Life & Style | People

Wazir Ali Daredia's story of success

From operating a stationery store in Al Ain to building the world's highest residential tower and creating the world's slimmest solid-gold watch, Wazir Ali Daredia's secret to success is right timing.

  • By Shalaka Paradkar
  • Published: 00:22 March 28, 2008
  • Friday

  • Image Credit: Arshad Ali/Gulf News
  • For someone who has pushed the envelope of extreme luxury, Wazir Ali Daredia is surprisingly simple in person.
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You can tell Wazir Ali Daredia is strictly old school when he arrives on the dot for our interview.

"I'm in the timekeeping industry, how can I not be on time?" he retorts. "Punctuality means that you value other people's time too. And it's never a good idea to start a meeting with an apology."

For this entrepreneur, precision is important.

Whether applied to create the world's slimmest solid-gold watch or build the world's highest residential tower - the 510-metre Pentominium in Dubai Marina.

The Pentominium will sport Swarovski crystal in its public spaces and Tiffany accessories in its business lounge. Residents will have access to their own Rolls Royce and Azimuth yachts.

But for someone who has pushed the envelope of extreme luxury in his projects, Daredia is surprisingly simple in person. The 52-year old Indian-Canadian father of two prefers to give away expensive Swiss watches than wear them himself.

He spends his free time with family or in community service, rather than hobnob with the super rich.

His residence, after retirement, will not be one of his plush condominiums, but a villa with a garden where the dogs can play, because that's what wife Waheeda wants.

Daredia's success story is home spun, home being Dubai. He left Karachi in Pakistan, when he was 20, and landed in the UAE keen to become a businessman.

As the fire of ambition flickered, he began to identify niche market opportunities, and set up trading enterprises which went on to be successful.

He also ventured into the Swiss watch industry and today, 30 years on, is the managing director of Geneva-based Montres Appella SA that manufactures the Appella brand of solid gold, diamond and mechanical timepieces. (Retailed in more than 37 countries.)

He is accepted as an industry insider, spokesperson and opinion maker in this exclusive sector.

Daredia is also the CEO and founding director of Trident International Holdings, a company with a real estate development portfolio in excess of $1 billion. His business interests today span Europe, Asia and North America.

I

I am a morning person. I love early mornings. I start off most days with a jog along Jumeirah beach, weather permitting. My favourite way to spend time is to sit on a bench by the seaside and listen to the music of the waves crashing against the rocks. It is also the time for me to do some introspection ... I think about my work or how it affects people.

I have bought expensive things only for other people, never for myself. Somehow, the greater pleasure is in giving.

I think of myself as a moderate person who leads a normal life. Most luxuries in the world are good to have, but you can do without them. Eventually though, luxury becomes necessity.

If my house was on fire, the first thing I would grab would be my laptop! (Assuming, of course, that my family and pets are safe.) My laptop has 30 years of memories in the form of photographs.

I love reading, but I don't get enough time to indulge in this passion. On business trips and while flying, I love reading books about meditation and the like.

Deepak Chopra is one of my favourite authors. The last book I enjoyed was The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini.

I'm a great strategist. I am also a good decision-maker. I take decisions quickly. My weakness is that I'm not always diplomatic. I can be very blunt, and I would like to improve my diplomacy. In moments of weakness,
I prefer to stay quiet. I let the gravity of the situation sink in.

Me

Me and growing up in Karachi

The Karachi of my childhood was a beautiful, safe city. I grew up in a reasonably affluent, close-knit joint family with two of my uncles and their families.

We are a Gujarati family who migrated from India to Pakistan. I am the third of five siblings. Being the middle child, I'm convinced that you don't get the best of anything - it's always the youngest or the oldest who is favoured!

Our ethnic Gujarati background meant that we grew up with lots of dos and don'ts, and certain values - which we now try to inculcate in our own children.

We make an effort to visit our family in Karachi twice a year, and encourage our children, who are studying abroad, to do the same.

My father had the strongest influence on me when I was growing up. I also idolised some of my teachers. Though I was not always a top student, I was definitely better than average.

Me and coming to Dubai

I left Karachi for Dubai in 1976 against the wishes of my family. Some friends went to Germany, others to North America - I chose Dubai.

I started my business without any support from my family. My first venture was to open a stationery shop in Al Ain, which was part of the few businesses at the time.

Within six months, I was supplying stationery to 18 banks in the city. I did very well there.

I ventured into other areas of trading before heading into the field of horology (watchmaking), a field I have stayed on for a long, long time.

Dubai was a much more relaxed and far less competitive place than it is today. Whatever you started was bound to do well at the time, as long as you had good entrepreneurial skills.

When I landed in Dubai, I had just a few close friends. They were my support system. In the first few months, I turned a bit homesick. But at that age, you aren't too emotional and are very focused on achieving.

Me and Swiss watches

I think the finest gift the Swiss have given the world is timekeeping. I love watches. My favourites are Blancpain, Breguet, Maurice Lacroix, Frederique Constant, Patek Philippe and Franck Muller. These are mechanical watches, which are all appreciated by connoisseurs.

They may not keep time as well as quartz watches, but they hold an emotional appeal because of their craftsmanship.

However, I don't wear any other watch than Appella. It reveals the conviction I have
in my brand.

Horology has always been my passion. I have been associated with the Swiss watch industry for nearly 30 years now, almost since the start of my career.

I even started writing a thesis on the manufacture of Swiss watches.

One of the high points of my career was creating the slimmest gold watch in the world.

Sometimes you get into the profession you want by default, or by instinct. Business is not just about making money.

I felt an intuitive attraction towards the watch industry.
When I started my trading business, branded Swiss watches were part of the portfolio. While trading in Swiss watches, I realised that I wasn't getting enough supplies or brand acknowledgement while working and promoting other brands. That put me on the path to acquiring my first Swiss watch company in Geneva.

The first time I visited Switzerland was in 1977. Now I've visited Geneva so many times that I know its alleys and streets as well as I know Dubai! My passion has been visiting small factories in remote parts of the Swiss Alps, where a few families have been in the business of watchmaking for generations.

The Swiss watchmaking community is a welcoming one. They have very strong ethics and commitment to their work. Throughout history, the Swiss have had a reputation for trustworthiness in transactions, wealth management, healthcare ... The Swiss may take a while to open up, but I've never experienced discrimination on account of my ethnicity.

Whatever business one takes up, whether it's trading, watchmaking or real estate, I believe you must find your niche in it.

It's something I strongly believe in, and finding that focus has helped me become a reasonably successful businessman. When it comes to watches, I focus on highly technical, mechanical watches.

Quartz watches are fine, but the real watch industry runs on the mechanical principle. My area of specialisation is solid gold watches.

Me and my family

I've been married for 25 years. Our son, Waseem, is 21, and daughter, Sumaiya, 18. Waseem studies in Vancouver, Canada, while Sumaiya studies in Dallas, US.

My wife, Waheeda, and I are now empty-nesters! But we hope the children will return to Dubai after their studies. I speak to my daughter on an almost daily basis - we're
very close.

Our marriage is both a love marriage as well as an arranged one! My wife's youngest uncle was my business partner. I had met Waheeda a few times during my visits to London and got to know her well and soon, the proposal came.

Becoming a father transformed my views about parenthood - I began to view my own parents with new respect and I started to re-assess my relationship with them. Today, I speak to them over the telephone every week.

My dream for my children is that they grow up to be good human beings. The only advice I give them is: "Be yourself". Every human being is unique, so trying to be someone else is a waste of potential if you ask me.

For our 25th wedding anniversary, all I wanted was a family reunion. I didn't want to throw a mega party and invite the whole town. We got our entire family together, including nieces and nephews, at our home in Dallas.

Once you turn 50, your life philosophy changes. (Not to imply that turning 50 is to become old; 50 is the new 30 as my wife would say!) If I had to change some aspects of my life, I would like to devote more time to non-business pursuits, especially community service.

As a society, we are becoming very materialistic. What we need to pass on to the next generation is a sense of pluralism ... inter-faith dialogue and diversity. Those values are my gifts to my children.

All the issues we see today stem from a lack of understanding each other's background. We as a people, need to mature in terms of inter-faith dialogue and cultural exchanges.

Myself

What are your views on the luxury business?
The luxury industry has its share of ups and downs, depending on the economic conditions.

But people who are brand-conscious, never compromise. In terms of recession, people in the lower to mid-segment economic strata may find it difficult to make their mortgage payments. But there is a class who will never face this problem.

This is the segment of consumers

I like to tap for my real estate and watch businesses.
Whenever you take an unrealistic approach, whether it's in your professional life or personal, you are bound to fail. You can't be optimistic or pessimistic ... instead you must be be realistic. This attitude comes with maturity.

In any market, the biggest mistake people make is overtrading.

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