German expat on her love for fast cars and collection of Ferraris
Fazal Manekia is many things to many people. A success story to the Indian business community in the UAE. A doting father to his daughter. A son who has lived up to his parents’ idea of the art of giving. But to his employees, he is the closest thing to a nurturer they can find in the city.
The chairman and managing director of the Merint Group is known for sharing his annual profits with every member of his staff. But this year, he did something that left them in tears. He documented in his will that each and every member of the Merint family would receive one basic salary for every year they’d been working for in the company. On January 15, he actually went ahead and disbursed a sum of Dh5 million.
“They were in awe,” Fazal tells us as we meet him in his office at Dubai Investment Park. “Some of the team members actually walked up to me and said finally they could repay their debts. Others said this sum could help them get their daughters married. When I announced this on December 24, they could not actually believe what they’d heard, but the realisation came when their bank accounts swelled up a couple of weeks later.”
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Padma, a former manager in the group, had left Merint years ago. When she got her share, she was overwhelmed. “An amazing announcement brought in a lot of smiles and light into so many lives. We feel very happy and proud that I am a part of your family. I have received the pay out, thank you is too less to convey my gratitude,” she wrote.
The ‘joy’ is in making a difference to people’s lives when it matters the most. Fazal illustrates this by saying that if we were to give Dh5 million to people when they turn 70, it is bound to have a different impact in their lives than when they receive this amount in late 30s or early 40s. The world of possibilities expands when you receive help at a time when you can actually do something with it. It is not a simple act of philanthropy, but an extension of a philosophy his family, who are from Mumbai, India, has lived by — the art of giving. “There is a crazy math to happiness — the more you divide, the more it multiplies. My mother was a social welfare administrator for our community for the whole of India. My sisters-in-law and aunts have been on boards of committees that work for betterment of the underprivileged.”
The epiphanic moment came last year right before Fazal lost his mother at 92. Two weeks before her passing, she expressed, ‘I would have liked to do more charity’. This, coming from a woman who’d literally spent all her life in acts of charity that helped others realise their dreams! It stirred something inside Fazal, who was now more determined than ever to make a difference to people’s lives. Hence the recent initiative of a ‘Living Will’, that has changed the course of life for all people working in the Merint Group. But the ‘art of giving’ does not stop here. In the coming months, Fazal is planning to execute other parts of the will.
In a world obsessing over chasing goals — personal as well as professional — it is not often that one steps out of his shoes to truly understand how s/he can make a difference to other people’s lives. And yet, this is exactly what Fazal has been doing for several years. He is one of the few astute entrepreneurs whose main focus is to create happy work environment that translates to happy people. The giving is also rooted in understanding the practicalities. For example, he says while he has built the Merint Group, today, it is business heads who are happily working for over 15-20 years who are running the show, following the direction he has given them as a leader. Such candour can only be born out of self-assurance, and he has that in plenty. “The result of these initiatives is that if I call someone at 2am for something urgent, they won’t just help me, they will be happy to help me,” he says.
At a time when the workplace has become an unpredictable site, Fazal is careful to not let go of his people unless, of course, there are compelling reasons. He speaks candidly again when he tells us that not all businesses of Merint Group do well all the time, but he almost always manages to recruit the staff in another arm of the company. Never in 47 years have salaries been delayed and all through the pandemic, his entire team faced no reductions at all.
One of Fazal’s major philanthropic achievements has been his work with special needs children through Merint Determination Center (MDC), which he co-founded with Richa Marwaha. “I had a couple of staff members who had children with special needs and the fees was high to a point where they couldn’t afford to pay for it,” he says. Thus, was established MDC in Muhaisnah that provides affordable facilities. Today, the Centre has set up a branch in Sharjah and plans to open more in other locations across the UAE are underway.
MDC has started Bringing Smiles Community (BRISCO) that gives parents with children of determination a platform to share experiences with an aim to create a social network.
Nothing succeeds like success and nothing fails like failure. The only constant in both is that it ends up teaching us something about ourselves that we did not know we possessed. The companies Fazal has built are a testament to his resilience, commitment and astute leadership. But it is in his philanthropic work that one gets a peek into a fundamental quality that makes us human — empathy.
Worthy of mention is the Merint Foundation, an extension of the group’s philanthropic efforts set up by Fazal. The ‘joy’ of giving, he says, does not always have to be monetary; you can also give your time and effort to help someone.
The core team of Merint Group give their time to find the right cause, which could be supported by the foundation. Providing food to the villages in India during Covid was one of the ideas, while donating money for the construction of classrooms in Darjeeling (India) was another.
Today, from supporting children’s education in Bangalore to providing hospital beds for a government hospital in Delhi to ensuring facilities for the government schools, renovating classrooms, to giving special equipment for the blind, assistance for abandoned senior citizens and a lot more, Merint Foundation has been at the forefront of making a difference to society. It does not limit its endeavours to India; it takes up projects in countries like Uganda to build toilets, buy solar systems for schools and so on.
This is how Fazal makes sense of his success. “If you are passionate, you will be successful. If you are successful, money is a by-product. Which is why it becomes mandatory to share your happiness. We say success is the best revenge; but happiness is even better.”
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