Four UAE residents have been featured by Forbes magazine in its latest ranking of the Richest Indians, with the Dubai-based Landmark Group’s 62-year-old founder-owner Micky Jagtiani ranked at No. 13, with a net worth of $5 billion.
Non-resident Indian Jagtiani has improved his ranking among India’s richest from No. 17 last year thanks to a weak rupee, which has seen the net worth of some of his compatriots decline in comparison to his $5 billion personal purse, which has surged from $4 billion last year.
Jagtiani’s is a typical rags-to-riches story, with Forbes magazine tracing his roots back to the time when he used to be a cabbie in London. “Micky Jagtiani, who once drove a taxi in London, opened his first store in Bahrain in 1973 with a $6,000 inheritance he got after his parents and brother all died within a short period,” the magazine says.
“Forty years later, he now oversees the $5 billion (estimated sales) Landmark Group, the Middle East retail conglomerate with 1,300 stores in 20 countries. His newer ventures include 3-year-old budget hotel chain Citymax, with three UAE locations and Fitness First Gyms, in which he’s investing another $150 million to expand. Sales in his native India should touch $1 billion next year,” Forbes reckons.
Others from UAE on the richest Indians list are the 57-year-old M.A. Yusuff Ali of LuLu store fame (No. 40), the 56-year-old Sunny Varkey, Chairman of Gems Education (No 45), and the 71-year-old BR Shetty of NMC Healthcare (No 72).
Forbes estimates Yusuff Ali’s net worth at $1.6 billion, up from $1.5 billion last year, although he has dropped in the Forbes Richest Indians’ list from No 35 last year to No 40 this year. “Born in a small Indian village, MA Yusuff Ali immigrated to Abu Dhabi in the 1970s to join his family’s trading business,” says his profile by Forbes.
“His first LuLu store opened at the peak of the Gulf war as purveyor of value-for-money goods. Nowadays his flagship $5 billion (revenues) LuLu Group International has 106 retail outlets in the Middle East, Africa and India. Plus it opened its first mall in southern city of Cochin where he also has a stake in its airport, 2 Marriott hotels and a Grand Hyatt hotel. He lobbied the Abu Dhabi government for a crematorium for Hindus and now heads committee that runs it,” the magazine says.
Sunny Varkey makes his debut this year on the Forbes Richest Indians’ list with an estimated net worth of $1.4 billion. “Son of Indian expatriates who went to Dubai in 1959, Sunny Varkey never went beyond high school himself. In 1980, he took over management of his parents’ Our Own English School and transformed it in three decades, doing everything from laying bricks for school buildings to driving the school bus,” the magazine says in his profile.
“Today, his Gems Education is the largest operator of private kindergarten-to-grade-12 schools in the world. It has a network of 124 schools with over 130,000 students, 11,000 teachers, all over the Middle East, Africa, Europe, China, and India. The business also has a consultancy that advises governments and nonprofits. Bill Clinton is honorary chairman of his Varkey Gems Foundation, which aims to have a positive impact on the lives of 100 impoverished children for each child enrolled at a Gems school,” writes Forbes.
Last but not the least, NMC’s BR Shetty has improved his standing among richest Indians from No 97 last year to No 72 this year, with Forbes estimating his net worth at $880 million, up from $540 million last year.
“Middle East tycoon BR Shetty, who got a start as a pharma salesman, migrated to Abu Dhabi in 1973 with $8 in his pocket and a load of debt back home,” the magazine profiles his humble beginnings. “[He] went on to build a healthcare and financial services empire. His NMC Healthcare, the region’s largest integrated private health care provider, listed in London last year,” says Forbes.
“His money transfer firm UAE Exchange, that helps Indian expatriate workers send money back home, has 700 offices in 31 countries. It has applied for a new banking licence. Shetty owns an apartment on the 100th floor of Dubai’s Burj Khalifa and a fleet of limousines,” the magazine says, painting a flamboyant picture of a man with very humble beginnings.
Also featuring in the top 100 is Joy Alukkas, who Forbes lists as an Indian resident although he has made his fortune here in the UAE. With a personal net worth of $640 million, Alukkas is ranked at No 99 among richest Indians, down from No 81 last year.
“Joy Alukkas dropped out of school to go to the Gulf and open his family’s first overseas jewelry store in Abu Dhabi in 1987,” says Forbes. “Just over a decade later, he branched off to launch his own, eponymous jewelry chain, the $1.35 billion (sales) Joyalukkas,” it says.
“Headquartered in Cochin in south India, it has 85 stores in India and the Middle East. Other interests include a luxury air charter, money exchanges and his Mall of Joy, a new chain stocking wedding jewelry and silks, the first of which is due to open in Thrissur by year end. He bought his second aircraft, an Embraer Phenom 300, for his Joy Jets, an air charter much in demand from India’s godmen, politicians and tycoons.”