Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 8 December 2019

UAE Portrait of a Nation: the office assistant who built up a business empire

Ram Buxani has made his fortune in the UAE after starting out with a humble goal to support his family

Ram Buxani, pictured at ITL House in Bur Dubai, believes honesty is key to success in the business world. Victor Besa / The National
Ram Buxani, pictured at ITL House in Bur Dubai, believes honesty is key to success in the business world. Victor Besa / The National

From a handful of rupees to riches, Dubai businessman Ram Buxani has enjoyed a rise just as remarkable as that of the emirate he has called home for 60 years.

Mr Buxani arrived in the UAE from India at the age of 18 in 1959, at a time when kerosene lanterns were used at night and potable water was delivered on donkeys to a small apartment he shared with two work colleagues.

He started out as a office assistant keen to earn enough money to support his family, earning a first salary of 125 rupees for his honest toil back when the Indian currency was the legal tender in the Trucial States.

Out of this humble dream, the entrepreneur transformed a textile company, International Traders Limited, into a consumer electronic, retail and financial services conglomerate that would become ITL Cosmos Group.

Correctly assessing the potential of a rapidly growing Dubai market, he helped the company tap into an ever-expanding appetite for electronics starting with battery-operated radios, clocks and cigarette lighters.

When electricity came in, imports widened to include 16mm movie projectors used in the homes of the wealthy, cameras, air conditioners and televisions.

“Dubai was a sellers’ dream market, you could import anything and it would sell. There was a dearth of goods,” said Mr Buxani, now chairman of the ITL Cosmos Group.

“It was a challenge for me to grow the business. My belief is that in business you have to be honest to both vendors and customers. You don’t have to cheat anyone to make money.”

The 78-year-old multi-millionaire was recently among the first group of 400 businessmen granted long-term 10-year residency visa as part of an initiative rolled out by the UAE government in May,

“Business is in my blood,” said Mr Buxani, also a board member of the Al Razouki International Exchange Company.

“I also did the job of delivering documents to the bank and samples to shops and customers.”

His ambitions for the company convinced the founders to offer him a small share in the profits that gradually grew from three per cent to becoming a partner in their ventures and eventually taking on the role of chairman.

The ITL Cosmos group has diversified over the past 60 years from textiles to high-end Chinese silk cloth, importing Japanese electronics, joint ventures in the food and ice cream business, investments in hotels and the foreign exchange business.

At one point when a manager was away on vacation, he was given the authority to sign cheques for the firm at age 25.

Ram Buxani has rose the ranks from office assistant to the head of a major conglomerate. Victor Besa/The National
Ram Buxani has rose the ranks from office assistant to the head of a major conglomerate. Victor Besa/The National

“It was very exciting for me. I remember thinking I have no bank account in India or the UAE and here I am signing cheques,” said Mr Buxani.

These were lessons in shouldering responsibility he learnt very early in life after his father passed away when he was five-years-old.

It coincided with a tumultuous time for India during the partition of the country in 1947 when the British ended two centuries of colonial rule and divided the territory creating a Pakistan as a separate Muslim nation.

This tore apart millions of Hindu and Muslim families in what has been described as one of the world’s largest peacetime migrations.

Mr Buxani and his family were among at least 15 million people who fled their homes and lost property on both sides of a new border.

His pregnant mother, grandmother, uncle along with Buxani and his four siblings fled Hyderabad in Sindh, Pakistan to live with relatives in India.

“There was a lot of insecurity because we had to start over again. My eldest brother started working at age 11 because the family needed money and my mother sold her gold ornaments, one each month, so the family could survive,” he said.

“It made me value money. It made me realise that challenges are part of life and you can never take anything for granted.”

He remembers sleeping beside his family on a railway platform and depending on the kindness of volunteers for food until they reached an aunt’s home in southern India.

Mr Buxani worked as a typist at the age of 15 when the family shifted to another relative’s home in western India.

Three years later, a newspaper advertisement caught his eye and he landed in the UAE.

“I didn’t know what Dubai was or exactly the kind of job I was headed for but I knew I must work hard and care for my family,” said Mr Buxani.

Now a proud grandfather of seven and father of three daughters, he is grateful to the rulers and the UAE for the opportunity and ease of doing business. Tolerance and acceptance of hundreds of nationalities is key to the country continuing to attract talent, he said.

The right way of doing business is his message to young entrepreneurs.

“If we only think of growth, the thinner the oxygen becomes,” Mr Buxani said.

“Every business has to sustain itself but it also must take care of its customers and staff.”

Updated: August 29, 2019 04:17 PM