RAM BUXANI – The Golden Jubilee Man
who grew with Dubai
Probably the phrase 'a self made man' was conceived to best describe Ram Buxani most aptly and succinctly
Who would have imagined that a young lad, who once landed up in an unfamiliar land, would go on to become one of the most celebrated and revered Indians around the world. He had no means to support him, no one to guide him or help him; and yet, he achieved the impossible…. all on his own strength and wisdom. It is so rightly believed that talent creates its own opportunities and sometimes, it is an intense desire that creates not only its own opportunities, but its own talents.
Ram Buxani is that self made man who has emerged victorious all on the strength of his own state of mind. Buxani has driven himself towards his achievements all through the realization and application of his own self worth. He has toiled with the knowledge that we are born to succeed and not to fail.
Ram Buxani was only five years old when his family left Pakistan post partition. The Buxani family first stayed on the railway platform of Ahmedabad, then spent a few days at a village in Gujarat and eventually moved to Chennai where an aunt lived. After spending some tough days in Madras now Chennai, they finally settled in Baroda, back again in Gujarat.
Buxani reveals that the most defining moments of his life were definitely his early years. “Since I lost my father, who was the only earning member of the family, at the age of 5,” he says, “my earlier years were rather tough.” Buxani further confesses, “I have seen my mother struggling to bring up the family. When I see, young children enjoying their childhood in the luxury of the presence of their parents ready to sacrifice their fortune for them, I ticklishly envy them….as that time will never come to me.” Needless to say, the turmoil and struggle of that phase did not just leave some scars in his mind; they also impacted his personality greatly. Though, as every adversity, every failure, every heartache carries with it the seed of an equal or greater benefit, this troubled phase of Buxani's life, made him a better person….who, from then onwards, never in his life took anything lightly. “Although, taking everything seriously may have its own shortcomings,” he claims, “but this is what I have inherited from my younger years and which has made a lot of impact on my personality,” confesses Buxani.
He remembers his mother as a wonderful woman. “To bring up five children by a widow, without sufficient resources, was not easy at all. I remember,” he says, “she used to stitch clothes for others and make some money to look after us.” Given the complex economic situation of his family then, Ram Buxani could not pursue higher education when it was needed the most. “Yes, I had to compromise on that,” he states. Although, Buxani's mother never stopped him from going to a college, it was the hidden sense of responsibility towards family that made young Buxani, quit studies to start working. “The surroundings I was in, one could not dream to have any high ambitions, so I did not have one,” he says. Buxani further conveys, “My ambition was very simple – that my family should live fairly well.”
The student in him may have sacrificed his education for a greater cause; but he never really gave up the love for higher education and a big degree. So passionate was Buxani about this great love that he later did what is hard to even fathom for almost all. He fulfilled the ambition several decades later, in 2004, when he did his PhD from an American University by writing a thesis on “Governance of Dubai: The influence of tribal tradition in decision making, especially in the critical periods of the development of the city-state.”
Taking inspiration from the success stories of his uncle and cousins who were then working in Hong Kong and other far eastern countries, Buxani made a random choice. With a one point agenda to take up employment in a foreign country, Ram Buxani headed for Dubai. Though of course, he had come to know of a certain vacancy in Dubai from an advertisement published in a Sindhi newspaper in Bombay and that gave him enough confidence to travel overseas in quest of his fortune.
Dubai however at that time was nothing like what it is today. It was the year 1959, when Buxani sailed to the city that then had no great reasons to be popular. So much so, that the city even did not have the basic civic amenities. There was no water, no electricity, no proper roads, no airport and as Buxani explains….it was like a small village where people were just coming for business. Though Ram Buxani chose to remain oblivious to the missing attractions and amenities and remained focused on just one important need – a job.
In his initial days of working in the city…..Buxani mentions that he was involved in everything from negotiating and finalizing business, typing, filing, dispatching, attending mail, delivering samples etc. “It was a one or two man show everywhere,” he says, “Working was not a shame. One could do everything with dignity. Things have changed. Now everyone wants to do work according to classification,” avers Buxani. In the year of his arriving in the city, Buxani joined International Traders Ltd. as a typist at a paltry salary of Rs. 125. Well, at least the aim was achieved, as all Buxani intended doing by going overseas was….take up a job. He'd even sacrificed the idea of studying further as the lure of work played heavily on his mind. But Buxani did not lead a dormant life after attaining his first goal. In fact, he got even more active in pursuit of knowledge and skills as there was something goading him to learn and progress each day. In his book, Buxani interestingly mentions that the Dubai market was his university and that with no formal education in business or other fields, he learnt most of the skills by plain observation. He shares, “When I came to Dubai, expatriates used to live without families. There were very few children. There was more business population. We used to talk business everywhere. Dubai market was really an open university for me.”
“Unless a man undertakes more than he possibly can do, he will never do all that he can,” said Henry Drummond. And living by this dictum is Ram Buxani. While on job….Buxani worked assiduously towards making his role more enriching and fulfilling. This perhaps goes to explain how this industrious and ambitious man, rose to the top rank in the same company, he'd once joined as a mere typist. ITL….the company in mention was established in Dubai in the year 1953 and it started operating as a branch of its Kenyan counterpart – International Traders (East Africa) Limited. The company was at that point desperate to liquidate excess stock accumulated in Singapore without any intention of making a permanent base in Dubai. The company was thus keen to find a market to liquidate the excessive inventory of textiles stocks. ITL is a part of Chotirmall organization which was established in the year 1875.
As the executive vice chairman of the ITL Group – Cosmos, Ram Buxani has taken the company and the products that it endorses to new heights….making it one of the leading groups in the Middle East. Though the road to achievements was never quite easy as Buxani informs, “Naturally, there have been several hiccups.” “We started as a textile outlet,” he further reveals, “and today we are involved in Textiles, IT, Electronics, Finance and manufacturing. We were voted as one of the 100 top companies in Dubai.”
The journey to greater heights was a natural progression for this once humble typist as he enjoyed business right from his childhood. “It is in my blood,” he remarks, “I wanted our company to be one of the top players in the market and that happened. “It was within three years of his joining the company that Buxani's salary had been increased to $300. Though, the momentous day and a decisive turn in his career came, when Ram Buxani accepted partnership in the company instead of a raise in his salary. “I felt, unless the company makes profit, how can I benefit,” he reasons. “If I am a partner, I will automatically get my dues, if the company makes gains. One has to be partner in the progress and get what is due to him instead of accepting without making his contribution in the growth,” states Buxani categorically.
With time, Buxani's business primarily excelled in textiles and for several years they've remained on top. Though later, the Group diversified into many other fields, and excelled there too. Under Buxani's enterprise, the product range of the company kept ever increasing. They sold everything, from textiles to footwear, tomato paste, electronics etc. The group gradually evolved and grew into a conglomerate of 14 companies with a workforce of around 450 people spread across five countries. Today, they deal with an array of global brands, in varied market segments which include….consumer electronics, IT and PC products, telecommunications, photographic products, business equipment, data and media storage products, home and kitchen appliances, grooming products, textiles, foods, personal banking etc.
According to Buxani, Dubai is a place where one does not need to be dishonest to come up in life…you have simply to be fit to face healthy competition….and that's precisely what appealed to his sensibilities…. right from the very outset. Indeed, Ram Buxani has accepted his city of adoption with great passion and love, and he confirms that the city has reciprocated in equal measure. “If you live in a place,” Buxani explains, “which gives you a peaceful atmosphere and almost equal opportunity to grow without much discrimination, I feel the city has reciprocated well,” In Buxani's views, there may be some areas where the host country has been less reciprocal…but again, he says, “this sort of young nations have a lot of considerations to address before passing on various extra advantages to the expatriates.”
Ram Buxani is not just euphoric about his roots, he's also quite proud of the way his Sindhi community has progressed all over the world. Striking a sentimental chord, he says .. . . . ..“Sindhi is my identity. If I was not Sindhi, I would not have been a refugee. If I was not a refugee, I would not have struggled. Perhaps, I would not have come to Dubai also.” Ram Buxani leaves no opportunity to wax eloquent about the greatness and the goodness of Sindhis. He earnestly believes that like water, Sindhis take the colour of their surroundings and blend naturally to be a part of the society they live in. Persistently he states, “This is one community that has subtly given back as much as it has got from the people around. Institutions, charitable organizations. . . . you name it and the Sindhis are at their philanthropic best.” Buxani further emphasizes and articulates that Sindhis have the spirit of creating opportunities where only problems existed. “More than anyone else, the Sindhi businessman embodies that adventurous spirit, that inner strength which has made today's Sindhi a true Citizen of the World,” he insists.
Considering his avowal to be mentioned a Shindhian each time, one is somewhere compelled to pose the inevitable question upfront. Would it be fair to call him a “Sindhian” and not so much of an Indian? With honesty being somewhere so inherent to him, Ram Buxani answers . . . . “I will not abruptly reject that identity, but not at the cost of not being an Indian. All Sindhis who migrated from Pakistan to India are true Indians,” he confirms. Even though, in contemporary India, it is difficult to meet an Indian, as everyone belongs to one province or the other, Buxani is emphatic that Sindhis are the only Indians in India. “The Sindhis are an enterprising and industrious people – full of the spirit of faith and courage,” he avows.
“Success is not measured by what you accomplish, but by the opposition you have encountered, and the courage with which you have maintained the struggle against overwhelming odds.” In the context of this famous quote, Ram Buxani conveys that Sindhis are incredibly successful lot. He further remarks, “The world says we are a successful community. I think it forms the opinion not on the basis of our accomplishments as our forefathers have encountered and survived overwhelming odds.” There is a saying : “Success is not built on success, it is built on failure, it is built on frustration, and sometimes it is built on catastrophe . . . . .” and concurring with this is Ram Buxani in the given milieu of his own life and that of his fellow Sindhians.
It is somewhere believed that men acquire a particular quality by constantly acting a particular way . . . . . they become just by performing just actions, temperate by performing temperate actions and brave by performing brave actions. Ram Buxani consolidated his position in the society and the business world. . . . by doing all of the above. And his future goals too seem embellished with these beautiful virtues that he's acquired by constant practice. “Every business should be considered as a social responsibility,” he professes. “Your aim should be to look after the society whom you are serving and people who are working for the company and you. With these goals, I would like to see the business grow in the directions where the wind is moving to,” claims Buxani fervently.
(excerpts from 'The Awe Inspiring Story of Ram Buxani' – by Mitu Bisht in NRI Achievers)