From Salesman to a Billionaire CEO, Icon Dr BR Shetty is Indeed a Colossus of Our Times

“The man you are is dictated by ten people.At any time in your life, if there are ten people who truly believe that you are a good man, then you are a good man and you are blessed.If at any time, there are ten people, anywhere on earth who sincerely believe that you are a bad man, then you are a bad man and you are cursed.You cannot take any of these ten and exchange one for another; one good canceling out the bad; it is something you cannot control. It is in your private hearing that you meet life and its challenges” – Koosamma Shetty ( 1913-1986) – Mother of Dr BR Shetty

Mangalore: This is a Rags to Riches kind of story, where a simple and ordinary pharma salesman with lots of debts on his head traveled to Abu Dhabi from India, strived hard and accomplished his dreams, and made it to be one of the world’s billionaires, being the CEO of NMC Healthcare, UAExchange and Neopharma companies. The great physicist Dr Albert Einstein said, ” Only those who attempt the absurd can achieve the impossible”. How true this is in the life of Dr Bavaguthu Raghuram Shetty, popularly known as Dr B R Shetty.

The first time that I had met a billionaire was Donald John Trump, Sr., an American business magnate, investor, television personality and author in Downtown Chicago, USA few years ago, when he had fully sponsored a Aids Awareness Marathon and was the chief guest for the event- and me and my colleague had a chat with him for an interview for the newspaper published from Chicago suburbs. It felt great to talk to a billionaire who was jovial, friendly, little serious but a cool guy !

And last week I had an opportunity to meet yet another world’s billionaire, but this time it was Indian born Dr B R Shetty, whom I had close encounters with at a engagement reception of my friend Appu, son of Chittaranjan Rai in Pudu, outskirts of Mangalore. I was introduced to Dr B R Shetty by my close friend Deepak Hegde – I was under the impression that Dr Shetty wouldn’t care much in talking to me, but I was wrong. Dr B R Shetty was so humble, friendly, down-to-earth person that he shared a few words of wisdom, gave me his business card, and readily agreed to have a interview with me the next day at the Rotary Club of Mangalore Central  ” Vandana Award ” function. Dressed in a well-fitting suit, he looks much younger than his 72 years, despite having worked almost without a break for the past four decades. I was really touched by the simplicity, kindness and friendly nature of Dr B R Shetty – May God bless this man !

Sunday, 14 April 2014 was the “Vandana Awards 2014″ ceremony at Eden Club, Mangalore and Dr B R Shetty was conferred with that award. I was seated in the second row , and while Dr B R Shetty was walking towards the dais he saw me and shaking hands said, ” Nice to see you again. I will surely meet you after the function”. Wow, I felt so proud and was overwhelmed that a person of such a big stature greeted me amidst the august gathering.

I learnt that the Shetty family rarely give personal interviews, choosing to keep most of their private lives out of the public eye. But once Dr Shetty starts talking, it’s clear there are a few stories he relishes telling- like he did during his speech at the Rotary Club award ceremony. After being honored with “Vandana Award” , Dr BR Shetty addressing the gathering said, ” This is the greatest moment in my life to accept this award from the people of my hometown area, Mangaloreans. The success in my life is mainly due to my simplicity and hard work, and also helping the community through social work. We need to use our money wisely, there is no value for money if it is not utilized properly. Youth should do some community service during your college days, this will reward you in a long run”.

With emotion and tears in his eyes, Dr BR Shetty narrated early days of his life to the audience- he said, ” I had failed miserably during my early days, I was buried in liabilities/debts. But through hard work, determination I came out of all my liabilities , without the help of my family, relatives and friends, but on my own. I had a dream and my dreams have materialized, all my dreams have come true. When you clear your liabilities and owe nobody, then only you are a rich man in the world”.

The President, Smt. Pratibha Devisingh Patil presenting the Padma Shri Award to Dr. B. R. Shetty, at the Civil Investiture Ceremony, at Rashtrapati Bhavan, in New Delhi on March 31, 2009.

Dr Shetty further said, “To come up successfully in life, you should be polite, associate with community projects, help those who are in need, having lots of money and being rich but not using that money wisely and properly will not do any good to you. Through my friendship, clean heart and selfless community service I have won the hearts of many people around the world. People trusted me, had faith in me, believed in me, which also helped me to reach my business to greater heights. And, if you have more money, utilize it properly. Be a good Samaritan and a good humanitarian. You will be rewarded abundantly by God”.

After the formal function, I had a short chat with Dr B R Shetty, and also had few photographs taken with him. He could answer only a few queries that night, since he had to catch a flight that night back to Abu Dhabi. But he insisted that I browse trough his personal website and gather all information that I need about him, his family and his business. I also requested him to answer my few other queries via email, for which he agreed . Wishing me goodbye, he exited out of Eden club lawns.

The history of human civilization reveals the stamp of men with grit and vision who change the lives of thousands of people around him. Dr B R Shetty is one such person. As a dreamer, achiever and humanitarian, he has been a iconic figure. As the saying goes, ” Rather than being a human, be a humanitarian” – Dr Shetty’s humanitarian and philanthropic side and his noble needs of charity are an outcome of compassionate nature and his zeal for serving the community at all levels.

Inspiring as B.R. Shetty?s road to riches story is, it?s not entirely unusual for Indian entrepreneurism: Young man sets out with nothing, starts at street-level selling and remarkably pieces together a billion-dollar fortune?all the while employing his countrymen and providing them with medical services, money transfers and consumer goods.

When the strapping, jovial Bavaguthu Raghuram Shetty arrived in underdeveloped Abu Dhabi in 1973, he had $8 in his wallet and a load of debt?but unlimited ambition and some silly pride. The debt was a bank loan in his native Udupi on India?s west coast to pay for a sister?s wedding. In the fledging Emirates, where an oil boom heralded opportunities, his training back home in pharmacy could only get him a job peddling a licensed druggist?s excess stock.

Today he has that life. His NMC Health has grown into the region?s largest integrated private health care provider, last year raising $187 million through a London Stock Exchange listing?an Abu Dhabi first. To help expatriate workers transfer money home, he launched a remittance service, UAE Exchange, whose 700 offices in 31 countries transacted $22.5 billion in 2012, making it a top player with 6% of the global market and accounting for 10% of India?s foreign inward remittances at a time when it desperately needs foreign exchange. His Neopharma contract-manufactures for global drugmakers, one of many Shetty diversifications. According to Forbes Asia figures, his net worth is $880 million.

If it was the professional Indians? ambition to go to London or New York, Shetty?s life epitomizes working-class India?s Gulf Dream. A boy who once walked barefoot to a village school in Kaup, near Udupi with fishermen?s children today sports a 4-carat diamond on his finger, diamond-studded Harry Winston and Cartier watches. He has his office in a pied-a-terre, which spans the entire 100th floor of Dubai?s Burj Khalifa, the world?s tallest skyscraper. He owns a fleet of seven Rolls-Royces and a Maybach beneath his main home in Abu Dhabi; and he is one of the richest Indians in the Middle East, and one of the World’s billionaire.

Dr Shetty moved to Abu Dhabi in 1973 to make enough money to pay off a loan in India. He arrived alone, with little more than incredible optimism and sheer determination to make something of himself outside of India, where he had already tried and tested a number of career options including politics, flying and, later, a medical representative. At 23, he was elected as vice chairman of the Municipal Corporation in Udupi, and became heavily involved in social work in his home village. But, by 31, he left to Abu Dhabi for a better future.

In 1980, he bought the UAE Exchange, taking on its Dh18 million debt and a fairly dire reputation. It now has more than 600 branches in 36 countries across five continents. It is this sort of risk-taking that he became well known for. Throughout the 1970s and 80s, Dr Shetty, who was given an Order of Abu Dhabi Award in 2005, was not only contending with a growing business, he also had a growing family to provide for. Depending on which Rich List you believe, the Shetty empire is worth between US$500 million (Dh1.83 billion) and $1.72bn. Either way, the head of the family is certainly one of the UAE’s most successful expatriate businessmen.

NMC Health grew out of salesman Shetty noticing how deficient his new terrain was for basic clinics. Yet the first president of the U.A.E., Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, wanted quality, affordable health care for all. Inspired, Shetty set up the New Medical Centre?actually a small pharmacy cum diagnostic clinic?in 1975 with 15,000 dirham ($4,000) in capital. It grew into a multispecialty hospital and spawned satellite units across the country.

Today it caters to 5,000 patients daily, with doctors of 42 nationalities, a majority of whom are U.S.- and U.K.-trained and of Indian origin. NMC Health, meanwhile, is exploring a partnership with an Ivy League university for a medical college in Abu Dhabi and looking at setting up a postgraduate program in Dubai. A potential tie-up with another leading American academic brand could lead to an entrepreneurship school.

It was serendipitous that Shetty launched into the Gulf oil boom. His growing center was the first in the region to offer an onshore decompression chamber for unfortunate oil company divers. He also tended to care offshore. Until Dr Shetty installed a CT scanner, patients in the region had to travel overseas for scans. Today the center?s first doctor, Shetty?s wife, Chandrakumari, whom he married in 1976, oversees the eight-hospital chain. Four more are in the pipeline, including a 100-bed maternity hospital, the Emirates? first private one. The chain is also scouting locations in Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Oman.

The pharmacy chain attached to the hospitals spawned an NMC Health division that is a distributor for drugmakers like Aventis and Merck, and is among the top three trading companies in the U.A.E., with 65,000 products. It handles not just scientific and medical equipment but also grain and spices from India, and frozen lamb and beef from the U.S. and Australia. By 2012 NMC Health was more than ready for the City of London. NMC has been profitable for 36 straight years since their inception, so listing was a logical step. The offering will fund the hospital expansion.

Back in the 1970s, as his medical operation began to thrive, Shetty saw many Indian expatriates lining up in front of banks for hours to send hard-earned cash back home, often to remote villages. In response he launched money remitter UAE Exchange with a single branch in Abu Dhabi in 1980. Its network expanded fast as 500 to 600 people thronged there daily on hearing that it charged far less (5 dirham per transfer) than the banks and was speedier. With a million daily customers the Exchange can claim to hand 10% of India?s world-leading remittances. The service has stayed relevant with technology, What used to be a manual, three-week-long transfer in the 1990s is instantaneous today, taking away the anxiety of those who send money to pay hospital bills, school fees or other time-bound expenses.

Well, maybe cricket, too: Dr BR Shetty was instrumental in building a stadium in Abu Dhabi. Dr Shetty is on a personal overseas buying spree with two hospitals in Alexandria, Egypt, in which he holds a 90% stake, and a third in Cairo. In Khatmandu, Nepal he holds 51% of a medical college hospital that will open next year. He is exploring hospital management in Sri Lanka. And now Shetty?s life is coming back around to India. He has acquired a 220-bed hospital in Trivandrum in the southern Kerala state and is doubling its capacity. In central Raipur he has acquired a majority stake in an orthopedics hospital.
Meantime, he wants UAE Exchange?s in India expanded to 850 in the next couple of years, mostly in very rural areas. Shetty is one of 26 in line for new banking franchises, alongside Indian mainstays like Tata, Ambani and Birla. Banking would extend his money-transfer experience, working at the bottom of the income pyramid.

Other businesses are small but growing and include a maintenance company called Guide; consumer products maker Neocare; the New Oil Field Services, which provides manpower and equipment to oilfields; a school chain called Bright Riders; and hotel chain Lotus. The catering company Foodlands was commissioned during the Gulf war to cater to American airmen. For months Foodlands supplied chicken breast sandwiches for lunch and hamburger dinners to 2,000 airmen at the Al Dhafra airbase at $60 per head, and the payment came via gunnysacks stuffed with dollars ?

A passion to be of service to the society has always been there deep rooted in Dr Shetty’s mind. Principally a business magnate, business is not his exclusive fascination; he is a kind soul and numerous needy individuals and charitable institutions have been beneficiaries of his extraordinary largesse,individuals and charitable institutions have been beneficiaries of his extraordinary largesse, earning him innumerable prayers and good wishes from several hearts that he touched so endearingly with his kind gestures and acts of benevolence.

As a youth he has been actively involved in the social service activities in his native place as Vice President of Municipal Corporation for two terms. Health and education are his priorities as he believes that they play the most important role in building any progressive society. In the educational front, he is personally supporting several schools and educational individuals and charitable institutions have been beneficiaries of his extraordinary largesse, earning him innumerable prayers and good wishes from several hearts that he touched so endearingly with his kind gestures and acts of benevolence.

He is on the board of directors of Haldwani Medical College in Uttaranchal and Manipal Medical Academy of which he is an alumni. Besides heading numerous international groups, he is also founder and patron of the Indian Pharmaceuticals Association in the Emirates. Dr. B. R. Shetty was instrumental in building bridges of friendship between India and Pakistan, to bring together both sides for a combat that marked the inauguration of the stadium. Incidentally, the cancer hospital founded by the famous Pakistani cricketer-turned politician Imran Khan also saw the flow into its kitty of substantial sums of money from Dr. B. R. Shetty, the gesture transgressing consideration of nationalities and borders.

Despite the multifarious engagements, Dr. B. R. Shetty has found time for numerous other charitable causes and any number of individuals and institutions has been beneficiaries of his extraordinary largesse.At a time when there was a meningitis outbreak in the UAE, he immediately arranged for meningococcal vaccines to be flown in from Sanofi Pasteur France. During the earlier threatening times of Bird Flu, Neopharma started working on Oseltamivir with an intention of gearing. up for a major second outbreak.

What more can speak for the loyalty that the man has been able to earn from the people who work for him? He has successfully instilled his Quality consciousness in all his employees and concerns and no wonder the Government of the country has been conferring one after another Quality Awards to the various entities under the Group for their exceptional quality standards.In the recent recession fears, BR wrote personally to all the employees and assured them that there won’t be any job cuts or salary cuts but only pay hikes and expansion efforts, which came as a sudden morale booster to the fraternity. The smile he passes on to his people is passed on to the customers as well and together they smile in their joint efforts to ensure Health Wealth & Happiness for all.
Dr B R Shetty is a recipient of many awards. The most distinguished and rare honor bestowed on him has been among the first awardees for the ‘Order of Abu Dhabi Award-2005’ conferred by H.H. General Sheikh Mohammed Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of UAE Armed Forces, in recognition of the contribution to the development of Abu Dhabi in the field of healthcare and society in general.

The list goes on….the Pravasi Bharatiya Samman Award 2007 by Former President of India Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam in recognition of the outstanding contribution towards the betterment of the large NRI community; the first ever Swiss Ambassador’s Award of 2008 by H.E. Wolfgang Amadeus Bruelhart, Ambassador of Switzerland in recognition of my longstanding efforts in the promotion of the relations between Switzerland and the UAE; the prestigious Ernst & Young Middle East Entrepreneur of the Year Finalist Award 2008 and The Lifetime Achievement Award for contribution to healthcare sector.

Other milestone achieved is one of the highest civilian award the Padma Shri 2009 by H.E. Pratibha Devisingh Patil, President of India in New Delhi.Order of St. George Orthodox Church, the Outstanding Entrepreneur Award by the US-Indo Friendship Society, Chicago, the Karnataka Rajyotsava Award, the Rainbow Laurel Award instituted by the Former Maharaja of Travancore, the Arch of India Gold Award of the NRI Institute in London, the epithet Dharmadarshi from Sri Krishna Mutt, Udupi, are just some light showers in the heavy deluge of tributes.

The group of companies have been honored several times, the most recent being the prestigious Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum Business Award presented by H.H. Sheikh Mohammad Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice-President and Prime Minister of the UAE. The High Performance Business Awards were won by the NMC group of companies – Neopharma for excellence in Manufacturing and NMC Trading for excellence in the Re-export category. NMC’s financial arm UAE Exchange won the Dubai Quality Appreciation Award in the Financial Sector Category.

It is for the first time that three companies of the same group have won awards in three different categories in a single year.Recently, the Dubai Human Development Award 2009 was conferred to the UAE Exchange for its inexorable efforts in Emiratisation.Dr. B. R. Shetty has worked very hard and his efforts have been recognized, but with each award is an added responsibility to set new standards. The awards are a recognition that Dr. B. R. Shetty is on the right path and is no way seen as a means to an end, but a means to a new beginning.

Married to Dr Chandrakumari Shetty, Dr BR Shetty has three daughters and a son, of whom he is immensely proud. His eldest daughter, Neema, is a mother of two boys and a dental surgeon living in Australia. His second daughter, Reema, has two children. The youngest daughter, Seema, is a director at UAE Exchange and also owns BiteRite, a healthy food-delivery service. She has one daughter. Binay, his only son, is sort of his father’s right-hand man, preparing to take over the reins when his father eventually eases off. Despite the family’s wealth, they still live in apartments in the centre of the city, rather than a palatial villa on the outskirts.

Excerpts from the interview:

Who was your inspiration and motivator behind your success in life ?

Off course, my mother. She once said to me-The man you are is dictated by ten people.At any time in your life, if there are ten people who truly believe that you are a good man, then you are a good man and you are blessed.If at any time, there are ten people, anywhere on earth who sincerely believe that you are a bad man, then you are a bad man and you are cursed.You cannot take any of these ten and exchange one for another; one good canceling out the bad; it is something you cannot control. It is in your private hearing that you meet life and its challenges.”I believe I began there; her words are the blessed solid foundation on which I have been building myself, my dreams and my big ‘family’.”

Whom do you owe your gratitude for the success in your life?

Yes, there are many people who had supported me , but to name a few- I have been immensely fortunate to receive the support and blessings of the Royal Families of the UAE. I am greatly indebted to the Father of the Nation, Late His Highness Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan, His Highness Sheikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nahyan – President  of the UAE,His Highness Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum – Prime Minister of the UAE, Sheikh Mohammed Bin Zayed Al Nahyan – Abu Dhabi Crown Prince and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, for their patronage and benevolence. Late HH Sheikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan (May his soul rest in peace).

What was your motto and secret for the success of your entrepreneurship ?

“I dreamt big, our tasks were huge but we journeyed together as a family laying strong foundations, unique imprints and refinements. Times have changed and so have the challenges. I would deem myself successful if I can leave behind true entrepreneurs, enterprising talents, sincere prayers and good wishes that would keep my initiatives rolling, growing and flourishing with greater vigour  and good will through the years ahead. The journey continues…”

Narrate to me your earlier days when you first landed and started your life in Abu Dhabi ?
The UAE had recently become independent and I thought, ‘it’s a land of opportunity’. I was the first outdoor salesman in the country. My work was not easy. I did not have a car. I only had the shoes I brought – the type water and sand goes straight into your shoes.

In a vast, sandy desert, in the middle of a searing hot summer, I became the country?s first outdoor salesman, and my first ?office? was my bedroom and my first ?worktable? a 150-dirham ($40) Samsonite bag that I have still preserved. Going from clinic to clinic selling drugs to doctors, loading cartons, hoisting 5-gallon barrels on my shoulder up staircases were all in a day?s work. My 500-dirham monthly salary afforded a room shared with five other workers. Meantime, too proud to say otherwise, I wrote letters home fabricating a life of luxury.

I took all the risks before marriage, I came here alone with no relatives. There was no job as a pharmacist though, as everyone spoke Arabic. But I didn’t want to go back [to India] because I came with a lot of hopes. I was seeing the souq pharmacists and they were keeping the stock in the homes as there were no proper storage facilities. I saw opportunity.

In those days a great deal of stock was damaged by the humidity and left to dry out before being sold. The pharmacies would also keep large quantities of medicines that they would continue to sell until stocks were exhausted, sometimes regardless of expiry dates. I told the [pharmaceutical] company I would sell the medicines properly. There was no concept of going out and selling.

To save money, I shared a room with four other people in a small house off what is now Electra Street. The house was demolished years later and, somewhat ironically, an NMC Hospital is built in its place. I would walk from souq to souq, selling to pharmacies directly, convincing them that buying fresh stock regularly was better than storing large amounts until it expired. In 1975, two years after arriving, I opened my own pharmacy, the first under the NMC umbrella.

The pharmacy was followed by the first clinic the next year. We started in the same building with one flat as my residence and my office, and another flat for the clinic. It was a two-storey building and eventually became a five-storey building. At that time I couldn’t afford all the flats. I took them as I could afford them. It hit me recently that I came to the Middle East as a single man in search of a job and stayed on to build businesses that employ 38,000 people today, which I say with some emotion.

Tell me about your marriage- Was it a love or arranged marriage?

I have great respect and admiration to my wife, Dr Chandrakumari Shetty who has played a huge part in my success, not least because she raised our four children, three girls and a boy, and even now, continues to work eight-hour days as a family doctor. We had a traditional arranged marriage and were introduced by our parents.
I got a call from my mother who said, ‘there’s a quiet, humble girl, she’s a doctor’, and I thought that would help my business also, there was selfishness. When we met, we clicked. My wife is from a “humble beginning”, has always worked in the family business as a doctor and also holds the title of Group Medical Director. Even today she wears her white doctor’s coat over her decorative sari, with a stethoscope draped around her neck.

She tells me , “I never worked for the financial aspect, even at the beginning. My demands are simple, I’m not a shopaholic! I enjoy my work so as long as I am capable of working, I will work. And every day you’ll find me something to keep me occupied”..

What did the progression and evolution of NMC Health look like, from the one-room clinic that it originally was to the great empire that it is today?

I came to this country exactly 40 years ago in 1973, with just a blessing from my mother. ?Where ever you go my son, be good to people around you,? she said. I remember watching black and white TV and seeing his Highness, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, the father of the nation. Every time he spoke, people were watching and standing transfixed. One of the things I concluded from his speeches was that he was committed to establishing quality healthcare for all at an affordable cost.

So keeping these two things in mind?people and service? I became the first outdoor salesman in the country and that?s how the idea behind NMC Health was born. I first started a private medical center, which was half house and half office. It was separated into a dental clinic, a pathology laboratory, and a pharmacy below.

This is how I also started my wholesale pharmaceutical division. I took some agencies (which at the time was still possible) and went to the market. The concept of going out and selling was non-existent, so I began by scientifically promoting the product to doctors. Back then the warehouses didn?t have proper storage of medicines and therefore they also sometimes carried defective stock.

I practically revolutionized the system and made sure that everything was sold in a systematic way, on a first come first serve basis, with a proper expiry date, and this made a very good impact on the market. Given that we didn?t have manpower at that time, I personally lifted the cartons and delivered the goods to doctors? doorsteps, supermarkets, and other pharmacies. To this day I am still reaping that goodwill.

Having a pharmacist background, I realized that with wholesale agencies and retail pharmacies, I could also integrate pharmaceutical manufacturing. This was my aim, and it finally was achieved with Neopharma Pharmaceuticals. The factory was inaugurated in 2003 by Dr. Abdul Kalam, a scientist, who was also the president of India at the time. When he saw the facilities he asked what my market was, when I said the Middle East he simply replied: ?No, you should go global.? Those were his golden words and I?ve valued all the blessings I received.

As of today, we are doing extremely well and we are the best generic pharmacy company in the region. We have partnerships with Hetero Pharmaceuticals and Biocon. We are in the initial phases of biopharma and biotech for breast cancer. We are also producing a cardiovascular treatment in the form of tablets with Hetero pharmaceuticals in Abu Dhabi, also known as Nexgen Pharmaceuticals. Nexgen is a joint venture between Neopharma and Hetero Group.

The most recent development has been the Dr. BR Shetty Research Centre; the first research center in the country, opened last year.

So considering that you have presence in all the segments of the healthcare ecosystem, what is the trend that you see in the future for this company?

NMC group has gone initially from a pharmacy to pharmaceutical distribution, to a manufacturing factory, and with the inclusion of R&D, it equals one circle. On the healthcare end, I have started a clinic, a medical center, a hospital, specialty hospitals, and now the only element lacking is health education. Hence, I am intending to open a medical college in Abu Dhabi in collaboration with Duke University. It will focus on translational research, with a center for entrepreneurship and innovation on one integrated campus. The aim is to incorporate informatics and IT in order to advance our healthcare systems and life sciences. All that is left now is to obtain the blessing from his Highness so that we can start building as soon as possible.

This endeavor will be my dream come true, since it is the final missing link to complete the cycle. I am going to name this college in honor of her Highness.

We keep hearing that fostering local talent is one of the biggest challenges. How do you think this problem should be addressed?

Healthcare in this country is growing, which makes it difficult to attract enough medical personnel. So what the UAE can do is take advantage of its demographics. We have 200 nationalities living in the country; we can give them a platform to learn and then they will be less inclined to leave. By giving them a chance to contribute to this country, we can avoid the need for depending on other countries and establish quality in our health education. Providing the Emirates? with a new generation of locally educated, quality doctors will only ensure the sustainability of this industry.

And beyond the UAE peninsula, are you also planning to open hospitals in other countries?

Yes, my personal mandate is to go immediately to Doha and Saudi Arabia, then to the greater Middle East and North African region, specifically Egypt, Libya, and Iran; followed by India.

Typically the pharmaceutical industry is mostly associated with Europe and the US, with maybe even Japanese and Korean endeavors as well; but recently there have been more Asian companies asserting themselves. Besides maybe Hikma, we don?t really see a Middle Eastern company that has gone truly global. Given you internationalization strategy, when can we expect this from Neopharma?

In a maximum of two years time, Neopharma will be the first Middle Eastern company to be international. All the platforms are set so it is just a matter of time. We will focus mainly on diabetes, since the disease has become an epidemic here, and also cancer.

Medical devices are another sector we are exploring. Initially the products will be branded under Neopharma, but after that we will brand them separately. We already have an imaging system called Unity that takes x-rays, but soon we are getting a new unit that enables x-rays in motion, so the doctor can know which vertebra has a problem. This is also very useful for animal care, especially for horses and camels.

Will your family take over the business?

Most likely my son will. I believe in corporate karma. When I came here I didn?t have relatives?father, mother, nothing of that sort here?so the people of this country made me the businessman I am today. My son will only take over if he is qualified and if that is what he wants to do. I have already handed over many things to Binay. He is more conservative than me and very careful. For me, when I came here I had nothing to lose. Otherwise we?ll have corporate governance.

As a young man, did you ever dream of making it big in a foreign country?

I first came to this country to clear my liability back home. The day I cleared it, I declared I am the richest person in the world. After that I started taking risks. But this company was built on hard work alone; Shetty?s sweat is the capital, since I didn?t bring anything from India.

I am grateful to this country and the royalty for the opportunity they gave me to realize my dreams, and to be so successful in this country. I can proudly say I am successful now. I am the first one in the GCC to be listed on the London stock exchange, which paves the way for others.

Considering this is a platform for executives, what will be your piece of advice for other executives and pharmaceutical and health care entrepreneurs around the world?

You should always keep service in mind. Whatever business you want to open, don?t have money as the main driver. Don?t work late, keep your employees in mind and do the work diligently; the result is the profit. And when it comes, it should not go to your head; always be humble.

Being past 70 years old, some might wonder why you still insist on continuing to work. Why aren’t you living a life of luxury and enjoy your retirement?

I won’t retire- As long as my health permits, I want to continue. I want to live in Abu Dhabi for the rest of my  life. To me as an outsider, it is almost like I cannot stop working. I have spent so many years making sure the businesses thrive and thereby creating a lasting legacy to my children, but I probably would not know what to do if life took a slower pace. However, I am giving my children more and more responsibilities, particularly my son.

How come you prefer to live in a flat, than a independent villa ?

It is more convenient, to all be together, and many of the villas are “all show” anyway.

How would you like to be remembered?

I would like to be remembered as having a good heart, who is extremely philanthropic, hard working, passionate, humble, and as a truly genuine person in this world.

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Author: Alfie DSouza- Illinois