed away in 1936, her brothers-in-law gave her the recognition she had been denied.
The Sassoon family had more pioneering women besides Flora. Rachel, the daughter of Sassoon David, took over as editor of The Observer, her father-in-weekly law’s Sunday newspaper, in 1893.

She was the first woman to edit a major newspaper when she was just 35 years old. Two years later, Rachel bought The Sunday Times, the main rival of The Observer, and took over as editor. Rachel broke the news that Charles Esterhazy had admitted to forging the documents that led to Alfred Dreyfus’ wrongful conviction for treason at The Observer. Along with the interview, Rachel wrote a fiery leader piece in which she charged the French army with antisemitism and called for a new trial.

Within five years following Flora’s departure, the company was being referred to by one bank as “a more or less deteriorating concern.” Flora’s termination from the company proved to be a turning point. Sassoon claims that it was out of the ordinary for Flora to be ignored, but none of the conspirators actually desired to be in charge.

Edward, the MP for Hythe, held the position of chair for a brief time. When he passed away in 1912, his son Philip was elected to take his place and eventually take over as chairman of the business. However, neither guy showed any interest in or personal involvement in the now-stagnant family firm. The extremely affluent Philip was more interested in politics and the arts, which he generously supported. Philip was close to the prime minister, David Lloyd George, and would later serve in government for more than ten years as the aviation minister.
Philip wasn’t just disinterested in the company. He also didn’t care much for his Jewish and Baghdadi ancestry.

His untimely death in 1939 at the age of 50 largely ended the family’s engagement with the company. It persevered under several guises until the British government pronounced two of its former partners “completely unsuitable” to serve as directors in the 1980s.

Ironically, the schismatic E.D. Sassoon & Co put up much more of a fight under the leadership of Victor, the grandson of the company’s founder, who took over as chairman in 1924 when his father passed away. Strongly opposed to communism and indifferent to Indian nationalism, Victor eventually decided that China was a better option for his business interests and shifted a large portion of his wealth—an estimated $25 million (or $500 million in today’s dollars—to Shanghai in the late 1920s. He invested a sizable sum of money in fruitful real estate ventures, notably the construction of Cathay House, the first 11-story structure in the city. Victor was lauded by Fortune magazine as “Shanghai’s No. 1 realtor” by the middle of the 1930s, and it is believed that his properties are currently worth between $1.2-$1.5 billion.

However, the Communist takeover just over a decade later and the Japanese invasion of China, which reached Shanghai in 1937, both destroyed the business’s financial foundation. Victor made a serious mistake in choosing China over India, and after the war, he abandoned Hong Kong, a wise long-term investment. Victor chose to spend his final years in the tax haven of the Bahamas, where he could indulge his passion for horse racing, travel, and amateur photography. His business persevered without a Sassoon for another ten years until, in the early 1970s, it was sold to a merchant bank with only declining profits to its credit. Victor had eventually demonstrated that he was “casual about the empire he inherited,” in the words of one of his father’s business associates, despite all of his triumphs in Shanghai.

This description might be used by many members of the family, not only Victor. David Sassoon & Co.’s failure to break free of its dependence on the opium trade and poor tax planning are just two examples of complacency, lack of innovation, and lack of long-term planning that affected the company. These issues were all tied into the later generations’ perspective on the enterprise. They adopted the upper class’ inclination for leisure and snobby dislike of “grubby” money-making as they rose through the ranks of Britain’s elite. The Countess of Warwick’s justification for why some of the young aristocracy the Sassoons became friends with disliked them well reflected this mentality.

The founder’s and Albert and Suleiman’s diligently upheld work ethic were eventually abandoned by the family, according to Sassoon. The majority of the family was eager to drain money from the business in order to support their lifestyles and stay away from being directly involved in the business.

Other Jewish families managed to do so without their commercial interests being harmed; the Sassoons’ ascent to the ranks of the British upper crust did not necessarily destroy their companies. The Sassoons, however, distanced themselves more from the very characteristics that had made the family—for a wonderful but brief moment—global trading barons the higher up the social ladder they went in the nation to which their commercial interests had always been so tightly tied.

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