My first day in UAE: 'Dubai was like a big supermarket'

Top Stories

My first day in UAE: Dubai was like a big supermarket
Surender Singh Kandhari.

Surender Singh Kandhari reminisces how being one of the early birds in Dubai helped him get the wheels rolling on his still-growing business.

By Issac John

  • Follow us on
  • google-news
  • whatsapp
  • telegram

Published: Fri 30 Oct 2015, 11:00 PM

Last updated: Sat 31 Oct 2015, 7:40 PM

I arrived in dubai for the first time on December 19, 1975, from New Delhi. I was a 27-year-old on a four-day exploratory visit and the weather was very cold.
From the time I landed, I felt at home. I found a lot of people from India around. Language was a not a problem.

39 YEARS IN THE EMIRATES> Surender Singh Kandhari is a founder member of the Emirates Golf Club where he was until recently the club captain.
> He is also a founding member of the World Trade Centre Club, on the board of the governors of the Indian Sports Club and the vice-president of the Auto Parts Merchants Group.
> He is the chairman of the Guru Nanak Darbar, Sikh Temple in Dubai - the first Sikh Gurudwara in the UAE.
> He has attended the G20 Interfaith Summit held in the Gold Coast Australia in 2014 and in Malaysia in 2015 as a delegate of the UAE government.
> He has won an award under the category of 'Sikhs in Seva', which was held in London on October 21, 2012.
> In 2014, the British Sikh Association honoured Kandhari with the prestigious 'Sikh Jewel Award'.
After deciding to start my tyre business in Dubai, I went back to India and returned on March 5, 1976, to settle down in Dubai and start my business in full swing. I was used to a lot of luxury in Hyderabad, India, by way of domestic help, driver, etc, and here I had to do all the work myself. This was a little strange and sometimes difficult.
I started my tyre business, importing and selling tyres. The initial days were spent to settle down by getting a house, among other things. For one month, I was trying to set up things. Getting to know how to get around was tough as nothing was well-organised then. I got into a partnership with a friend and initially used his office to get started.
When we moved here, Dubai was just opening up as a trading hub. We derived the advantage of being the early birds. The boom had just begun and Dubai's proximity to India was another huge advantage. There was freedom for business and the place was tolerant towards other cultures. Dubai was the best place to set up shop and I began exploring the idea of setting up our tyre business while noting that Dubai provided the best opportunity with the place becoming a financial base. We could export to places like Iran and Nigeria. Everyone from the Middle East was buying from here.
Dubai was like a big supermarket and I finally set up my business in Deira in 1976; getting a trade licence was not difficult but I had a strange experience in choosing the name of the company. Finally, I was given the name by the officer of the Dubai Municipality; thus, Al Dobowi Tyre Company was formed. Al Dobowi means "the man from Dubai" in Arabic.
Over the years, our group has consolidated its global positioning by forming alliances with companies that are regarded as household names in the world of tyres. However, in those early years modernisation was in full steam and the not-so-super roads back then made our business grow exponentially. Most relationships are over two and three decades and very strong.
When I came here I could see that the locals really trusted Indians, especially Sikhs, which was really good. I approached a transport company here sometime at the end of 1976 and I offered tyres. I was asked if I had 100 tyres and I told them yes. When they came to check they were surprised to see that I had 10,000 tyres as stock in my warehouse. They realised I was genuine and spread the word around. Thus, the business kicked off from that point.
I was the first person to offer warranty on tyres, which was a big plus. So why would I not give warranty to my customers? My thrust was, and still is, quality. I started my own brand - Infinity - and we remained the only tyre company to provide warranty for a Chinese-made tyre.
Today's environment is very professional and very organised; 40 years ago it was very basic. Most things were done by word of mouth, less paperwork and less formalities. It was quite simple to set up a shop and start a business then.
It seems only yesterday that I arrived in Dubai. Thirty-nine years later I am still here and still count Dubai as my home.
Dubai has been very good to us and God has allowed us to build a global tyre and battery business based here in Dubai. In 2011 we have set up the most modern industrial battery plant in the world based in Ras Al Khaimah. The Rulers of this country have provided us tremendous opportunities and we are always genuinely grateful to them.
But the most important opportunity that they had given us is to enable one of mine fond dreams come true. On January 17, 2012, we opened the first official Sikh Temple (Gurudwara) in the Middle East in Jebel Ali Village.
For me it is also the fulfillment of a prophetic advice given by my grandfather, Atma Singh, who himself had helped build a Gurudwara in Vijaywada, in the south Indian state of Andhra Pradesh in 1956. He told me that I too must help build a Gurudwara when I grow up. I was just eight years old at that time and it struck me as a bit odd that my grandfather should ask me to do something as huge as that.
As per our traditions we serve free food from 6am to 9pm everyday to all who come to the temple. Everybody, whatever their faith, is welcome to the temple and enjoy a spiritual experience along with a tasty vegetarian meal.
The best advice I got was from my dear friend Suresh Subberwal of Al Kabeer. He told me that I should stick to my core business and not get tempted into lines of business I do not understand. Venturing into new fields could be disastrous sometimes.
One golden rule I have always tried to  follow: "Sincerity to yourself. Gratitude to God Almighty and being humble and positive in life."
As told to Issac John

His Highness Shaikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, with Surender Singh Kandhari during a Jebel Ali trade show in 2005.
His Highness Shaikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai, with Surender Singh Kandhari during a Jebel Ali trade show in 2005.
Surender Singh Kandhari and his wife, Bubbles.
Surender Singh Kandhari and his wife, Bubbles.
Kandhari during his days at Loyola College Madras in 1966.
Kandhari during his days at Loyola College Madras in 1966.
Surender Singh Kandhari  chairman of the Al Dobowi Group give a pose for the photographs at his office in JAFZA on 28th Oct 2015.
Surender Singh Kandhari chairman of the Al Dobowi Group give a pose for the photographs at his office in JAFZA on 28th Oct 2015.
His Highness Shaikh Saud bin Saqr Al Qasimi, Member of the Supreme Council and Ruler of Ras Al Khaimah, with Kandhari in 2012.
His Highness Shaikh Saud bin Saqr Al Qasimi, Member of the Supreme Council and Ruler of Ras Al Khaimah, with Kandhari in 2012.


More news from