The UAE’s success in such a short time is often credited to its citizens. Many of the country’s high-flying achievers and future-makers have hailed from India. From computers, to telephones, to schools and hospitals, prominent Indians have shaped and enriched the everyday lives of all who live in the UAE. Here Gulf Business reveals 10 of the country’s most influential Indians, arranged according to the number of years they have spent in the UAE.
Years in the UAE: 57
Designation: Executive director, Jashanmal Group
Having started from humble beginnings in Iraq in 1919, the Jashanmal Group expanded quickly across the Middle East during the mid 1900s. Opening stores in Bahrain in 1935, Dubai in 1956, and Abu Dhabi in 1964, served as a solid bedrock for what is today one of the most popular and recognised business names in the region.
Employing over 2,000 staff across 100 stores, the Jashanmal Group owns the franchise rights to some of the world’s most famous fashion brands including Calvin Klein, Burberry and LK Bennett.
As executive director, Tony Jashanmal oversees retail and wholesale trading. The company has also branched into the media, publishing magazines, newspapers and books through its stores.
Years in the UAE: 55
Designation: Founder and chairman, GEMS Education
Place of origin: Kerala
Sunny Varkey is the mastermind behind the world’s largest private schools company. Having founded GEMS Education from a single school in Dubai in 1969, the business now operates across 19 countries with a branch of 100 schools teaching 130,000 students.
Varkey also founded the Varkey GEMS Foundation in 2010, which boasts former US president Bill Clinton as honorary chairman, and is a UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador. Having arrived in the country with his parents in 1959, Varkey took over the family business at 20-years-old.
Earlier this year, he helped launch the annual Global Education and Skills Forum in Dubai in partnership with the UAE Ministry of Education. Private equity firm The Abraaj Group bought 25 per cent of GEMS in 2007. In an exclusive interview with Gulf Business, Varkey revealed he hopes to launch an initial public offering in the future.
Years in UAE: 54
Designation: President, ITL Group
Place of origin: Born in Hyderabad
The 72-year old self-made businessman, who has twice published his ‘rags to riches’ autobiography Taking The High Road, is famously known to have entered Dubai as a penniless young man, before the city had an airport, roads, electricity and oil.
More than half a century has passed since then, during which Buxani’s fortunes have grown along with Dubai’s. The president of the ITL Group has overseen the company’s rapid expansion into consumer electronics, textiles, banking, IT and hospitality.
The veteran is also known for his contribution to the Indian community in the UAE, and is currently the chairman of India Club in Dubai and a board member of Al Noor Training Centre for Children with Special Needs.
He was also the founder chairman of the erstwhile Overseas Indians Economic Forum – UAE, and the chairman of the Indian High School in Dubai from 2000 to 2004.
Years in the UAE: 41
Designation: Chairman, Indian Community Welfare Committee
Place of origin: Chennai
The incident that sealed K Kumar’s role as ambassador and do-gooder for all Indians in the UAE is a famous one. In 1998, Kumar and some associates raised Dhs75,000 in blood money to help free a young Indian from jail who had found himself caught up in an accidental death. The selfless deed inspired Kumar to start a group that would look after the welfare of poor Indian workers in the UAE.
After approaching the Indian embassy, Kumar formed the Indian Community Welfare Committee (ICWC); a group of volunteers who provide legal advice, financial help and guidance on a range of matters to labourers, hospital patients and workers caught up on the wrong side of the law.
In extreme cases they provide shelter, food and a chance for rehabilitation. Kumar has been heralded for his altruistic endeavours, receives numerous awards and certificates from both the UAE and India.
Dr. Bavaguthu Raghuram Shetty
Years in UAE: 40
Designation: Founder, NMC Group
Place of origin: Udupi, Karnataka
Dr. B R Shetty is a man of many hats – he is the MD and CEO of Abu Dhabi-based healthcare provider NMC Group, and the boss of money transfer firm UAE Exchange, which he co-founded in 1980.
Dr. Shetty arrived on the UAE’s shores soon after the country was born, and has risen to the top along with the nation.
The New Medical Centre (NMC), which he established in 1975 as a one-room clinic in Abu Dhabi, has now grown to become the UAE’s largest private sector healthcare provider.
Last year, NMC Health even became the first Abu Dhabi-based company to list on the London Stock Exchange, and it currently runs five specialty hospitals.
Dr. Shetty, who owns two floors of the world’s tallest building, Burj Khalifa, was also one of the first expatriates to receive the Order of Abu Dhabi, a government honour for his contribution to the community.
Years in UAE: 40
Designation: Founder, LuLu Group International
Place of origin: Kerala
The recipient of numerous awards, including the prestigious Padma Shri, bestowed by the Indian President in 2008, the ambitious and philanthropic Yusuffali has established himself as one of the foremost NRI businessmen in the UAE.
His LuLu Group International (earlier called EMKE Group), currently employs over 30,000 people from 29 different nations and operates over 100 Lulu retail outlets across most of the Middle East and parts of Asia and Africa.
Started by Yusuffali in Abu Dhabi in the early 1990s, the group now reports an annual turnover of $5.1 billion globally.
In recognition of his contribution to the emirate, he became the first expatriate to get elected to the board of the Abu Dhabi Chamber of Commerce & Industries (ADCCI) in 2005.
Along with his strong business acumen, Yusuffali, with a personal wealth of $1.5 billion, is also credited with being a generous donor, and has worked extensively to help Indians in the UAE.
Years in UAE: Around 40
Designation: Chairperson, Jumbo Group
Place of origin: Mumbai
Vidya Chhabria has been spearheading Dubai-based Jumbo Group’s global operations since 2002, after the sudden death of her husband, Manu Chhabria.
Starting as a radio-parts trader in Mumbai, the late Manohar ‘Manu’ Chhabria was nicknamed the ‘takeover tycoon’ for his aggressive acquisition of brands such as Shaw Wallace, Dunlop India, Hindustan Dorr-Oliver, Mather and Platt.
He established Jumbo Electronics as a single store in Dubai in 1974, with a capital base of Dhs50,000. Its success story began when he signed a deal with Sony Corporation in 1975 and became its distributor in the Gulf. Jumbo Electronics has since become Sony’s biggest distributor worldwide.
Now a $2 billion conglomerate, Jumbo has operations in 50 countries across the world, and along with retail, also offers enterprise products catering to sectors such as hospitality, education, healthcare and finance.
Jumbo Electronics, with over 30 retail stores, also offers products from global international brands including HP, Blackberry, Nokia, Dell, and Samsung at its outlets.
Years in the UAE: 39
Designation: chairman, Choithrams
Founded in Africa by Thakurdas Choithram Pagarani, the supermarket empire was spread across the region by his three sons, one of which, LT Pagarani, leads the business today. Having first established a store in the UAE in 1974, the popular and distinctive supermarket chain now has 27 locations across the emirates, with further expansion expected in the near future.
LT Pagarani has been largely credited with the group’s success and rapid expansion in recent years, as the brand now stretches across all corners of the GCC.
As well as taking a leading role in educating its customers on reducing waste and improving their carbon footprint, the group has not forgotten its roots, funding humanitarian initiatives in Africa and India.
Years in UAE: Around 25
Designation: Founder and chairman, Landmark Group
Place of origin: Mumbai, India
Another classic example of a self-made billionaire who went from driving taxis in London to currently having a personal wealth of around $4 billion, according to Forbes, Micky Jagtiani is the man behind the retail behemoth, Dubai-based Landmark Group.
Having lost his family in his early twenties, Jagtiani single-handedly started the company in Bahrain in 1973 with a single store and $6,000. Today, the Landmark Group, with interests spanning across fashion, children’s products, home furnishing, electronics and cosmetics, employs over 40,000 people across 19 countries. Along with homegrown brands such as Babyshop and Home Centre, the company operates over 30 international franchise brands including New Look, Steve Madden and Kurt Geiger.
But even as the company continues its aggressive expansion plan, Jagtiani has remained vocal that his greatest passion lies in doing social work, and works closely with LIFE (Landmark International Foundation of Empowerment) to help underprivileged children in India.
Years in the UAE: 23
Designation: Owner and managing director, Petrochem Middle East
Yogesh Mehta’s story may not quite be a rags to riches tale, but it is every bit as inspiring. Arriving in Dubai aged 29 with no job and no money – his first business attempt collapsed – Mehta was determined to be an entrepreneur and lead a company, rather than work for someone else.
Setting up Petrochem, in cooperation with Petrochem UK, Mehta has taken a three-man fledging enterprise and turned it into an international company with a $1 billion annual turnover. With a state-of-the-art chemicals distribution terminal in Jebel Ali Port and offices across Asia, Middle East and Europe, Mehta has achieved his dream of running a global business.
Mehta also recently became a judge on Dubai-based reality TV show The Entrepreneur.