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