From hardware shop worker to Dubai business tycoon

(MENAFN- Khaleej Times) I have a vivid memory of my first day in the UAE. Dubai was a different experience after my eight years stay in Kuwait.

I remember my first interaction with a local immigration officer who spoke in Hindi and said, "Kaisa hai aap?", which translates to "How are you?". It was surreal, I was amazed at the popularity and recognition of Hindi in a distant land and more so because this was a rarity in other countries, Kuwait for that matter.

In the evening, I went for a stroll and believe me, I felt that I am in Mumbai rather than a Middle Eastern country. Next I took the famous Abra ride, I was all happy and that's when I was convinced that this is the place where I would love to spend rest of my life.

Surprises and disappointments

Everything about the UAE and Dubai, it seemed, was the stuff of fairy tales. There were so many surprising incidents within the first week and along the way that those memories still amaze me.

5 all-time favourites

My Leader > His Highness Shaikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, a living legend our age. His leadership style, skills and the connect with the masses make him my favourite leader.

My Book > "My Vision" by Shaikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum. This is a unique book in which Shaikh Mohammed examines aspects of the UAE's unique development experience.My other favorite book is "How To Win Friends And Influence People" by Dale Carnegie.

Movie > I am huge fan of Shah Rukh Khan and his romantic movies are my all-time favourites.

Place > UAE, my home; and Switzerland

This country made sure that I don't miss Mumbai because of the following incidents: First, during a monetary transaction, I heard someone say, "kitna paisa"; second, I was watching a cricket match with friends and it didn't occur even for a moment that I am in a foreign country given the cricket fervor and frenzy; third, gradually I realised that locals have a lot of respect for the Indian community which dates back centuries.

Besides, I was and still am a huge fan of Arabic food, the inclination, which started in Kuwait, led to another journey in Dubai as you have more variety. Weather also played its trick on me during my first week in Dubai, it was the month of January and as we all know winters in Dubai or for that matter the UAE is a treat. So what all I recall are surprises and there were no disappointments.

My first job

After Kuwait, I wanted to come to Dubai and one of my friends offered me a job here. Although my recruitment and selection process was finalised in India and I was offered Dh3,000 per month + commission. However, when my work visa didn't arrive, I called up my friend only to be informed that market conditions in Dubai were bad, hence the previous offer didn't stand anymore and the revised offer was Dh1,500.

I agreed but on one condition that my remunerations will be revised, if I perform better than expected. Soon, I was performing well and realising my potential, I was drawing Dh3,000 + 25 per cent commission on profits.

First business venture

I was working in a small hardware shop so after working there for almost an year I decided to venture into this brokerage business myself. The learning from Kuwait and the time spent in Dubai made me confident to start my own company. It was the year 1993, when my wife became my first employee at my office in Deira and soon my brother joined the team.

The procedures and formalities were quite streamlined and smooth as it can get. Though, the difficult part was registering the name 'Danube' as a trade name. It hit a roadblock as Dubai Economic Department refused to register it given its English origin. So one of my friends suggested that I should try 'Al Danube' as the trade name and fortunately it was approved.

I would like to admit that the business during the initial days wasn't easy. There were established players and there was no way can a new player can grab some considerable market share and certainly it was not impossible. Somehow we managed and today we are officially the number one building materials firm the Middle East.

Business landscape now and then

The business landscape stand evolved today; it is faster and technologically advanced as compared to few decades ago. Today, there is no denying the fact that competition is severe, stakes are higher, cost of living has gone up, credit period has stretched, margins have reduced. So all in all, it is not an easy outing for a new business. However, as I have always said that in Dubai, no matter what, if you have the right product and offer in a unique way then anyone can succeed here.

I feel good and satisfied with my achievements in the UAE. I always knew that Dubai is just the place for me and here we are after two decades we are discussing exactly that.

A lot of times I have been asked this question - If you would not have been a businessman what else would you have been? And to that I always say that business is all I know and I am quite good at it.

I started being a businessman at the age of 12 when I would sell books and crackers to my friends. Dubai has given me a lot and the government policies have always been supportive. Looking back, I feel happy and proud that we are the number building materials company in Middle East.

Dubai is a great place, in fact the best place for doing business. To all the young entrepreneurs, I would only suggest that first 3- 4 years work for somebody, understand the business and then start with your own business. Furthermore, make sure you calculate your margins all fine so that even if the business goes slow early on you can survive and make a comeback if needed.

'Live rich, die rich'

The best advice I received was from my uncle. He told me once that "a lot of people live rich but very few die rich".

And my take way was that in any business you need to be careful and realise that one wrong step and all can be gone. He was my mentor and he was the one who taught me that 2+2 is 5 and not 4 after my dad expired when I was only 16.

And I keep one golden rule: Whatever I do, I do differently. I will try and create my own USP rather that competing with others.

I am active on Face book and share posts, thoughts, pictures regularly. But my secretary operates the account, hence I have asked my friends not to send personal messages on Facebook.

(As told to Issac John)

Khaleej Times

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