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Indian Power List 2019

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Dr. Dhananjay Datar

Dr. Dhananjay Datar


Al Adil Trading


Chairman and managing director

The Indian billionaire best known as the ‘King of Spice’ to his customers has led a life that reads like an epic Bollywood movie, complete with fireworks, near-death experiences, private jets and Rolls-Royces. Indeed, Datar’s life is just as colourful as the 9,000 products he sells in his 41 stores across the Gulf.

His first brush with mortality came when he was working late at his company’s warehouse and a spark fell on a container full of firecrackers. It caused a massive explosion.

“I was caught in the fire, but one of my workers rushed towards me in time and saved my life,” Datar recounts.

He admitted that the incident initially made him start “chasing the money”, but this approach just left him depressed. Luckily, he doesn’t have to worry too much about a lack of cash today.

To mark 25 years in business, he flew his entire team aboard a Royal Jet Airways Boeing 737, where he gifted his business partner and wife Vandana the key to a $2m bespoke Rolls-Royce Phantom, one of only 17 in the world.

While the retail magnate is today one of the UAE’s richest Indians, his first venture (just like the many twists in Bollywood films) came with ample drama.

In the first year of business, Datar’s trading company suffered a loss and was at a risk of shutting down.

“We were [beginners]. In a haste to expand the business, we provided goods to resellers and they didn’t pay the dues in time. We had no reserves to cover it, so we thought of winding up the business,” he remembers. In a bid to save the company, Datar’s mother sold her gold jewellery (including her Mangalsutra, the necklace the groom ties around the bride’s neck to mark their marriage) to raise funding.

His mother’s sacrifice eventually saved the business, and taught Datar the art of customer service.

“I quickly realised the customers’ mind - that they prefer picking up the products on their own. I then modernised our shops to turn them into comfortable super stores,” he says.

“I [also] paid attention to the development of new products [and] implemented state-of-the art packaging technology and international quality norms to make the products clean and safe,” he adds.

Datar’s current challenge, however, is the obstacles presented by a slowdown in the retail sector in the UAE, with low oil prices between 2014 and 2016 having caused increasing supply and weakness in retail spending, according to a number of reports, including the 2018 retail overview from property services firm Core.

“Some economic researchers are predicting a sluggish growth ahead for the global markets, based on indicators like current trade conflicts between big powers, rising inflation, as well as a hike in interest rates. Some are even warning about a slowdown in global economy and a possible recession at the doorstep,” Datar says.

But he’s not worried at all.

“I [try to] adjust myself according to the situation [but], as of now, I don’t see any sluggish trend… Inflation might affect consumers’ decisions to purchase some luxury items temporarily, but there is no danger at all to the commodities and FMCG (Fast-Moving Consumer Goods) sectors,” Datar says.

He may very well be right. Dubai’s retail sector is expected to grow 5.6 percent from $35bn in 2018 to $43.7bn by 2021, according to figures by Dubai Chamber, with the Expo 2020 also expected to attract 25 million visitors during the six-month event.

“I am a trader businessman and have learned from past experiences that there is nothing to worry [about]. Markets are always volatile and pass through ups and downs… Five years [ago]… everyone was worrying about the global depression and almost all the businesses and sectors were facing the brunt of recession. My business was no exception to it.”

As with any feature film, his right hand woman came to the company’s rescue.

“I made a SWOT analysis (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats) and made appropriate changes in my strategy. My wife, who has been an excellent finance director of our Al Adil Group, shared the responsibility, streamlined the budget and kept unnecessary expenditures under check. I concentrated on venturing new opportunities and new markets. We implemented a vigilant cost cutting exercise and limited ourselves to profit making transactions only,” he says.

The result? A whopping 400 percent growth in the group’s income.

The recipe is simple: the company’s margins are increasing due to a squeeze in costs in terms of rental rates on their stores, and the prices they negotiate with suppliers.

“Now the market is down so we get very low rents. Almost 30 percent rent is down, so it is good and we negotiate with the landlords to go for longer leases so they give for less…” Datar says.

And what do you do when your profits are through the roof? You expand, of course.

The managing director recently opened a store in Silicon Oasis, and is preparing for the launch of another brand in Sharjah. In total, he has six more planned for this year, as he focuses on growing population centres like Business Bay, Jumeirah Lake Towers and Dubai Marina.

Al Adil Trading Company, which currently operates in the UAE, Bahrain, Oman and Saudi Arabia, is also set to expand to Kuwait over the next six months. Datar even has his eyes on Europe.

“We’ll go to Europe… maybe next year,” he says.

So what does he see in his future? “There are many things I want to enjoy [but] I want to enjoy the working life. Sitting at your home alone…,” he says, shaking his head, “I want to be involved in the business.”