“When I joined the company 52 years ago, I didn’t think as an employer, I thought as the owner. I would get very angry if a colleague misbehaved or did something wrong but I didn’t tell my boss, I would handle it as if I was the boss,” Ram Buxani laughs.
Little did Buxani know that five decades after arriving in Dubai to work for the Asian textile merchants ITL Group he would go on to become not only one of the company’s longest serving employees but also its president, co-owner and one of the UAE’s most successful non-resident Indians.
Buxani’s arrival in the emirate and his choppy five-day ship journey via Muscat, Karachi and Gwadar has been well-documented. He laughs as he remembers landing on dry land and heading straight into the office and how, just two years later, the same ship that brought him over ended up at the bottom of the sea. In 1959, when the Hyderabad-born Buxani applied for a job as an office boy at the company, he couldn’t even have pointed to Dubai on the map.
“I told my brother, who was living in Hong Kong at the time, that I have got the job in Dubai and he said ‘why on earth are you going there?’ Do you even know where it is?’ I told him I was going anyway,” he laughs in hindsight. Buxani remembers Dubai not as the vast metropolis it is today but as “a small and cozy town” which meant him doing “everything from writing letters to getting business and delivering the mail”.
“Dubai was the land of opportunity; it always has been the land of opportunity but it wasn’t as challenging as it is today. Now it is both the land of opportunity and the land of challenges,” he adds.
The ITL Group, as it was known then, was founded in Mombasa but expanded its operations to the Gulf, firstly to Bahrain and then later the UAE in a bid to liquidate excess stock in 1958. Buxani was hired by Murij Manghnani, the man charged with overseeing ITL-Cosmos Group’s Gulf operations and its other current co-owner.
The Dubai-based firm, which today is known as ITL-Cosmos Group, now has operations in Oman, India as well as the UAE, was the first company to receive an official trade licence by royal decree, says Buxani. “Neither the municipality or any trading authority gave licences, you would just come here, identify a shop, put your board up and start your business,” he explains.
“The company approached HH Sheikh Rashid Bin Saeed Al Maktoum and he said we would like to have some written permission from you so he issued a charter or a two-sentence decree and that was the first decree given by the government of Dubai to a trading enterprise.”
Over 50 years later, the company is still the proud owner of the number six PO Box in Dubai and is one of the emirate’s longest-serving firms. In addition to its textile business — which still accounts for around 60 percent of its revenues — ITL-Cosmos also has franchise deals with several electronics and watch retailers including Sharp, the Japanese clockmaker Rhythm and Remington, as well as real estate investments and a money exchange house, Al Razouki International Exchange Company.
Buxani started acquiring shares in the firm 30 years ago, seizing the opportunity to build up his stake over several decades.
“I started getting a profit share after three years in the company and then around 30 years ago, I started investing in it, gradually. Some of the [former] shareholders needed the money so they exited while others passed their shares onto their children who sold them,” he explains.
“This organisation is 125 years old, so one by one people passed and the survivors went on. Today, I am the president and own 50 percent of the company.”
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