He landed in Dubai with a debt of Rs 10, but went on to become a multi-millionaire in only a few years’ time.
Veteran businessman and cricket aficionado Shyam Bhatia (76) is a success story like his other counterparts who made it big in the UAE.
And according to Bhatia, this was possible because he harboured a hunger for success, spent a disciplined life, strived to be a good leader and played the game with a straight bat.
Bhatia, managing director of Alam Steel, a Jebel Ali–based company manufacturing and distributing steel, cannot help talking the cricket jargon and in an interview to Gulf News said much of his growth and achievement in the UAE has been due to the principles of this sporting game he learnt while growing up.
“Cricket opened doors for me. How else do you think an insurance sales executive could turn a thriving businessman in Dubai,” he said.
And this is why Bhatia is always looking at ways to give back to the cricketing world and its fans – as he got a lot from the game as well.
The Shyam Bhatia Cricket Museum for one, set up in his plush Jumeirah villa is an example of what cricket means to this businessman. The veteran cricket aficionado has accumulated one of the finest collections of cricketing memorabilia in the world and the museum is an ode to some of the greatest names in the history of the sport.
In fact, Bhatia is the only expat in the UAE to own a private cricket museum in his house.
But let us first trace our footsteps to when Bhatia set foot in Dubai, sliding down a rope – like most of his counterparts – landing in the middle of the sea. The year was 1965 and the date August 7. Bhatia was a young 21-year-old and he had just completed college.
“I was struggling to bring food to the table and decided to look at greener pastures for a living. So Dubai it was for me,” said Bhatia.
About his journey and arrival into Dubai, the veteran said he was pleasantly shocked when his ship anchored mid-stream. There was a porter to bring his luggage down, but Bhatia had no money to pay him.”
“Back in the days, we could not carry cash with us in the voyage. We just sneaked in some coins to buy food on the ship. But this food was terrible and I was hungry. So on our first stop in Karachi, I used the money to buy food from a restaurant near the harbour in the Karachi port.”
Bhatia borrowed the ten rupees from a friend and paid the porter. Today it is another story altogether as Bhatia is at the helm of a business chain and is a successful multi-millionaire.
So how did this man selling insurance become a multi-millionaire? What was his journey like?
“My hunger for success and passion for life has got me where I am today.”
“In the 1960s when I came to the UAE, people were always cribbing about the difficult life. But I always saw the positive side of everything around me. I tried to find positivity around me.”
Bhatia was an avid cricketer before setting foot in Dubai. “I was playing for Ranji Trophy - a domestic first-class cricket championship in India - played between teams representing regional and state cricket associations. I played two years in a row representing Rajasthan and Saurashtra.”
Unfortunately, this did not help him earn a lot of money and he was forced to look for greener pastures in order to earn a living. Bhatia heard about Dubai from friends and relatives and decided to try his luck in this land of opportunities. The rest is history as they say.
Bhatia founded Alam Steel in 1979. It started as a small building materials trading firm engaged in the supply of steel, cement and timber to the growing construction industry in the UAE. It grew to become one of the largest diversified building material trading firms in the region.
In 2002, Bhatia decided to specialise in the steel industry and rebranded the company. In 2007 Bhatia was instrumental in establishing the process of reinforcement bars for the construction industry. With an annual capacity of 360,000 tonnes per year, today Alam Steel is one of the largest processing centres in the region.
Cricket and how it helped him get through life in Dubai
“In 1965, I joined membership in the India Sports Club. I went there every day to play badminton and soon formed a cricket team with other fellow expats.”
Bhatia invested in a 22-yard cricket coil matting. Along with my friends and team members, we used it to spread it on a flat ground and play cricket. “One of our favorite venues was the Royal Air Force ground in Sharjah. Every Friday, after a game of cricket, my friends and I would see a movie in the open air theatre at the RAF.”
He said the game of cricket opened doors for him to build a network and establish his business. “As an insurance salesman, my job involved meeting people. When I would visit people, they would recognise me as they knew I played local cricket and that I was a Ranji player. Soon I was able to establish a network of contacts and my social life was buzzing.”
“In 1969, I joined my friend in his textile business. It was called Malaya Indo Traders. I worked with him for a couple of years and decided to venture on my own."
The Federation had been formed and the leaders had a vision. Bhatia decided to get involved in the building materials business as there was a lot of construction happening. “My company initially dealt with import and export of building materials and soon we specialised in the steel business.”
As a successful businessman living in Dubai, it is heartening to see Bhatia has not forgotten the good old days of struggle. Gratitude is a word he uses often.
“I am grateful for everything that has come my way. None of my achievement would have been possible without the vision of the Rulers and the support they rendered to expats like me in the country.”
“The UAE and the game of cricket has given me much in life. And it was time I gave back to the society.”
Cricket for care
In 2007, Bhatia launched an initiative, Cricket For Care Foundation. The idea behind this was the businessman’s success in Dubai and how he applied the principles of the game of cricket in his daily business life.
“Sports teaches you discipline, teamwork, leadership and integrity. I applied all these principles in my business to make a success. Added to this, I love the sport and I wanted to take my own passion to another level.”
The mandate of the Cricket for Care Foundation is to provide cricket equipment, facilities and coaching to underprivileged children all around the world. Till date, the foundation has made donations in over 20 countries including non-cricket playing countries like Thailand, Indonesia, Japan. Bhatia has pumped $1 million (Dh3.678 million) so far to help children get interested in the game of cricket.
He is giving free cricket training to under-privileged children all around the world as he wants them to have a skill, a passion and hopes one day a star will be born.
“The best compliment I received was from a social worker in Afghanistan. He said the children had only held rifles and guns and with our initiative they were getting a chance to hold a bat in their hand. That touched me very strongly. This is what I want now. Children to benefit from cricket. End of the day it is not just about the game, but learning discipline and incorporating those principles in your day to day life.”
“I want to make these children better human beings through cricket.”