India Indian Diaspora Indian Workers in Gulf

Indian power means UAE power

By Anil Bhoyrul

Here we go. Yes it’s that time of the year again when we count down the region’s 100 most powerful Indians. And I suppose this year I should start with an apology: an apology to 363 Indians who didn’t make this year’s list. It was no easy task choosing just 100 from close to 500 names our editorial team researched, but chosen we have.

I should also make a second apology, to the 17 people who did make the list but will no doubt be calling me this week to express their outrage and dissatisfaction at their ranking (and I know exactly who you are before you even call).

Hopefully they will one day see this list for what it really is: a celebration of incredible Indian success in this region, not just in business, but in all walks of life. All the more so because many of the names on this year’s list have one thing in common: arriving in the Gulf with nothing, and going on to create multi-billion-dollar empires.

I have been lucky enough to meet many of the individuals on this year’s list, and have never failed to be inspired or amazed by them. Take Dr Ravi Pillai, second on the list. As a school boy in Kerala at the age of 14, he was forced to sell coconuts to his classmates just so he could pay for school books. Today he runs a conglomerate raking in $4bn a year and employs 80,000 direct staff. We met in his 106th floor apartment in the Burj Khalifa earlier this month, but a more humble and warm man I cannot recall meeting in some time. And like many in his position, there is no limit to success. When he started telling me about his plans to conquer the property industry, his eyes lit up with probably the same excitement as when he sold his first coconut.

Look at Yogesh Mehta, who arrived in Dubai at the age of 29 with no job, no money but plenty of dreams. Today his company Petrochem Middle East is one of the world’s most successful independent petrochemical distributors on the planet. Many people in his position would be tempted to hand over the reins and count the money on a beach in Rio. Not Yogesh. When we had lunch earlier this year, he was so excited about the upcoming launch of his new events company Raging Tiger. Like Dr Pillai, and like many others on the list, reaching the top is only the beginning of the journey.

But our list also shows that the business tycoons do not have exclusivity when it comes to power and influence. Can anyone not be impressed with the work of KV Shamsudheen, who has dedicated much of his life to assisting lower paid Indian workers (of which there are too many)? Or the equally important work of the brilliant K Kumar in helping Indian construction workers caught in legal nightmares (of which there are too many)? Looking for the best lawyer in town? You would be hard pressed to find a better one than Ashish Mehta. The best doctor? How about the Lasik surgery genius Dr Pramod Warhekar?

On a wider scale, it is worth noting that back in 1970 trade between India and the UAE was worth $80m a year. By 2013 the figure had reached $44bn. Thanks to the work of the 100 people featured in this week’s issue that is a number that is only heading north.

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