ABU DHABI // The head of one of the nation's biggest conglomerates is working closely with his children as he looks to the future leadership of the company. Bavaguthu Raghuram Shetty, the head of the NMC group, which runs hospitals, pharmacies, financial services and retail chains, has built an impressive service industry empire since arriving in the UAE in 1973. Today, his children, including his son, Binay R Shetty, 25, are executive directors of the corporation.
Before a tour of Neopharma, the company's pharmaceutical manufacturing plant in Musaffah, father and son arrive in distinctly different styles: Binay drives a black Maserati, while Mr Shetty is driven in a white Bentley Turbo. They rib each other about parking their cars. "But you didn't have to look for parking in the shade. I drove here," Binay said to his father. Mr Shetty smiled proudly. Born to a doctor mother and pharmacist father in Abu Dhabi, Binay remembers a crowded childhood, filled with his father's acquaintances dropping in for visits and time spent in his father's office as he developed the first of his hospitals - a chain of New Medical Centres.
"The whole family grew up around the business," said Binay. "Home was adjacent to the hospital, so it was the centre of our lives. We were involved since we were 10 years old, helping with filing and such." Then he looked at his father and teased. "Child labour, no?" Life was modest then, Binay said, even though both his parents were busy. "We've never been spoiled. We always lived in two to three bedrooms, although now that we're all grown, it's different. We're a small family and we've always been close. Mum drove us to school and papa picked us up."
Mr Shetty also has three daughters, Neema, 31, a dentist in Australia, Reema, 28, who oversees business development, and Seema, 26, who heads the retail and hospitality sectors, including projects such as Aabharan, a jewellery line, and BiteRite, a range of foods and cafes that cater to the health-conscious and diabetics. Only Neema was motivated to follow in her parents' footsteps, while her siblings pursued their studies in business.
These days, Binay travels two or three times a month, often on behalf of his father, and rarely comes home from work before 11pm. "Little did we know," he said. The youngest child, he studied finance at Boston University. After finishing his degree, he did an internship with the UAE Exchange, also part of the NMC group. Over the past four years, Binay has started to take on more responsibilities with the company.
"He works independently," Mr Shetty said. "These young boys are all different. Their culture is different. They're faster. "We got him a Blackberry but he just wouldn't use it," said Binay, who spent months trying to teach his father how to store telephone numbers in the device. Instead, Mr Shetty prefers an old Nokia - which rings twice as often as his son's phone. Binay has in-depth knowledge of all the family's businesses, and even finishes his father's sentences for him.
When his father tried to describe the evening he received the Order of Abu Dhabi in 2005, and drew a blank, Binay completed the thought: "The badge of honour was presented to Mr Shetty by Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, in recognition for his work." Then Binay talks in great length about the future of Neopharma and the conglomerate's foray into nanotechnology. The pharmaceutical company - the only one in Abu Dhabi - has entered a partnership with the Bangalore-based Biocon, one of India's largest drugs companies.
There are other business launches in the pipeline, but Mr Shetty would rather have Binay explain them. "Together, with him," said Binay, looking at his father, "we are building other things." @Email:firstname.lastname@example.org