Dubai: They say fortune favours the brave. In the case of Indian expat Shekhar Patni, the adage may well be true.
How else would you explain a 19-year-old struggling to make ends meet back in India ending up a billionaire jewellery baron in the UAE?
Naturally, it is not everyone’s cup of tea to experience such a reversal of fortune. So what makes his story special? Ambition? A drive to excel?
Adversity, comes the quick reply from Patni. “When your back is to the wall, there is nothing left to lose, but only to gain. The important thing is to have faith that there is light at the end of the tunnel and take a plunge at any given opportunity,” the successful jewellery magnate told Gulf News inhis villa in Jumeirah Islands.
But while he keeps working towards the future, he extracts his lessons from the past.
“How can I forget my past? If anything I have learnt so much from it and try to pass on my experience and knowledge to my children, extended family members. There was a time when money was a struggle. My father’s business failed, there were eight mouths to feed – my parents and five older siblings. So I learnt to save and respect money. I also harboured a dream,” he said. [He has four sisters and two brothers.]
A throwback to tough times
Patni hails from a small town called Malegaon near Nasik, in the state of Maharashtra, India. Patni went to a Marathi medium school and later enrolled in an English medium college.
“My father’s attempt at running a business kept failing. As you know Gujaratis always [have] an entrepreneurial mindset. So my father kept trying, but could never succeed in business. As a school-going student, I don’t ever remember buying new books for studying. I would always borrow from seniors or purchase second-hand books for a very low price.”
Patni said the struggles continued and took a turn for worse. He was 15 when his mother died. His oldest sister took charge of the house. “She is 70-plus and I regard her as my second mother. She has taken care of me like her own child,” he said.
Recognising the plight of the family, one of his brothers-in-law asked him if he would be interested in coming to Dubai and working. The job profile was a salesman's in a jewellery shop in the Gold Souq. The salary offered was Dh1,200, in 1983.
“It was a very small salary. But I was very happy. At that time one UAE dirham fetched four Indian rupees. So this meant my salary was effectively Rs4,800. Back in India, I was earning Rs500 so this was a massive jump. The name of the jewellery store was Kohinoor Jewels and I worked there for four years,” said Patni.
The rest is history.
The story today and Patni’s growth
Today, being in the silver and diamond jewellery business for 28 years, Patni and his company, Jewel Trading LLC, are names to reckon with. The company started trading in jewellery inside a tiny retail shop in Gold Souq in 1991. The shop sold silver articles, gift items and souvenirs. Through years of hard work and dedication Patni grew the business and started a wholesale division and additional retail outlets for a better customer relationship.
Patni owns seven retail outlets plus one wholesale division. Jewel Trading mainly caters to Arab wedding designs in the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Bahrain, etc.
“We specialise in bridal sets," said Patni.
Jewel Trading also has a presence in Dubai Mall and Gold Souq with its diamond jewellery outlets. "We have a manufacturing unit in Mumbai where our designs are conceived and jewellery is made. As wholesalers we import silver jewellery from India, China, Korea, Thailand and Turkey, among other countries. Our jewellery is supplied to the Middle East, Africa and Russia," he added.
Jewel Trading is now looking at expanding its diamond business to UAE's capital, Abu Dhabi. "We are also looking at exploring markets like Bahrain, where we have an established presence in the silver trade," he noted.
“The market is flooded with machine-made items. The way we differ is that most of our diamond jewellery is handcrafted at our manufacturing unit in Mumbai.”
So how did the success come through?
“Hard work,” said Patni.
“I started my job as a salesman in Kohinoor jewelers in the year 1983. I was very happy there. I made friends. I was staying in a shared accommodation. If I compare my life back then to what it is was and to what it is now, it all seems like my life was really tough. But to be honest, I enjoyed every bit of it. I was young, had friends and we all worked hard for a living. That is all we knew,” said Patni.
In 1985, Patni moved to another jewellery store for a slightly higher salary. “I worked with that company for seven years and then the Gulf War was declared. There was a general fear of the unknown looming in the country. People were stocking up on food, they were sending away their jewellery to a safe locker in other countries. During this time, my boss called me and said he was shutting down some parts of his operations. The business was down. He asked me to go on a long vacation. My wife was pregnant with our first child and for a moment I thought my world had come tumbling down.”
On the one hand, Patni’s wife, Veena, was pregnant and on the other he sitting at home twiddling his thumbs. “That night I did not sleep. There were all sorts of thoughts coming in my head. I mustered courage. I knew I had seen worse in life. I took a deep long breath and thought about how I could change my life.”
The next morning Patni went to his employer and asked if he could stay on in Dubai. “I told him don’t pay me salary, but just let me stay here. I have to say that he was such a kind and generous employer. He asked me to go out and seek a business I wanted.”
This, according to Patni was perhaps the turning point in his life.
Having worked in Dubai for eight long years and having gathered enough experience to know that gold TT bars were in demand, Patni decided to try his hand at selling gold bars on his own. “Expats, especially from the sub-continent, stocked up on gold bars. I also knew that as a wholesaler, the profit margins are bigger as you get really good discounted rates on purchase.”
Slowly through word of mouth, gold buyers started hearing about a certain ‘Shekhar Patni’ in the market. As his sales started picking up, Patni was in a more comfortable state being on his own.
Soon he was looking for a place to start his own shop. “There was one barber shop in Deira which was up for grabs. The seller was asking Dh15,000 [for the] lease. I did not have that kind of money. So I borrowed from a more wealthy friend and he lent me Rs200,000 equivalent to Dh15,000 back then.”
Patni said on the first day opening his shop, he barely had Dh1,000 worth of jewellery pieces. The first few months also required effort. “My wife would join me in the shop. At that time, our older son was just a baby and she would bring him to the shop. She is a great jewellery designer and she decided to design pieces for us. There was no one working for me and so she would sit with the baby inside and man the shop when I was away. What can I say, my wife was and is a massive support.”
He then decided to buy a small engraving machine in 1991. “With this machine, we were able to write people’s names on bracelet, ring or pendant. It was from this business that I started making money.”
“Then during the Gulf War there were a number of American soldiers who were stationed here. They had a fascination for thick chunky silver jewellery. And soon my business was picking up. It was adversity that pushed me to do well.”
As his business grew, Patni opened more jewellery outlets.
Today, the jewellery baron is a success story. And his children and nephews have joined him in the business as they want to carry forward the legacy of Jewel Trading. "With youngsters taking an active role in the business, there will be more professionalism in the days ahead. Our expansion plans are afoot as we understand the markets and traditions of the Gulf region very well," Patni said.
Timeline of the company’s growth
March 1991: Jewel Trading gets first silver shop in Deira Gold Souk
January 1993: New opportunity arises and the company opens a wholesale silver trading business catering to the GCC market
1993 -1995 : Opens shop in Bur Dubai and another one in 1995 at Deira City Centre
October 2002: Starts wholesale diamond jewellery section with an emphasis on bridal sets for the GCC market
October 2008 : Opens first store in Dubai Mall
October 2009 : Opens a diamond retail store in Gold Souk
October 2018: New retail store for 22k gold jewellery to cater to UAE expats and tourists across the world is launched
October 2019: Shekhar Patni receives the coveted golden visa for his achievements and success in the UAE