How many accountants do you know who came to the UAE for a salary of Dh900, but ended up as a billionaire jewellery magnate?
Meet veteran Indian expatriate Ramesh Bhogilal Vora, 68, a successful Dubai-based expat whose business Bafleh Jewellery enjoys an annual turnover of 15 to 18 tonnes of gold and jewellery sales.
Early days of struggle: a way of life then
It is another thing that his early years of life in the UAE was a bit of a struggle. But he will never reveal that side of him. In the course of conversation, we realise that it is not because he wants to hide his past, but that it is his personality, which sees life’s struggles as only a passing phase.
So, if you want to know more about this man, just dig deep and see for yourself how this accountant did not earn his billions overnight.
Take this: Vora, who hails from Wadhwan City (Surendranagar district) in Gujarat, India, came to the UAE first in 1976. He arrived in Sharjah to work as an accountant for a private construction company and for a monthly salary of Dh900.
Until 1984, Vora’s life was static.
“I will not say it was a struggle. It was the way life was back in those days. We lived in a sharing accommodation in the same building as my work place. My office was in the first floor and my house on the third. At first I lived as a bachelor in a one-bedroom apartment. After my marriage, we shifted to a two-bedroom apartment, but shared with another family. We became close and till today we are in touch with each other. Today when you look back, it may seem as if we struggled and that life was hard. But it was a way of life. We just lived this way.”
Today he lives with his family - wife, son, daughter-in-law and grand-children (twins) - in a sprawling mansion located at Jumeirah.
Now this is what you call a success story.
So how did the success come
Hard-work and a desire for more and all good things in life, comes the quick reply.
“Back home in Surendranagar, my life was static. There was no progress in my life and everything around was getting too mundane. So I decided to get out of my comfort zone and look for greener pastures in Mumbai.”
It was the year 1971 and Vora had just finished his graduation. “I was rearing for more and so Mumbai it was.”
Working as a street vendor in Mumbai
Vora admits to working as a street vendor in Mumbai when he moved to the city, selling clarified butter and edible oil for a living. It was his way of finding a footing in the city – the happening city of India – popularly called the land of opportunities.
“That was perhaps the hardest part of my life. Back home my family had a great reputation of being jewellery makers. For the first six months I lived in Mumbai, I did not share my address with any of my family members as I did not want them to see my struggles.”
The veteran businessman said the turning point in his life came when a friend recommended a job in Mumbai’s popular Zaveri Bazaar.
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For the uninitiated, Zaveri Bazaar is a jewellery market and a major hub for the industry in Mumbai. It is located at Bhuleshwar in South Mumbai, just north of Crawford Market. Zaveri Bazaar is a muddle of narrow lanes, with hundreds of jewelry shops that sell gems and jewels. Some popular jewellery traders here are Tribhovandas Bhimji Zaveri (TBZ), Dwarkadas Chandumal, Dhirajlal Bhimji Zaveri among others.
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More than 65 per cent of all gold trading and dealing in India is estimated to originate from this market.
So when he was given a chance to work here he jumped at it. “It was my dream workplace. Coming from a family who were into jewellery trading – this was the ultimate place to be. I wanted to get out of my Surendranagar life, just so I could be in the hub of India’s gold trading.”
The need for more
This too was not satisfying enough.
“Life was great but my salary was not high enough. Again, it was the drive to earn more and do more with my life that pushed me to look for greener pastures. A friend said there were job opportunities floating around in Sharjah. I came across a vacancy for an accountant's post. I applied. I just wanted a break into the UAE.”
The rest is history
In 1976, Vora joined Shattaf Group of companies in their jewellery division. Vora worked in the jewellery division of the company, Shattaf Jewellers under Haribhai Soni and Dheeraj Siroya.
This – Vora said, laid the foundation to his personal learning curve. “I learnt so much from them and I still hold onto their values even today.”
Vora worked in the company until 1991 and at the end of his tenure in the firm, he worked as a manager.
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Adversity turned to his favour
In 1991 the Gulf War happened. And he left the UAE to go back home as things were not going well for him. Back home he was very restless. And so he was back to the country in 1992. This time he knew there was more stability needed in his life.
The same year he started Bafleh Jewellery with a local partner Quwaider Bafleh. The rest is history.
“He is an active partner in my company and we are a team. We work really well and together, we have taken the company to the next level. It has been a great joyous ride,” said Vora.
About Bafleh Jewellery
Bafleh Jewellery is a wholesale business dealing in gold, diamond and jewellery. Vora started the company’s first office – which was all of just 192 square feet of space.
“When I started there were only two staff working with me. Today we employ more than 220 people with offices across emirates.”
In 2008, his son Chirag Vora joined the business and he expanded the business from primarily wholesale to retail across UAE.
“We currently import jewellery from 10-11 countries, supplying customers to more than 30 countries,” said Vora.
Life is complete with family
Vora said his achievements have all been thanks to the support and love he has received from his family. “My wife has struggled with me and I remember with a little child in hand, she would lend me support in my business. My son is helping me in my business and I cannot thank him enough for that. I feel blessed with my life. I worked hard to achieve and have the love and support of a very loving and caring family.”
My parents played a major role in my life. Following the success in my life, I have built a hospital in Surendranagar – my hometown – in my parents names - Vora Bhogilal Shantilal and Shardaben Vora. This is the least I can do for the community,” said Vora.
In the last 15 years, the Gems and Jewellery Export Promotion Council of India (GJEPC) under the Ministry of Commerce has appointed Vora as the Middle East co-ordinator in an honorary capacity. Part of his job as the co-ordinator is to introduce jewelers from this part of the world to the Indian jewellery industry.
Advise to budding entrepreneurs
Think big, have a vision, stick to your core business idea, don’t crumble under pressure and only get into business if it is coming from your heart and you will feel it strong.