How many success stories have you heard, where a janitor turned his life around and became a multi-millionaire?
Meet Ghanshyam Jethanand Pagarani, 75 and you will realise miracles do happen.
The chairman of Yogi Group of companies with an annual turnover of Dh500 million was once an office and tea boy, sweeping and mopping the floor of the shop where he first worked in Dubai.
Yet, a conversation with this gracious person can leave you humbled. Despite his massive success, his integrity and humility have remained intact.
“If you work honestly and with the right intention, nothing can hold you back from achieving your dreams. Have a goal, stay persistent and work hard,” said Pagarani in an interview with Gulf News.
1967 - now
“I set foot in this land at exactly 1.45 pm,” he recalled with a razor sharp memory. Pagarani came to Dubai on January 17, 1967.
“I cannot forget that day. The date and time of my arrival is etched in my memory vividly,” he said.
Sliding down a rope
Pagarani came on the Dumra steam boat from Mumbai. His journey — like several others who came on such voyagae — lasted seven days long.
“And when the ship stopped mid-stream there was no platform or stairs to take us down to the boat waiting to take us shore. There was a long thick rope dangling from the ship and all the passengers had to hold on to it firmly to slide into the waiting boat. Lose the grip and there was a good chance you could land in water. It was adventure from day one,” said Pagarani with a smile.
Tough financial situation
Pagarani’s family was in deep financial trouble. It was 1964, and he was in first year university. "I was working even then, earning a salary of Rs. 30 a month or rupee a day. My job was that of a salesman, selling garments.”
His family was large with ten siblings and parents.
“My father was a businessman dealing in import export of food-stuff. He was cheated by his partner and lost all his money. Added to this, he had a generous nature which left him giving away his monies to family and those in need of financial help. This meant he saved little and so when the financial blow came to us, we were hit badly,” said Pagarani, unable to contain his tears while recounting his childhood days.
He is quick to add how grateful he is to his father who taught him kindness.
“My father spent 90 per cent of his earnings on charity. Thanks to my father’s good deeds and blessings, I have turned my life around, but most importantly, I have not forgotten my past. They will remain with me for the rest of my life,” he said.
Coming to Dubai
Pagarani reminisced, "My sister lived here with her husband. My brother – in – law worked in a private company that dealt with bikes and cars. He got me a job as a janitor in the showroom, which was more like a shop back in the days."
“I came here for a salary of Qatari Rial (QAR) 325 or Indian Rupees (INR) 650. The Qatari Rial was the currency back then. A typical day for me would begin at 8 am until 1.30 pm. I would take an afternoon break and return at 3.30 pm to the showroom and I worked here until 7 pm. I had the keys to the shop and I had to get in early to sweep and mop the floor. I had to removed the dust off from bikes and cars, clean window panes before anyone arrived to work. I also doubled-up as a tea boy,” he said.
"Life was tough for sure. The summers were harsh especially as there was no electricity. My skin would peel off because of the heat, but I had to hang in there. We were poor back home and I had to work hard for a living and support my family in India,” he added.
But Pagarani was different, he was more than just a janitor. He had studied in an English medium university back home in Mumbai and had even done a course in typing. With a natural flair for languages, he soon picked up Arabic and Farsi.
He also became curious about things lying around in his shop. So he started reading all the manuals of bikes and cars displayed in the shop. He learnt about spare parts and soon started helping his colleagues to order spare parts from various suppliers.
Pagarani said he started receiving job offers from suppliers as he was that good with identifying spare parts. “Life was simple and I was happy. I barely spent my salary as there were no avenues for dining and entertainment back in the days. So my life was work and home.”
But there were continuous financial challenges at home, and Pagarani began to look for more work. A year into his job, he started looking for other part-time jobs and soon he started working 19 hours a day.
“After 7pm, when my duty in the shop would finish, I took up a part-time job as a typist in a typing centre close to my house. Those days there was a dearth of typists and I had a very good typing speed. That would go on until 10pm and after that I would meet a local friend who was into the real estate business. I helped him with some brokerage deals and it fetched me QAR 10 per transaction.”
Life went on this way and Pagarani got married in 1970. He moved homes from his bachelor pad in Deira to a slightly bigger room space in Bur Dubai. His salary remained the same all through the years and when he got married, the company raised his allowance by an additional QAR 50 - “QAR 25 went for my daily Abra rides four times a day from Bur Dubai to Deira and vice versa," he said.
A royal intervention
In May 974 Pagharani decided to quit his job. A personal incident took place and his relationship with the company ended on a sour note. “My two-year-old son fell sick and had to be rushed to Al Maktoum Hospital. I went an hour late to work and was reprimanded for it. I tried explaining my situation but my boss would hear nothing of it. So I put in my papers. That too did not go down well with my company. Next thing, a couple of policemen were knocking on the door at my house in Bur Dubai. They were standing with a stick and asked me to come down my building. My heart was pacing and I did not know what to do.”
This was a turning point in his life and the incident came like a blessing in disguise.
In the seven years he lived and worked in Dubai, being the kind and generous person he is, Pagarani touched the lives of many ruling family members. And he called one of them to bail him out of the situation.
“The ruling family member (Pagarani wished to maintain his privacy) called my boss and asked straight why he was acting this way. To quote him in his words, he said, “why are you acting like a Hyderabadi?”, “leave this poor man alone.”
The job was done and the police left the scene.
"My boss later offered me a partnership in the company. But I declined. Until the last day, I fulfilled my duties. On the last day of work, I swept and mopped the floor, made tea for my colleagues and said good-bye. I decided to start something on my own."
Pagarani’s first company, ‘Twinkle Import Export’, was set up in Dubai on September 5, 1974, his eldest daughter’s birthday. The company dealt with import and export of cement. “I bought cement for QAR 4 and sold it for QAR 4.5. But I did not have any capital to invest. So I pawned my Cami watch to buy cement from a supplier,” said Pagarani unable to contain his tears.
There was no dramatic shift in his life however and he did not see a major spike in his career graph. In fact, a year into setting up his business, Pagarani was back to square one. His sponsor cheated him of his investment and took everything away from him which he had earned in the past year.
Like a guardian angel, the ruling family member, who previously bailed him out from the cops, came to his rescue once again. He stepped in yet another time and this time on a long-term basis. Pagarani had found his aide and sponsor.
No looking back since
Today, Pagarani, as chairman of Yogi Group runs several companies under the mother company. The 48-year-old organisation founded by him is a success story which has transcended boundaries and become a multi-faceted organisation. The company is into real estate, construction, imports and exports of building materials, manufacturing and hiring interior, building management services. The company serves over 500 clients and employs more than 1,200 people.
“Dubai has been very lucky for me. It is the land of luck and opportunities. If your intention is good, all will be great. Just be honest in everything you do. Dubai is also home to my wife and children who were born and raised here. They have only known Dubai to be their home.”
“This could not have been achieved without the love and support from the ruling family. It was in my stars to serve them and taste success in their land. I am indebted and grateful every day for this life,” he said with humility that leaves us humbled.
Pagarani has five children and 10 grand-children.
“Every day we meet for breakfast and every Friday we have a family gathering. The values taught to me by my father have been passed on to my children as well. Every day I remind them about the importance of money and value it constantly. Today life is not as it used to be back then and therefore it is far more challenging to deal with all the temptations around us and not get carried away,” Pagarani said.