From $8 in his pocket to successful UAE businessman
At age 24, Dinesh Kothari arrived in the UAE with just $8 in his pocket and a head full of dreams, which he went on to realise. He not only set up successful businesses, but also schools that educate thousands here and in India.
It was late evening on October 20, 1974, when I arrived at Dubai airport on an Air India flight from Bombay, now 'Mumbai'.
Throughout the two-and-a-half-hour flight from India, my mind was filled with plenty of questions, the excitement of exploring new avenues and the anxiety of moving to an unknown place.
Like any other young man, there were dreams of earning lots of money, driving big cars and living lavishly. At 24, I came from a middle class background and had worked back home for the 'grand' salary of Rs 600 per month. It was the first time I had left the shores of India to travel to a foreign country. All apprehensions and reservations were superseded by the excitement of seeing foreign terrain for the first time.
I came to Dubai with just three precious possessions: a suitcase with my personal clothes; a briefcase holding my degrees and passport, and just $8 in cash. This was the amount permitted by the government of India for citizens travelling to a foreign country back then.
From the airport, I went to the company's apartment in Sharjah, shared by five people including me. A warm greeting awaited me from colleagues who were also new to the UAE and had all arrived in a span of three months before I did. The few eatables from home in my bag were quickly shared.
Not used to getting or spending large sums of money, my first salary of Dh 1,500 was not something I could hold on to. I went and splurged on a Polaroid camera for Dh125, branded clothing and treated myself to a lavish dinner in a Gujarati restaurant for the princely amount of Dh10. The next day, I sent Rs. 1,000 back home for my grandmother.
The company I worked for in Sharjah was managed by Indian businessmen and we celebrated all our festival together, including Navratri and Holi. Our company's chairman, Abdul Rehman Bukhatir, also took part in the vents and encouraged us to follow our traditions and festivals.
On Eid, we visited all our Muslim and local friends' homes. The welcome approach from the citizens ensured we blended in and never felt like outsiders. They even conversed with us in Hindi, besides English.
While the UAE weather is hot, it did not bother me too much because I hail from Rajasthan, the Indian desert state, which has identical weather conditions. But the lifestyle and living conditions in the UAE are miles ahead.
In 1987, after serving Bukhatir group for 13 years, I decided to move my children back to India, so they would grow up knowing their roots and heritage. Then came the quandary whether I should move back too or start my own business here. After a few months, I set up my own corporate advisory and investment banking business, based out of both India and Dubai. Investment banking was prompted by the booming primary capital market in India and companies there seeking equity from the Gulf.
After more than a decade in the Gulf, I had an edge to raise capital for Indian corporates. Simultaneously, in 1989-90, I set up a marble and granite factory in Sharjah, because I had insight into the construction industry by virtue of having been CEO of Bukahtir Group, which had strong interests in the construction business.
Back then, setting up a business was relatively simpler. We appointed a chartered accounting firm to prepare our memorandum and articles, then proceeded to the court for notarisation and thereafter applied for other requirements for setting up a business, like a trade license etc.
When the country was still evolving, there was a demand and need for anything and everything. Back then, the UAE was a trading base, today it has large modern manufacturing factories and world-class ports. It's a matured economy where the market conditions are highly competitive. Today, the UAE is comparable to any developed nation, with the resultant benefits and challenges. In just 40 years, the UAE has progressed 100 years.
Now, I also run schools here and in India, providing quality education for the K-12 segment. We a serve total of around 17,000 students, in both Indian and British curricula.
As far as my personal time is concerned, it's boxed into three areas: weekends with grandchildren, movie with my wife once a week, and reading poetry in my spare time.
To sum it up, I have thoroughly enjoyed my 42 years in the UAE, professionally, personally and socially. I'd still say I'm yet to achieve all my targets, that's what keeps you moving in life. That said, I also feel totally satisfied with my achievements so far.
The best advice I ever got from my father was: "Man gives his best only under pressure and once you commit to do something, do not renege it."
But I don't follow just one golden rule. One should be honourable in their commitments. I also make a sincere effort to give to others what I did not have 40 years ago. Then, enjoy the simple pleasures and happiness. Don't chase mirages, have faith in yourself, be sincere, and you'll get get what you have set out to achieve.
My favourite role models keep changing with time. Fifteen years ago, it was Prof Abdul Kalam, whose simplicity, intelligence, integrity and communication skills were inspiring. Today, I admire His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, for his vision, dynamism, and concern for the wellbeing of all of UAE's residents.
My favourite book remains Tuesdays with Morrie, by Mitch Albom. I can watch Mughl-e-Azam and Ben Hur again and again. My favourite destination is Jodhpur in India - I would like to spend my retirement years there.
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