The big story

All you need to know about join­ing the bil­lion­aires’ club.

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Rule num­ber one: money does not al­ways beget money. Al­most all the big busi­ness own­ers on the Forbes Mid­dle East’s Top 10 In­dian Own­ers list started small – rags to riches is the cliché usu­ally used to de­scribe their jour­ney. The num­ber one on this list, MA Yusuf­fali, Man­ag­ing Di­rec­tor of LuLu Group In­ter­na­tional, sailed pen­ni­less to the Mid­dle East on a boat in 1973 to work at his un­cle’s dis­tri­bu­tion busi­ness. To­day he is No. 913 on Forbes’ list of world bil­lion­aires with an es­ti­mated $2 bil­lion (about Dh7.3 bil­lion) for­tune.

The chair­man of the Land­mark group, Micky (Mukesh) Jag­tiani, also started out in 1973 with a sin­gle store stock­ing child­care prod­ucts in Bahrain, a last-ditch ef­fort to sur­vive with the $6,000 that his fam­ily had left him. To­day he’s 250 on the Forbes’ list and worth $5.9 bil­lion.

The rest of the bil­lion­aires and mil­lion­aires on the list all came up in a sim­i­lar man­ner. At num­ber three, Bav­aguthu Raghu­ram Shetty (bet­ter known as BR Shetty), CEO of NMC Health­care and man­ag­ing di­rec­tor and CEO of money trans­fer agency UAE Ex­change, is 1,594 on the bil­lion­aires’ list with a for­tune of $997 mil­lion. He worked in Abu Dhabi as a phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal sales­man when he landed there in 1973 – seem­ingly the magic year for self-made busi­ness mag­nates in the Mid­dle East. The rest on the list – Sunny Varkey, Gems Ed­u­ca­tion chair­man, at num­ber four, real-es­tate gi­ant Sobha Group chair­man PNC Menon at num­ber eight, or Har­shad Ram­niklal Me­hta, dia­man­taire and chair­man of Rosy Blue group, at num­ber nine – all started in near-iden­tit­i­cal sit­u­a­tions.

In 1980 Sunny Varkey took over the school his par­ents started in Dubai, Our Own English High School, and ex­panded it to one of the largest oper­a­tors of pri­vate schools in the world with a net­work of 124 schools over the Mid­dle East, Africa, Europe, China, and In­dia. Bill Clin­ton is the hon­orary chair­man of his char­ity, the Varkey Gems Foun­da­tion, and he also has a con­sul­tancy that ad­vises gov­ern­ments and non-profit or­gan­i­sa­tions. He is es­ti­mated to be worth $1.4 bil­lion to­day by Forbes

Mid­dle East. He is also said to have done ev­ery­thing from lay­ing bricks for school build­ings to driv­ing the school bus ini­tially.

PNC Menon’s life fits the rags-toriches cliché: his fa­ther died when he

“Suc­cess should never go to your head, al­ways be down to earth and stay true to your con­science”

was 10, he couldn’t af­ford to com­plete his col­lege ed­u­ca­tion and moved from his na­tive Ker­ala in In­dia to Oman with just Rs50 (about Dh3) in his pocket. To­day his for­tune is es­ti­mated to be around $1 bil­lion.

Har­shad R Me­hta too dreamed big, pos­si­bly be­cause he had to share a small one-room house with 11 other fam­ily mem­bers in Mum­bai. That dream took shape when as a teenager he vis­ited the pala­tial house of a pros­per­ous rel­a­tive. “Their life­style made me feel that if any­one wanted to have this kind of life, he had to have lots of money,” he said in an in­ter­view with In­dian pub­li­ca­tion

Chi­tralekha. “Had I not thought of be­com­ing rich at that mo­ment, I would not have be­come what I am to­day.” His Rosy Blue group is one of the largest pol­ished di­a­mond and fin­ished jew­ellery man­u­fac­tur­ing com­pa­nies in the world.

What is it about these men that led them to add all those ze­roes to their bank ac­count?

The right traits

If there is one thing to be learned from the lives of these suc­cess­ful men, it is that you won’t go any­where with the wrong at­ti­tude. You also need a few abil­i­ties to make the most of your po­ten­tial.

“Cliché or not, as they say there are no short­cuts to suc­cess,” says Yusuf­fali. “I am con­tin­u­ously learn­ing. [The most im­por­tant talent would be] re­cruit­ing and re­tain­ing good talent. It goes with­out say­ing that an hon­est and trans­par­ent ap­proach is most es­sen­tial.”

He ad­vises against “try­ing to find quick fixes, short­cuts and jump­ing into new mar­kets/ busi­ness with­out proper due dili­gence. Never get into a busi­ness purely be­cause some­one else has made money.”

“Any de­ci­sion be­comes a mis­take only af­ter the re­sults are known,” says BR Shetty. “There­fore, don’t worry about mis­takes, but take pre­cau­tions.”

Shetty’s list of to-dos is sim­ple: “Your em­ploy­ees and as­so­ciates de­pend on you. In the face of ad­ver­sity, al­ways stand by them.”

Don’t be afraid to stand up for your prod­uct. “You are the best sales­per­son for your prod­uct or ser­vice,” he says. “Never miss an op­por­tu­nity to show off your prod­uct.” The con­fi­dence-boost­ing ad­vice comes with a rider: “Suc­cess should never go to your head, al­ways be down-to-earth.” BR Shetty has three tips for budding en­trepreneurs. “Be sus­tain­able and scal­able,” he ad­vises. “Stay true to your con­science. And most im­por­tantly, have con­fi­dence and faith in your dreams.”

Pas­sion for your job

This may be an­other cliché, but PNC Menon sets great store by it. “Be pas­sion­ate about the do­main you are en­ter­ing so you can give it your best,” is his top tip. Micky Jag­tiani agrees. “Pas­sion and hard work are both im­por­tant for suc­cess,” he says, “[but first] be­lieve in yourself.” Also do a re­al­ity check. “Make sure you have what it takes to be an en­tre­pre­neur as some people are bet­ter off be­ing pro­fes­sion­als in the field of their choice,” says Menon. “Make sure you un­der­stand the fi­nan­cial and cap­i­tal re­quire­ments of any busi­ness you un­der­take. Fo­cus to­tally on the qual­ity of your prod­uct.”

Know­ing the right time to launch is also para­mount. “I think that both as people and en­trepreneurs there are some key things that hold us back from reach­ing our full po­ten­tial,” says Micky Jag­tiani, who lost ev­ery­thing – fam­ily and money – be­fore he could fight back and work his way up to the top. “Don’t wait for the right mo­ment, don’t make your dreams wait an­other day. Do it now.”

He should know. He dropped out of col­lege in Lon­don, drove cabs and cleaned ho­tel rooms to sur­vive, even­tu­ally mov­ing back with his fam­ily in Bahrain in 1972. More mis­for­tune fol­lowed. Af­ter his brother Ma­hesh suc­cumbed to leukaemia, his fa­ther passed away within months. His mother died soon af­ter. At 21 Micky was left pen­ni­less and an or­phan. He wanted to re­turn to In­dia, but felt com­pelled to com­plete the task his brother had ini­ti­ated – start­ing a shop for which he’d al­ready paid the lease. With the $6,000 legacy that he’d been left by the fam­ily, he stocked the shop with baby care items and por­ten­tously named it Babyshop. He’s never looked back since.

You need a team

Ob­vi­ously, a team is nec­es­sary to trans­late your dreams into suc­cess. “You can’t achieve ev­ery­thing alone. Trust in people, share your vi­sion, and work to­gether,” says Micky.

MA Yusuf­fali pays a lot of at­ten­tion to his core team, and it ob­vi­ously has stood him in good stead. The at­tri­tion rate of key se­nior staff at LuLu is said to be just 1 per cent.

“I be­lieve in del­e­gat­ing pow­ers to my people,” he once said in an in­ter­view with NDTV Ara­bia. “They will be ac­count­able and re­spon­si­ble. If I take ev­ery­thing in my hand, the in­sti­tu­tion can­not work, so I strongly be­lieve in my people, my col­leagues. They run the show, be­cause they are re­spon­si­ble.”

The man­ag­ing di­rec­tor of con­struc­tion gi­ant ETA Star As­con group, Syed Salahud­din – joint num­ber five on the list – feels that the right team is key. “The cul­ture in our com­pany is that ev­ery staffer owns the com­pany,” he said in the same in­ter­view. “We are all one big fam­ily, and we all own it. We were

1. MA Yusuf­fali, man­ag­ing di­rec­tor, LuLu Group In­ter­na­tional

3. BR Shetty, CEO, NMC Health­care;CEO, MD, UAE Ex­change

2. Micky Jag­tiani,

chair­man, Land­mark Group

5. Syed Salahud­din, man­ag­ing di­rec­tor, ETA As­con Star group

8. PNC Menon, founder and chair­man, Sobha Group

7. Ra­jen Ki­lac­hand,

chair­man, Dod­sal Group

4. Sunny Varkey, founder and chair­man, GEMS Ed­u­ca­tion

9. Har­shad R Me­hta, chair­man, Rosy Blue Group

5. Tony Jashan­mal, group di­rec­tor, Jashan­mal Group

10. Ravi Pil­lai, chair­man and MD, RP Group

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