By Ed Attwood
From humble beginnings to fully-fledged business empires, the region's riches Indians are an inspiration
Do you know how much the Gulf’s 50 richest Indians are worth? It’s an astonishing figure; some $40.3bn. Leading the way, once again, is retail mogul Micky Jagtiani, who has accrued a whopping $4.5bn from his Landmark Group’s operations all over the region. Not bad for a guy who started out from a tiny shop in Bahrain exactly four decades ago.
Two years ago, when we first carried out this research, there were five expatriate Indian billionaires plying their trade in the Gulf. Today, there are ten, and the number looks set to grow even more next year. So what are they doing right? Well, the vast majority of them have one thing in common; they came to the region with nothing, started out small and dreamed big. They certainly picked the right place to come; as the Gulf has transformed itself over the course of the last 50 years, so the fortunes of many expatriates have similarly rocketed.
But perhaps the most salient point about this year’s list is the number of Indians who are based in the UAE. Fully 86 percent of the names on our list live in the Emirates, with the majority of these working in Dubai. But that shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise. After all, the UAE is now India’s largest trading partner, and the figures just keep on growing.
In 2011, the most recent year for which full records exist, bilateral trade between the UAE and India topped $52.8bn. That’s an impressive figure in itself, but it’s worth pointing out that the figure is 23 times what it was just fourteen years ago. Exports and imports between the two countries account for 21 percent of the UAE’s total trade in 2011.
As India’s economy has leapt into gear over the course of the last decade, the UAE has cemented its place as a transshipment hub for the huge number of Indian export products that are now flooding global markets.
“India is now the most important trade partner of the UAE given the strong interest by the two countries to strengthen their economic and commercial links,” said the UAE’s Minister for Foreign Trade, Sheikh Lubna Al Qassimi, earlier this year.
That’s not to say that Indians aren’t making waves elsewhere in the Gulf. In Saudi Arabia, Ravi Pillai is believed to be the region’s biggest employer of Indian expatriates, while in Oman, P Mohammed Ali has built up perhaps the sultanate’s biggest industrial conglomerate.
But another issue that unites many of the names on our list is philanthropy. They may have made it big, but they have remembered to give back.
Take Firoz Merchant, for example. The chairman of Pure Gold Jewellers has made his millions from a huge chain of jewellery stores in the UAE. He came to Dubai in 1980 on his honeymoon, took a tour round the gold souq, and started on a road that will see him spend $272m on hundreds of new stores and factories throughout the Middle East and Africa in the next five years. But every year, Merchant spends around $1m bailing indebted prisoners out of the UAE’s jails. In 2011, his actions resulted in the release of 700 stranded prisoners.
Finally, there is one name who would have made this year’s list, but who sadly passed away just two months ago. SK Pathak was the charismatic businessman behind the UAE-based conglomerate Al Basti & Muktha Group. He founded the company in 1974, and it went on to become one of Dubai’s most prestigious construction outfits. Pathak’s range of clients included Emaar Properties, Dubai Municipality, the UAE Armed Forces, the Dubai Police Force and the ruler of Dubai. He will be much missed and our thoughts go out to his family and friends.
entrepreneurs par excellence!
As an economic sociologist my concern is how does access to this huge capital transform into concrete ideas and practices towards the development of backward regions of India as an emerging country.