Dawood Rawat is a citizen of the world. And he sees the Emirates as a leader of the future global economy.
Looking ahead for the UAE
When Dawood Rawat, the chairman of the Mauritius-based British American Investment Group, says he considers himself a "citizen of the world", it's tempting to dismiss that as one of those well-practised lines that peripatetic high-profile businessmen tend to deliver with casual aplomb. But there is truth in his self-characterisation. Mr Rawat is always in planes, travelling between boardrooms in the Gulf, the US, India, China, Britain, Africa, France and Malta. These are the places, among others, where BA Investment operates in financial services, transportation, trade and commerce, health care, tourism, and construction and property development. With so many sectors in so many countries, how could Mr Rawat be anything other than a "citizen of the world"?
But there's more to it than racking up frequent-flyer points. Mr Rawat attributes the success that allows him to be a "citizen of the world" to his upbringing in Mauritius, a small island state off the east coast of Africa with diverse cultures and a multi-ethnic population. "I am very thankful to my parents, who inculcated discipline and respect for others and the need for a sound education," Mr Rawat says. "Working with my father initially, I developed very quickly a strong sense of responsibility. 'Always deliver on your promises', he would say. Money was never my first priority; achieving job satisfaction was my goal. This is probably why my senior American colleagues invited me to move to the US early in my career with British American.
"It should also be noted, I think, that having been born and raised in Mauritius I was very comfortable with all kinds of people. In business, and my personal life, I have carried this forward and feel at ease operating in most environments and cultures. I have always believed that competent people are to be found in all ethnic groups." Given his success, it's inevitable that young associates and students he encounters during lectures at campuses around the world should ask him about matters like thrift. In terms of personal finance, what advice does he give to young people?
"Build your family assets slowly. Do not rush to go after money for money's sake alone. Certainly strive to live well, but learn to be prudent and save for the future," Mr Rawat says. "I believe very much in investing in property. People should try to acquire early either a house or an apartment. You very rarely lose out on bricks and mortar. They sustain their value over a long period and, in many economies, especially smaller ones, they continue to protect the initial investment and become a hedge against inflation.
"If you invest in the stock market, plan to stay for a long period. Always plan to invest for the medium and long-term gain. "Finally, my advice to young people would be to become entrepreneurs. The world is changing - and changing fast. There are plenty of opportunities out there, so go find yourself a niche, work hard, be committed to your goals, always respect others and cherish your desire for success."
Mr Rawat speaks with special fondness about the UAE. "Even the prospect of a tectonic shift in the world's economic structure does not dim my optimism for the future development of the Emirates," he said the other day during a visit to Dubai. "In fact, I am convinced the global financial crisis and its continuing fallout provides an opportunity for nations and businesses who can embrace change and accomplish the seemingly impossible.
"The UAE has done it before. And thanks to its abundance of natural resources, such as oil and gas, the lubricant of sustainable development remains in place." His fondness for the UAE extends to its leaders. "Over the past 15 or more years, the leaders of the Emirates have proven they understood well the need to reshape the destinies of their countries," Mr Rawat says. "They realised they had to build a bridge between their culture and traditions and those of the rest of the world, particularly the West. The success of their mission is there for all to see. They have established and continue to improve on the infrastructure on which modern societies, if not future civilisations, will emerge. Innovation and creativity have been their watchwords.
"I believe the UAE must now move to become the next truly world-class business destination and a crucible of new ideas. The global financial crisis has, perversely, come as a blessing in disguise. It gives governments and business leaders the opportunity to reconsider and re-engineer the world economic system. The UAE can be instrumental in creating a unique business model, not in competition with the western world but rather as complementary to the present financial system. "The stock markets in cities such as London, New York and Tokyo have been channels, at times flawed admittedly, for the distribution of capital.
'The recent meltdown has forced serious investors to reassess the markets and search for safe havens for future investment. This is a moment, an opportunity, which can be seized upon by the UAE," Mr Rawat says. "Using Sharia-compliant infrastructure, a new breed of companies can emerge to pioneer a financial system which, while complementary to that in the West, avoids the excesses and mistakes of the western capitalist model. In my view, it's time to get back to basics. The need for capital for many budding entrepreneurs with the ideas and drive to create the new Microsoft or Google can be met by the UAE, not just from its own resources but by encouraging investors from the Muslim world to use the region's infrastructure.
"The UAE has shown the way over the past decade or so; it became the friendly destination for shopping, tourism and property investment. Now it can take another giant step. "As western capitals become increasingly unfriendly to non-Europeans, especially those from the Muslim world and Third World, the UAE can be a crossroads, a meeting point, where deals can be done in a professional and friendly environment, where ideas and capital can be harmonised to trigger economic and social growth and the creation of wealth.
"To achieve such lofty goals, the region must do what it does best? think big and overcome the impossible. It can emerge as a world-class business destination - bigger and richer than places such as Singapore, for example - if it can be a reliable source of medium and long-term equity capital, encourage the setting up of best-practice new legal and accounting firms with the brightest minds from the subcontinent and other parts of the world, and be the home to unmatched financial and economic analysis."
As the interview was coming to a close, he concluded with his thoughts on the UAE's success. "If it is to succeed, the UAE should also work closely with India, China and the other powerhouses of the Far East to attract the bright young minds of those nations, for it is these world-class thinkers - alongside the best brains in the UAE - who can form a fountainhead of knowledge and be the pioneers of our brave new world," Mr Rawat says. "Naturally, all of this requires a major shift in the way business is conducted. It must, of course, be accountable and transparent. But it should also embrace other cultures and business norms. Only then, I believe, will the UAE have arrived as the world-class business destination of choice."
Pranay Gupte, a journalist, author and documentary producer, is co-editor of the forthcoming Global Emirates: An Anthology of Tolerance and Understanding, distributed by Motivate Publishing