A love for cricket helps steel gi­ant suc­ceed in busi­ness

China Daily (Canada) - - PEOPLE - By ARUNA HARJANI

For China Daily

Born into a com­mu­nity that thrives on trade, it seemed nat­u­ral for Shyam Bha­tia to base him­self in Dubai, the bustling com­mer­cial hub of the United Arab Emi­rates (UAE).

The de­ci­sion Bha­tia took 52 years ago was a for­tu­itous com­bi­na­tion of his com­mu­nity’s leg­endary rep­u­ta­tion for run­ning prof­itable en­ter­prises and his per­sonal pas­sion for cricket.

Bha­tia’s fam­ily traces its roots to Sindh, which is now part of Pak­istan. His fam­ily, like other mem­bers of this closely knit trad­ing com­mu­nity, op­er­ated their busi­nesses for gen­er­a­tions.

In 1947, Bha­tia’s fam­ily mi­grated to In­dia in the wake of other mem­bers of their com­mu­nity. They set­tled down at Ajmer, in Ra­jasthan state.

On Aug 8, 1965, Bha­tia, who was then in his early 20s, moved to Dubai, sens­ing the po­ten­tial for higher growth in the Mid­dle East. He started work as a mar­ket­ing ex­ec­u­tive for the New In­dia As­sur­ance Com­pany.

A decade later, as the eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment of the UAE gath­ered pace on the back of the oil boom, Bha­tia de­cided to start a busi­ness of his own in the build­ing ma­te­ri­als sec­tor.

He founded Alam Traders in 1979 with just two peo­ple. It soon grew into one of the largest di­ver­si­fied build­ing ma­te­ri­als trad­ing firms in the re­gion.

In 2002, the firm de­cided to fo­cus on the steel in­dus­try and re­branded it­self as Alam Steel. Now one of the largest steel sup­pli­ers in the Mid­dle East, it has been in­volved in such mega projects as Dubai Metro, Burj Khal­ifa, The Dubai Mall, and Mall of the Emi­rates. Alam Steel’s ge­o­graphic reach to­day stretches across the Mid­dle East, North Africa and the In­dian sub­con­ti­nent.

With Alam Steel Group al­ready es­tab­lished as one of the lead­ing steel com­pa­nies in the re­gion, in­clud­ing di­ver­si­fied steel dis­tri­bu­tion and pro­cess­ing units, Bha­tia as­sumed the role of chair­man and handed over day-to-day op­er­a­tions to his son, Vikram.

How­ever, Bha­tia still at­tends the com­pany’s monthly board meet­ings. He also keeps an eye on its fi­nan­cial sit­u­a­tion, not­ing that: “I can see the fig­ures from any part of the world.”

In school, Bha­tia ex­celled in sports and was se­lected to play in the cricket team. Later, he went on to play at a high level.

“When I was grow­ing up in Ajmer, I played for Ra­jasthan and Saurash­tra (teams) in var­i­ous national tour­na­ments. In those days, no com­pany spon­sored the game and I would travel in di­lap­i­dated buses to play out of town (matches). We would hardly get 100 ru­pees (around $1.50 at cur­rent ex­change rates) as pocket money,” Bha­tia said.

After he moved to Dubai, Bha­tia con­tin­ued to play cricket for var­i­ous ex­pa­tri­ate teams, es­pe­cially those from In­dia. In the UAE at that time, cricket matches had lit­tle or no cor­po­rate

spon­sor­ship.

“In those days, cricket was hardly played in Dubai,” Bha­tia said.

“Be­cause I played well, I be­came pop­u­lar among many own­ers of big com­pa­nies in Dubai. So, when­ever I wanted to meet any CEO or owner of a com­pany it was easy. All my suc­cess in busi­ness came be­cause I was a crick­eter.”

Cricket was very much a gen­tle­man’s game, and Bha­tia ap­plied the prin­ci­ples he im­bibed on the cricket field to his cor­po­rate life.

“Dis­ci­pline, team work and fair­ness are the key el­e­ments in cricket. I ap­ply all of th­ese (qual­i­ties) in my busi­ness deals,” he said.

After mov­ing to Dubai, the

young Bha­tia did well in his job at the in­sur­ance com­pany. How­ever, he yearned to start a busi­ness of his own, un­like most of his friends who were from the Sindhi com­mu­nity and mostly did trad­ing and ran re­tail shops that sold tex­tiles.

Due to his in­volve­ment with cricket in par­tic­u­lar, his so­cial net­work con­tin­ued to ex­pand. Bha­tia met many en­trepreneurs who ad­vised him on the prospects in var­i­ous busi­ness fields. Tak­ing their ad­vice to heart, he soon started a com­pany that sold build­ing ma­te­ri­als.

Bha­tia was con­vinced about Dubai’s growth po­ten­tial as a re­gional com­mer­cial hub. He re­al­ized the cap­i­tal would re­quire more of­fice and con­do­minium build­ings, and the ma­te­ri­als to build them.

“Ob­vi­ously, I didn’t have the money at that time, so I went into a work­ing part­ner­ship,” he said.

“As one knows, there are many ups and downs in a work­ing part­ner­ship. In 1979, I de­cided to open my own com­pany, which I named Alam Traders. I started trad­ing in build­ing ma­te­ri­als.”

De­spite his busy cor­po­rate sched­ule, Bha­tia still found time for cricket, which he con­tin­ued to play. He soon es­tab­lished his own team, which played at so­cial events in the UAE.

“I had major back surgery in 1985 and I couldn’t play cricket after that. I started play­ing ten­nis and then golf. I never gave up sports.”

The surgery did not hin­der Bha­tia’s love for cricket. In the fol­low­ing decades, as the sport be­came more pop­u­lar in Dubai, many cricket teams came to play in the city. And Bha­tia in­vari­ably hosted a lun­cheon for vis­it­ing play­ers.

“I met and be­friended a lot of crick­eters in those days and slowly I col­lected mem­o­ra­bilia.”

Later, he used that mem­o­ra­bilia to open the Shyam Bha­tia Cricket Mu­seum. One of the largest museums of its kind in the world, it dis­plays a col­lec­tion of crick­et­ing lit­er­a­ture, pho­tos, au­to­graphed bats and balls, tro­phies and per­sonal mem­o­ra­bilia from world-class crick­eters of all gen­er­a­tions.

The walls of the mu­seum sport the printed his­tory and statis­tics of the test-play­ing na­tions. Th­ese are up­dated ev­ery year and new “trea­sures” added.

The then CEO of the In­ter­na­tional Cricket Coun­cil, Ha­roon Lor­gat, in­au­gu­rated the mu­seum on April 18, 2010. Since then, it has been vis­ited by leg­endary cricket play­ers from around the world. Currently, the mu­seum opens its doors for view­ing by ap­point­ment, while Bha­tia works on a deal with the gov­ern­ment to open a big­ger fa­cil­ity that can be open to the pub­lic at reg­u­lar hours.

Mean­while, this tire­less cricket afi­cionado’s own cof­fee-ta­ble book, Portraits of the Game, about the one-day cricket for­mat, has proved pop­u­lar with cricket lovers, along with its two se­quels.

The book is sought-after by col­lec­tors world­wide.

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