Dubai: For many expatriates in the UAE, the mid-50s are a time to look ahead to retirement, to relax after many years of hard work.
Not for M.J. Thomas, 75, from the Indian state of Kerala, who decided to take the plunge into business when he was 57, with savings from 30 years of working in Dubai.
“In many ways, my second innings in Dubai began after retirement. I started a marine services company in 2003 with two partners, making use of all my experience,” says Thomas, who came to Dubai in January 1973.
“We made small investments, had a few good clients and moved step by step making sure that growth was maintained. So, leaving the country and going back to India was never in question.”
Forty-nine years after arriving in Dubai, Thomas is nostalgic about his experiences in the country and a life well spent.
“Like many others who arrive here, I too came to Dubai due to financial constraints. I had spent eight years in Delhi working with USAID and my experience there gave me the confidence that I would find a good job in Dubai,” Thomas says.
The search for that ‘good job’ in a reputed organisation did not last long, and he landed one in International Marine Services (IMS) which specialised in the fabrication of oil and gas-related products, and provided professional services and supplies for the burgeoning marine and oil field sector.
“The company provided a good environment where one could keep growing. The salary was good, and the family and children were taken care of well.”
After working for 25 years, Thomas left as administration officer in 1995 when the company was going through changes.
In many ways Dubai is my first home. I have spent more years in this country than I have in the land of my birth. This country appreciates the hard work of its residents and has given me a Golden visa. So I never seriously thought of leaving Dubai.
“That was when I started looking for business opportunities. The environment was conducive to branch out on my own. Dubai was expanding and there were big advantages in starting a business.”
A meeting with two other friends and a business proposal later, they set up a marine services company in February 2003. With major projects, like the Palm Jumeirah, being envisioned, there was a need for marine and offshore services, which the company helped meet.
Currently Thomas is the Managing Director of Aquajets Marine Equipment LLC, which is a solutions provider in the field of Water Jetting Equipment used for industrial cleaning in marine, oil and gas, construction, and pipeline testing Industries.
“Dedication and hard work from all those we associated with helped us grow in the marine industry. With a ready availability of materials in the country, it was a pleasure to do business,” Thomas says.
“Outside work, the church along with its various activities, helped us stay rooted in the country.”
Thomas got married in 1974 to Mariamma Thomas, and their three children studied in Indian High School, Dubai. Today, two of them along with their families have made the UAE their home.
What were those days like?
“Even in those days taxis were available. But we used the abra most of the time.
“The rain just kept pouring and before we knew it we were standing in knee-deep water. There was nothing we could do, except pray and wait for the rain to stop. We went home disappointed that day because the weather came in the way of all the hard work that we had put in.”
But disappointment turned to joy many years later when the construction of the church in Jebel Ali was completed in 2001. “As convenor of the inauguration, I had the opportunity to interact and welcome many guests to the event. I am glad that this freedom of worship, which reflects the country’s religious tolerance, will help the future generations keep their faith alive in the years to come.”
“There was no scarcity for anything – including food and clothing. Of course, there were no shopping malls like the ones we have today. But we would get everything we needed in Mushrif Bazaar or in Cosmos Lane.
“Eating out with the family would mean going to Wimpy’s, Woodlands or Sadhana Restaurants. That would usually be done once a month.”
So, did he at any time want to go back to India like many of his colleagues?
“In many ways Dubai is my first home. I have spent more years in this country than I have in the land of my birth. This country appreciates the hard work of its residents and has given me a Golden visa. So I never seriously thought of leaving Dubai,” Thomas says.
Expats who made it big in the UAE
“The country ensures that its residents stay safe. The facilities for transportation are second to none, children can continue their higher studies here, and the healthcare facilities are excellent. So whether you are employed or run your own business, this is an ideal place to live in.”
Thomas, who relied on savings to start his company, only used the minimum of credit facilities provided by the bank. “The pandemic made us look with utmost care at every expense and made sure that we could survive it. This country provides a good environment to do business. But study the product and the market well before taking the plunge,” he advises.