Is success a journey or destination? A peek into the life of Dr Dhananjay Datar offers fascinating answers

The chairman and managing director of Al Adil Trading Company talks at length about how the struggles of his formative years shaped him as a person and entrepreneur

by

Anamika Chatterjee

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Published: Thu 2 Feb 2023, 9:37 PM

THE DREAMER

My childhood taught me a lot. We belonged to a lower middle class family. My father was in the Indian Air Force, and his salary was quite low. As a result, I could not afford to live with my parents. That’s why they kept me with my grandmother, while my grandfather worked in a small hospital. When I went to school, I would have only one uniform. During the rains, there would be no umbrella or raincoat. I would keep my bag on my head to protect myself from rain. During the winters, there would hardly be any sweaters to keep myself warm. We’d have tea for breakfast and have toor dal (pulses) and chapati (bread) for lunch. Dinners would comprise chapati and curd (without sugar). When I’d ask my grandmother to add some sugar in the curd, she would say, “Sugar is for tomorrow’s tea.”


Why are we poor, I’d ask my mother and grandmother. “When you become big, study well, get a good job, you will be able to afford everything,” they’d respond.

Later, I went to Bombay for further education at a government school. My father had retired by then, and had moved to Dubai. Our life changed completely. He would send money home. We began to afford things that we could not always buy. He visited us every two years, and would bring nuts, chocolates and clothes. Seeing how his move to Dubai changed our lives, I began to nurture a dream of moving to the city.


THE DOER

At the age of 20, I came to Dubai. My father was working in Mina Jebel Ali; after the port was completed, he had to think about what to do next. He started a small grocery store in Bur Dubai. One day, he called me in Mumbai and said that if I wanted to come to Dubai, I could, but I’d have to do whatever work was given to me — be it mopping the tiles or cleaning the shop or carrying 50kg bags. I said I would do it.

When I came to Dubai, I realised it wasn’t so easy — that one had to work hard in order to earn money. Back in those days, I had to work 14-15 hours a day. After a year, we realised our business was incurring losses. Back in those days, people would buy things in credit, and would not pay even after 90 or 120 days. As a result, we had to sell all my mother’s ornaments to keep the business afloat. That time taught me an important lesson: how important it is for a businessman to know how to recover his money.

In three or four years, the business began to register profits. I would take home Dh600 as salary, while my father’s would be Dh700. Whatever we earned, we re-invested in the business.

Then came the time of war between Kuwait and Iraq (the Gulf War of 1990). We had imported a lot of goods back then for Diwali that was taking place in October. People began hoarding on foodstuff because there was a sense of panic. So, families that would buy 3kg rice would stock up on 20kg of rice. As a result, we could make money, which, in turn, helped me travel to India after four years. Finally, I was able to buy new ornaments for my mother.

Then we started a flour and spice mill. Everybody liked the idea of fresh wheat. We received a contract for Dubai Duty Free to supply nuts. We got the Emirates Flight Catering contract. And then five-star hotels began to rope us in. We opened branches in Abu Dhabi and Sharjah.

Today, we have 50 supermarkets. We also have spice factories as well as atta plants where we make all kinds of flours and spices. We also manufacture all kinds of spices. We eventually branched out to Bahrain, Oman and Saudi Arabia. We then started Masala King export in Bombay. It is a company I founded that exports as many as 8,500 items to Dubai.

In a nutshell, we are sellers, manufacturers, wholesalers and retailers. We don’t have to depend on others. Some of our brands, like Peacock, have become household names.

Speaking of the brands, my father would always advise me to respect the culture of the country you live in. That’s why we kept the name ‘Al Adil’, which means a good man. And since peacock is the national bird of India, we chose it as our brand’s name.

THE SURVIVOR

In 1996, my wife, my one-year-old son and I met with an accident. We were travelling from Bombay to Satara when our car collided with a truck. All three of us were immediately hospitalised.

After a month and a half, I began experiencing fear out of the blue. This was also a time when I lost 16kg abruptly. I underwent some tests, but no real reason could be discovered. Then I began experiencing tremors in my hands.

My brother would ask me, “What are you fearing?”, and I had no answer. I was then taken to a psychologist, who told me that I had anxiety. When he probed me further, I told him that I had often contemplated self-harm.

He asked me to meditate. I did so for 15 days and then stopped. The anxiety was back. I was put on antidepressants, and after a month and a half, I regained my confidence.

I’d notice that whenever I would experience stress, my anxiety would be back. That is when I started taking meditation more seriously and learnt a few techniques. For the last 27 years, I have been fine since I meditate and practise yoga daily for two-and-a-half hours.

My wife was a pillar of support for me during this time. When your family supports you, you don’t have a reason to worry.

THE FIGHTER

In our home, everyone was overweight. I was 105kg because there was no control on food. Then we attended a programme at Jindal Naturecare Institute in Bengaluru, India, for 7-8 days. They gave us a proper diet plan. Now I weigh almost 78kg. For the last eight years, I have maintained this weight.

Prior to this, I had been diabetic and had blood pressure and cholesterol. Now I am off all medication. Once your weight is in control, everything falls in place.

THE GIVER

The Gulf War time had taught me a thing or two about conducting business responsibly in the time of crisis. Even though during the pandemic our business was doing very well, we decided against taking undue advantage of an unfortunate situation and did not increase our prices.

That was a time we decided to fulfil our responsibility towards the society. We gave away 4,000 air tickets to Indians who were stranded here. During the time when India was faced with shortage of oxygen cylinders, I donated some rickshaws with ambulances that had oxygen cylinders.

THE ENABLER

When my sons were studying, I would tell them to come and help me out in the store, and would give them some pocket money in return. So from 4-8pm, they would work. They had to learn from scratch.

I am sure they will do even better than me. I am 59 now, and believe they will take Al Adil to new heights.

Today, my wife is handling finances, my younger son is handling purchasing, my older son is handling imports and legal matters, and my daughter-in-law is handling e-commerce.

THE FULFILLER

My wife Vandana has been with me through thick and thin. When she joined my company, we witnessed a 40 per cent profit. In just four years, it has shot up to 400 per cent. Which is why I gifted her a bespoke Rolls-Royce Phantom. Four months ago, I gifted her a Bentley. She loves to drive.

I still remember that moment fondly when I wanted to celebrate 25 years of my company. I wanted the celebrations to be grand. So I took a chartered plane and flew around UAE for three hours along with our friends from the media, a few customers and some suppliers. There were around 150 people. We raised a toast and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves in the process making our way to Limca Book of Records.


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