From tea boy to CEO: Indian expat Bal Krishen Rathore shows impossible is possible

He belied his humble origins to become the Chairman and CEO of Century Financial

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Joydeep Sengupta

Published: Thu 25 Aug 2022, 6:03 PM

Last updated: Thu 25 Aug 2022, 7:14 PM

Bal Krishen Rathore’s life story is stranger than fiction. The unassuming Rathore, who belongs to Jammu & Kashmir, was born into a family of humble financial means. His ascent as a corporate honcho — he is the chairman and chief executive officer of Dubai-based Century Financial, an investment firm in global financial markets — mirrors the archetypal UAE dream.

Rathore, who hails from Doda district on the Indo-Pakistan border, started working at a tender age to support his family. “Though I did several odd jobs during my formative years, my entrepreneurial skills came to the fore after I took a risk and started a small business venture back home,” he reminisces at his well-appointed office in Downtown Dubai.

So, how did he land up in Dubai, the city of dreams? “My father’s early retirement precipitated the move. I was desperate to find a good job that would provide a better livelihood to my family,” he says.

Rathore came to Dubai in 1996, but his early years in the emirate were fraught with backbreaking labour and an indomitable spirit to succeed against all odds. “Few have the courage to admit, but I’m honest enough to admit that I worked as a tea boy at a local hotel in Dubai,” he says.

In retrospect, it was the best career move. “I learned the fundamentals of people management and the importance of customer service. I worked my way up at the hotel, where I had started out, to become an accountant.”

A senior banker took to his skills and considered him for a career in investments and finance. “That was the stepping stone and gave me the much-needed impetus to carve out a niche for myself in the financial investment sector. Fortunately, 1999 was the turning point of my career. I owe my success to none other than Sulaiman Baqer Mohebi, an Emirati entrepreneur and the then president of Century Financial. I’d like to believe that he was impressed with my passion and tenacity and offered me a role as an office assistant,” he adds.

An observant Rathore picked up the tricks of the trade in no time. “Soon, I got an opportunity to work as a junior dealer and could assist in the supervision of transactions across major global exchanges,” he adds. He put in a punishing schedule and often worked 15 hours a day to get a better grasp of the nuances of the trade. He reached the top after assuming several leadership roles.

Now, Century Financial, a prominent player in the financial services sector in the UAE for the past three decades, is in advanced discussion with relevant authorities and partners for diversifying the business in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and other Gulf Cooperation Council countries. The company is also working on a Sharia compliant product for GCC markets. The company has recently set up an innovation lab to understand and implement the use of technology such as artificial intelligence and machine learning to provide end-to-end investment solutions to clients. Plans are afoot to develop a wealth management platform, e-commerce and delivery mobile applications, and apps for sports and entertainment.

The robust growth has ensured that in July 2021, Century Financial was honoured by Great Place to Work Middle East where it topped the category of Best Workplaces for Millennials.

Patriotic fervour

Rathore has been involved in a lot of humanitarian and philanthropic activities back home through his trust Divine India, which works in sectors such as education, health, environment and youth empowerment.

Divine India has aligned itself with the United Nations (UN) Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) 2030 on promoting quality education. The trust has deputed two dedicated ambassadors from the UAE — Sameera Fernandes, Global Educationist and Nirbhaya Award Winner, and director, corporate affairs, Century Financial, and Rashika Rathore, a student of Grade 11 from Dubai — to promote EducateNow, a youth empowerment campaign across Rathore’s native Doda district.

EducateNow seeks to create awareness on skill development among higher secondary school students in separate areas of Doda district such as Ghat, Jodhpur, Jatheli, Shadiwal, Parshula and Mohala.

Fernandes elaborated on the campaign. “We’re laying emphasis on three core areas such as career enhancement opportunities, global industry institute linkages, facilitating differential internships and placements. We’re trying to bridge small towns to global education hubs to ensure that quality education prevails, and society is elevated on all fronts. The move is like to resolve the growing unemployment challenges that have arisen following the aftermath of the Covid-19 pandemic,” she says.

Rashika echoes Fernandes. “The Doda community is close to my heart, and I believe that by spreading goodwill towards the cause of education, we can start by empowering our own community as the first step”.

The initiative also aims to connect universities across the UAE and the GCC region to the student community in Doda district.

EducateNow is offering mentoring, online webinars, access to e-libraries, guest faculty, collaborations on research, exchange and twinning programmes and scholarships. The campaign aims to choose 100 promising children, who will be enrolled in 30 colleges in the UAE and get access to global education trends.

Rathore has also opened a school back home that is focusing on holistic growth and development of young minds.

Investments are also on top of his agenda for his beloved home state.

In March, he brought a 36 business delegates from the UAE, including 13 Emiratis, to J&K for investment opportunities in the Indian border state.

In January, Century Financial signed a memorandum of understanding with the J&K government for making a $100 (Dh367.30) million investment to set up three hotels and one commercial complex in J&K.

The ground-breaking ceremony for this project will be held in 2023, and the venture is likely to be completed in another three years. In 2020, Rathore completed a housing project in Jammu and 348 flats were handed over to their owners.

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