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The Gulf Special
1. Sunil Vaswani
7.2 billion; Industry; Stallion Group
COMMENTS PRINT
Special Issue: The Gulf Special The Gulf Special
The Gulf Special
Arabian Business presents the 50 Richest Indians in West Asia
The Gulf Special
4.5 billion; FMCG, IFFCO Group
The Gulf Special
3.6 billion; Construction, RP Group
The Gulf Special
3.3 billion; Healthcare, NMC Healthcare
The Gulf Special
3.21 billion; Retail LuLu Group International
The Gulf Special
3 billion; Banking and finance, Kataria Holdings
The Gulf Special
1.8 billion; Industry, Mulk Holdings
The Gulf Special
1.7 billion; Property, Sobha Group
The Gulf Special
1.5 billion; Retail, Choithrams
The Gulf Special
1.37 billion; Healthcare, VPS Healthcare
The Gulf Special
1.35 billion; Retail, Jashanmal Group
The Gulf Special
1.31 billion; Healthcare, DM Healthcare
The Gulf Special
1.2 billion; Retail, Jumbo Group
The Gulf Special
995 million; Retail, Rosy Blue Group
The Gulf Special
928 million; Retail, Al Safeer Group
The Gulf Special
905 million; Property, SKAI Holdings
The Gulf Special
828 million; Construction, Danube Group
The Gulf Special
645 million; Retail, Dhamani Jewels
The Gulf Special
640 million; Industry, Khimji Ramdas Group
The Gulf Special
630 million; Banking and finance, House of Patels
The Gulf Special
630 million; Retail, Joyallukkas Group
The Gulf Special
585 million; Retail, Apparel Group
The Gulf Special
550 million; Industry, Palmon Group
The Gulf Special
542 million; Industry, Al Dobowi Group
The Gulf Special
533 million; Industry, Petrochem Middle East
The Gulf Special
520 million; Retail, Regal Group
The Gulf Special
505 million; Healthcare, Thumbay Group
The Gulf Special
490 million; Industry, KEF Holdings
The Gulf Special
470 million; Retail, Marina Home Interiors
The Gulf Special
440 million; Retail, Pure Gold
The Gulf Special
420 million; Healthcare, Zulekha Healthcare
The Gulf Special
420 million; Retail, Al Adil Trading
The Gulf Special
410 million; Retail, Jacky’s Group
The Gulf Special
400 million; Industry, Dodsal Group
The Gulf Special
375 million; Food, Al Kabeer Group
The Gulf Special
370 million; Banking and finance, Al Razouki International Exchange
The Gulf Special
360 million; Retail, Lal’s Group
The Gulf Special
340 million; Industry, Giant Group
The Gulf Special
327 million; Healthcare, Dr Sunny Healthcare group
The Gulf Special
325 million; Hospitality, Ramee Hotels
The Gulf Special
320 million; Retail, Mikura
The Gulf Special
318 million; Industry, Hira Group
The Gulf Special
315 million; Transport, Transworld Group
The Gulf Special
300 million; Industry, geebee group
The Gulf Special
300 million; Industry, MJ Group
The Gulf Special
300 million; Industry, Dana Group
The Gulf Special
300 million; Hospitality, SFC Group
The Gulf Special
290 million; Construction, City Diamond Contracting
The Gulf Special
270 million; Industry, Bhatia Brothers
The Gulf Special
240 million; Property, Rocky Real Estate

It takes a while. Quite a long while. But eventually, Sunil Vaswani tells Arabian Business the rather simple reason he has become the Gulf’s richest Indian, with a personal fortune estimated at $7.2bn.

“You know something? I just never give up. If I set my mind on something, I just go for it and keep trying until I get it. Be single-minded. Rejection doesn’t bother me. It took me four years to get the first automobile franchise in Africa. They kept saying ‘no, we will deal with a Japanese company’. Four years of saying no, four years of rejection. But I got it. Nothing is impossible,” he says.

As we tour his fabulous mansion in Dubai, complete with a private movie theatre and a concert arena in his back garden where several renowned artists have performed, it is clear that Vaswani generally gets what he wants. Quiet, gentle and unassuming, the Vaswani exterior gives little clue as to the scale of the empire the tycoon has steadily built, virtually from scratch. Today, his Stallion Group, headquartered in Dubai, has a presence in Africa, Asia and Europe — in total spanning 18 (mostly African) countries — and 10,000 staff on the payroll.

“The decision to base our group headquarters in Dubai has helped us create a global platform for exponential growth,” Vaswani says. “Dubai has been ideal, given its strategic location and time zone advantages with our origins and markets,” he adds.

You name it, the chances are Vaswani is involved in it: commodities, agriculture, automobile assembly, automobile distribution, food products, industries, FMCG, mining, steel manufacturing, real estate, financial services, technology, logistics, shipping and even banking.

But the best is yet to come, with Vaswani now planning a staggering $9 billion investment in the next five years for the expansion of his automobile assembly, agriculture, power, steel and mining businesses — and to build new plants to manufacture petrochemicals, urea, ammonia and methanol. If anything, the word conglomerate feels like an understatement of the business. “These projects will align our business strongly with the socio-economic aspirations of the respective countries in Africa and west Asia,” says Vaswani.

“We just grew over the years. A lot of it comes from experience, and learning more and then growing more,” he says, adding: “The initial growth rate came from our commodities businesses. With the cash flow from that, we expanded into deep-sea fishing and we bought trawlers.”

“That was very profitable as we ended up building cold storage nationwide with the full logistics. Then we moved into various other industries where we felt the local resources could be used,” he says.

“Today, we are associated with some of the best global brands across several industries; these relationships are long-standing and have prospered over the years through the highs and lows of the market,” he adds.

One of its great successes has been the automobile industry, with Stallion now the exclusive distributor in west Africa for as many as 17 major brands, including Volkswagen, Nissan, Honda, Hyundai, Audi, Porsche, Škoda, Infiniti and Ashok Leyland. The group has a string of showrooms and after-sales centres, and has now moved into local assembly operations for passenger cars and commercial vehicles such as trucks and buses.

“The secret was to give the manufacturers exactly what they want, which was sales and distribution infrastructure of international standards and excellent service in terms of servicing and spare parts — basically a great after-sales service. In the past, importers used to deal with these cars as commodities. They didn’t have an efficient after-sales service. We invested in these facilities and it all followed from there as they eventually made us exclusive distributors,” Vaswani says.

But Stallion is, of course, about much more than cars. In the commodities business, it is the market leader in sub-Saharan Africa, managing 2 million tonnes of physical commodity sales and distribution. It also tops the market-share charts when it comes to frozen food, with shiploads of food products distributed through what is now the largest network of cold-storage facilities anywhere in Africa. It has the largest capacity for integrated rice milling in sub-Saharan Africa, and huge steel trading operations in the same region.

If that wasn’t enough, Vaswani has also moved heavily into backward integration through agriculture, establishing a fully integrated rice value chain, from farming to milling and packaging. Throw in insurance, shipping, vehicle leasing and banking, and there really isn’t much left to do that he isn’t already doing.

“Africa has its own challenges. But if you can overcome them, it is still the land of great opportunity,” he says, adding, “I am a strong believer in the future of Africa; Africa will prosper in the coming years with all its abundant natural resources. We, as a business, are well-positioned to be at the forefront in several key sectors in the continent.”

Not that it has always been smooth sailing. On occasion, Vaswani faced severe challenges from the complexities of the markets and economic and regulatory environment. But he always emerged stronger, bigger and better.

“These are the kinds of barriers you have to face when you grow a business. Once you’ve crossed these hurdles and the competition realise that you can face them, you succeed. I was never tempted to quit Africa. Yes, we had problems, but I took it on as a challenge and as an opportunity to expand in other countries. I felt I could look at all these countries from a macro global view, so it did help me,” he says.

Vaswani’s story and success is all the more remarkable given that he took over as CEO of the company at the age of just 21. His family had been based in Lagos, with his father running a trading business that was formed 45 years ago.

After graduating in the UK, Vaswani returned to Lagos with big ambitions. “I told my father I wanted to completely change the business model of the company. I told him that new professionals would have to be recruited and we would have to get out of this trade, which was sundry items, and get into more volume-based commodities — shiploads of rice, sugar, wheat and food products. My father had his managers but I came in and changed everything,” he says, adding: “I was a young guy, just 21. He was quite impressed. I tapped on his experience and knowledge and we used to do a lot of brainstorming together. With professional management in place, it was much easier to get funding for a whole vessel of rice or sugar, the banks were ready to finance that rather than ten containers of sundry items. That’s how it started, that’s how we grew and moved into large-scale manufacturing and other sectors.”

His father gave the young upstart complete control under his guidance, and watched in admiration and amazement as Stallion’s growth absolutely rocketed. The end result today is that Vaswani is without a doubt the Gulf’s richest and most successful Indian — valued in the Arabian Business Indian Rich List — at $7.2 billion. His passion is music — hence the reason Lionel Richie once performed at one of his private events.

On how big a motivation making money has been, he says: “Yes, money is a motivation, but at the same time, by creating more and more industries, you are creating more and more jobs. I feel that by creating more jobs, it is not just the employees but all their families and communities that I am helping — that is my legacy and that is what makes me happy.”

He adds: “It’s like power. You see, power doesn’t give me the kick. But the creation and the continued opportunity to create, that’s what matters. For instance, in agriculture, we are doing a project that could create a million jobs, impacting positively on a country’s food security. Now that is what matters more than power or money.”

COMMENTS PRINT
The Gulf Special
Arabian Business presents the 50 Richest Indians in West Asia
The Gulf Special
4.5 billion; FMCG, IFFCO Group
The Gulf Special
3.6 billion; Construction, RP Group
The Gulf Special
3.3 billion; Healthcare, NMC Healthcare
The Gulf Special
3.21 billion; Retail LuLu Group International
The Gulf Special
3 billion; Banking and finance, Kataria Holdings
The Gulf Special
1.8 billion; Industry, Mulk Holdings
The Gulf Special
1.7 billion; Property, Sobha Group
The Gulf Special
1.5 billion; Retail, Choithrams
The Gulf Special
1.37 billion; Healthcare, VPS Healthcare
The Gulf Special
1.35 billion; Retail, Jashanmal Group
The Gulf Special
1.31 billion; Healthcare, DM Healthcare
The Gulf Special
1.2 billion; Retail, Jumbo Group
The Gulf Special
995 million; Retail, Rosy Blue Group
The Gulf Special
928 million; Retail, Al Safeer Group
The Gulf Special
905 million; Property, SKAI Holdings
The Gulf Special
828 million; Construction, Danube Group
The Gulf Special
645 million; Retail, Dhamani Jewels
The Gulf Special
640 million; Industry, Khimji Ramdas Group
The Gulf Special
630 million; Banking and finance, House of Patels
The Gulf Special
630 million; Retail, Joyallukkas Group
The Gulf Special
585 million; Retail, Apparel Group
The Gulf Special
550 million; Industry, Palmon Group
The Gulf Special
542 million; Industry, Al Dobowi Group
The Gulf Special
533 million; Industry, Petrochem Middle East
The Gulf Special
520 million; Retail, Regal Group
The Gulf Special
505 million; Healthcare, Thumbay Group
The Gulf Special
490 million; Industry, KEF Holdings
The Gulf Special
470 million; Retail, Marina Home Interiors
The Gulf Special
440 million; Retail, Pure Gold
The Gulf Special
420 million; Healthcare, Zulekha Healthcare
The Gulf Special
420 million; Retail, Al Adil Trading
The Gulf Special
410 million; Retail, Jacky’s Group
The Gulf Special
400 million; Industry, Dodsal Group
The Gulf Special
375 million; Food, Al Kabeer Group
The Gulf Special
370 million; Banking and finance, Al Razouki International Exchange
The Gulf Special
360 million; Retail, Lal’s Group
The Gulf Special
340 million; Industry, Giant Group
The Gulf Special
327 million; Healthcare, Dr Sunny Healthcare group
The Gulf Special
325 million; Hospitality, Ramee Hotels
The Gulf Special
320 million; Retail, Mikura
The Gulf Special
318 million; Industry, Hira Group
The Gulf Special
315 million; Transport, Transworld Group
The Gulf Special
300 million; Industry, geebee group
The Gulf Special
300 million; Industry, MJ Group
The Gulf Special
300 million; Industry, Dana Group
The Gulf Special
300 million; Hospitality, SFC Group
The Gulf Special
290 million; Construction, City Diamond Contracting
The Gulf Special
270 million; Industry, Bhatia Brothers
The Gulf Special
240 million; Property, Rocky Real Estate
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