Dr. B.R. Shetty, founder of NMC Healthcare Image Credit: Ahmed Kutty/ Gulf News

Dubai: With just eight dollars (Dh29) in his pocket, a dream to succeed and his mother’s blessings, Dr. B.R. Shetty first set foot in Abu Dhabi on May 3 ,1973.

Many people know him, but for those who don't, Dr. Shetty is the founder and chairman of New Medical Centre (NMC), as well as the ubiquitous UAE Exchange, Finablr, Neopharma and BRS Ventures.

He is a multi-billionaire non-resident Indian (NRI) who has dedicated a large part of his life building an empire of healthcare facilities and other companies in the country.

Forbes set his personal net worth at a whopping $4.2 billion in August 2018.

His first day in the UAE, however, was not without some major snags.

“My luggage was lost in transit. So, the first thing I did after leaving the airport was go shop for clothes and personal items,” he recalled.

“I checked into my accommodation when it finally dawned on me I was in a foreign land.”

A young Dr B.R. Shetty at the NMC laboratory. Image Credit: Supplied

The non-resident Indian did not let this shaky start discourage him from pursuing his goal of making a living in the UAE.

“I could not afford to let that die. There was a loan my family had taken in India and I came here to help them repay it. The plan was to settle the loan and return home. As time would tell, that never happened and my world changed magically.”

From his first job as an outdoor salesman selling pharmaceutical products to building a massive business empire, Dr. Shetty proved that if you dream big, aim high and work hard, there is no end to what you can achieve.

So what was his journey like from then to now? Did lady luck have anything to do with his massive success?

“Not at all. It was all to do with my sweat and toil and my mother’s blessings,” he said.

“I was the first outdoor salesman in Abu Dhabi and I drove around in a Mazda 323. There were no traffic jams back then and the biggest challenge for me was dealing with the sweltering heat. Today, Abu Dhabi has developed into a modern looking city with fancy looking buildings. But back then, there was sand, sand and more sand. Yet, there was an unmissable positive energy in the city which told me to stay and do something big.”

Dr. B.R. Shetty and the first car he used to drive around in. Image Credit: Supplied

“A month into my job, I wrote a long letter to my mother reassuring her I was fine. My accommodation was not comfortable to say the least. There was no air-conditioner and I lived through the summer with just a fan. But I did not tell her any of this.”

Within a year, he managed to settle his debt. “What’s next was the big question looming in my head. Around the time I came across articles in newspapers where the late Shaikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan was advocating a need for quality healthcare at affordable rates in the capital. With his vision in mind, I decided to start New Medical Centre (NMC) in 1975.

“I took a floor on lease in a building on Hamdan Street. I lived two floors below in a one-bedroom apartment. My wife, Dr. Chandrakumari Raghuram Shetty, was the first doctor to be hired in the hospital. We had three patients on the first day we opened the clinic,” said Dr. Shetty.

The challenge

The facade of the first New Medical Centre that was established in 1975. Image Credit: Supplied

“Medical services in government hospitals were free back then. And here I was charging people a fee. Naturally, this did not go down well with some people. But when they saw the quality of service delivered, they started coming back to us,” he said.

From treating three patients in 1975 to 8.5 million a year now, NMC is by far the biggest healthcare provider in the UAE by market value.

The company’s shares are now traded at the London Stock Exchange (LSE).

In March, the company reported a year-on-year rise in net profit of 38 per cent in 2017. Net income rose to $209.2 million while the group’s revenues climbed 31.3 per cent to $1.6 billion for the same year. The healthcare facility is now spread across 17 countries, employing over 3,000 doctors.

And to think this man started it all with such humble beginnings.

After tasting success with NMC, Dr. Shetty said he was itching for more.

The pharma industry was almost a natural choice, considering his background.

And so in 2003, Dr Shetty launched Abu Dhabi’s first manufacturing unit – Neopharma.

Inside the Neopharma plant with the late Indian president, Dr. Abdul Kalam. Image Credit: Supplied

“At first people laughed at the idea that I wanted to start a pharma venture in the middle of a desert. Nobody was willing to lend me money to set up the company.

“But having a good connection with people always helps. I had an old friend, Mr. PA Shenoy, who worked in Bank of Baroda. He called a senior official working in the bank to approve my loan request. I needed Dh80 million and the loan was granted in two weeks,” said the 76-year-old.

“There were some initial hiccups when the company started out but we have managed to sustain in the market. Neopharma has grown with factories in Abu Dhabi, Japan and India. Products manufactured by the company are exported to over 50 countries in the world.”

Philanthropic work

Dr. Shetty and his wife Chandrakumari recently joined the philanthropic initiative created by Bill and Melinda Gates and Warren Buffett, pledging to commit more than half of their wealth to charitable causes.

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As part of this, he recently launched the Dr. BR and CR Shetty Foundation in Bengaluru, India to provide education, better health, alleviate poverty in the state of Karnataka.

But not much has been said about this man.

“My mission now is to serve the community. The community has done much for me. It is time to give back something.”

And he lives by everything he says.

Dr. Shetty is considered an epitome of generosity by people around him. He supports a number of medical facilities around the world, including the Special Care Centre in Abu Dhabi, the Cancer Foundation run by Pakistan Prime Minister, Imran Khan among others.