Dubai: Jacky’s Electronics is a household name in the UAE. Meet Jacky Panjabi, who beat all the odds and rose like a phoenix after being fired from his job as an assistant at a tailoring shop in Hong Kong.
How would people react to being fired? Chances are, a lot of people would blame destiny for their loss, but this man had the support and encouragement of his elder brother Ishwardas Panjabi.
Jacky told his brother he would have no more of this. “Io simply told him that I did not want to work under someone. I wanted to go out on my own and my brother who was my mentor, guide, my well-wisher told me to start a company on my own.”
And so Jacky’s International was born in Hong Kong in the year 1970.
Can you imagine an 18-year-old starting out on his own in a fairly new country. Well, this man had all the conviction to succeed and today, the Jacky Group of Companies has an annual turnover of $500 million (Dh1.83 billion) in the UAE and worldwide.
In an interview with Gulf News, Jacky spoke about his journey and that of his family in the world of business. “We are originally from New . On October 7, 1968, I was sent to Singapore by my elder brother Ishwardas Panjabi, to find a job there. I was only 16 years old. Our father was running a little shop in Singapore and while returning to India during one of his trips, he had died on the way. We could never find his body. This was 1967. With our father gone, my elder brother and I had to fend for ourselves, be independent. And so it was Singapore for me,” said Jacky.
His father was running a mail order business in Singapore. “Today, the term is online business. Back in the late 1960s and '70s, orders were placed and sent in envelopes. Remember, there were no computers, no online purchases, no smart phones or apps. Everything was done physically,” explained Jacky.
"The business – which my father had started – was called Raju’s international. Raju was my cousin’s son,” said Jacky. He spent about eight-nine months in Singapore. “I was not paid a salary as it was my father’s company, but that phase of my life proved to be a learning curve for me.”
“For me, personally, that phase of my life was one of the best. Then on September 7, 1969, I was sent to Hong Kong by my brother. It was a big market and a lot of people were moving to Hong Kong, looking for opportunities.”
“When I reached Hong Kong, there was no job for me. For three months, I was jobless. My brother had given me some money. Remember, at that time, you could only carry $8 from India. We had some relatives in Hong Kong who were kind enough to keep me in their house. Finally, after three months, I got a job in a tailor shop. Not too many people know about this,” he told Gulf News during the interview.
“My salary was $20 a month. My job was that of an assistant in a tailoring shop. Trust me when I say this -- I managed to save $15 from my salary. I used to spend only $5 for my personal expenses. I did not have to shell out for my accommodation and so the rest of the money would all go into my savings.”
The year was 1970
"My employer called me one day to say the company was shrinking its operations and I was laid off, as I was a new employee. I was one of the first ones to let go."
This was a turning point in Jacky’s life.
That was when he called his brother and told him that he had had enough of it. “I said I was not going to work for anyone else. I wanted to be independent and start my own business.”
Jacky’s Electronics was born
“On July 21, after my 18th birthday, I went and registered a company in Hong Kong. The company was called Jacky’s International. It was a one-man show. I was doing everything, from typing invoices, binding, shipping, packing. It was my baby and I had to nurture it.”
During this phase, Jacky also picked up Cantonese, one of the hardest languages in the world to learn. While starting out, Jacky’s International was dealing with two countries. Today, the company deals with 130 countries.
Coming to Dubai
In 1985, Jacky had just concluded a business trip to the United Kingdom and was enroute to Hong Kong. He decided to take a stop-over in Dubai. The rest is history, as they say.
“I was staying at the Inter-Continental Hotel in Deira. I spent two days and went around the city. Since our business was dealing more with electronics, I went around scanning products at Al Futtaim, Eros, Jumbo Electronics, Juma Al Majid and others. I visited all of these outlets and gathered all the information. By the end of two days, I knew products, prices, models ... you name it.”
Jacky returned to Hong Kong with a lot of enthusiasm. After all, Dubai was a great market for electronics as there was no import and export duty back then. “Air-conditioners especially were available at cheap rates. I returned home and told my brother about Dubai and how it was way cheaper than the rest of the markets. After two months, I came back to scan the market in Dubai. This time, I bought a container loaded with appliances. Lots of air-conditioners. Three months later, my brother told me to go back to Dubai and open an office.”
And so, in 1985, Jacky came to Dubai with his nephew to set up an office here. “I spent one month at the Sheraton Hotel, looking for sponsors and office space. Back then, we had to physically get out and do the leg work. There were no apps or sites to register online. There was a lot of paper work to deal with too,” explained Jacky.
“We wanted to name the company Jacky’s International. But the economic department declined. They saw our brochure. It was the one we had made for our Hong Kong business. The brochure had pictures of many electronic gadgets. So the official told us to name the company Jacky’s Electronics.”
Just imagine, today, everybody knows Jacky’s Electronics.
The first office in Dubai
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“We opened a small office in Nasser Square, Deira. It was just about 800 square feet of space. It was an office-cum- home space. Today, much is talked about SOHOs (small office home office). In 1985, we started operations in Dubai with this concept,” explained Jacky.
Jacky said the initial years were a struggle. “Opportunities were a plenty, but business sentiment was low. People were returning home. It was 1985.”
But Jacky saw opportunity. And there has been no looking back since then. “Our import-export business grew rapidly. Our customer reach widened massively. From a traditional mail-order business, we grew our line of business and turnover improved. We may have had a business already when we came to Dubai, but our line of business and the rate of growth of our business grew rapidly. Dubai was the hub for the import-export business and so we made the best use of all that we had. At one point, we were exporting everything possible, even cars. Prices were right. There was no duty or tax,” said Jacky.
Dubai, a competitive market
Jacky said Dubai was the most competitive market for electronics except office automation. “TVs were not very cheap, but prices of air-conditioners were unbelievably low. That business was growing every year. It was our main export business.”
Then in 1988, the company decided to open its first showroom in Nasser Square. “We had no retail experience, but in 1988, we were offered our first retail showroom space. That showroom still exists. It is my favourite. It is so close to my heart,” said Jacky.
Soon this showroom became the talk of the town. “Our initial investment was Dh4 million. Until then, there was no other company that was dealing with multiple brands under one roof. And that is why we became so popular.”
Looking at where the company is today
Jacky's has more than four decades of worldwide operations. From its humble beginnings in Hong Kong in 1970, Jacky’s Group of Companies has come a long way to become one of the leading international traders in electronics and general merchandise in the Middle East, Africa, South Asia and the Far East.
Jacky’s Group of Companies, based in Dubai, has five subsidiaries under it, namely:
• Jacky’s Electronics
• Jacky’s Middle East
• Jacky’s Business Solutions
• Jacky’s Gulf
• Jacky’s Logistics Worldwide LLC
The Group currently employs more than 600 people worldwide.
“Competition has increased. Customers are smart. We have adopted e-commerce into our business line,” Jacky said.