Everybody looks for inspiration from someone or something to propel their lives. And for Bharat Bhatia it was and is Bollywood legend Amitabh Bachchan.
In fact if it wasn’t for this actor and his movies, Bhatia said he would not have stepped out of his comfort zone as an 18-year old boy way back in 1983 to work in Dubai.
Taking inspiration from Bollywood legend Amitabh Bachchan
“Amitabh Bachchan’s movies taught one to be self-made and feel worthy of yourself. His baritone voice would ring in my ears every day to do something different and so here I am.”
Bharat Bhatia is now 54 and CEO of Conares - a steel manufacturing unit in Dubai which records an annual turnover of Dh1.2 billion with the goal to touch Dh2.2 billion in another year. The company’s assets alone are worth at least half a billion dollars while Bhatia’s own personal net worth easily runs into millions of dollars.
But before all of this, Bhatia came to Dubai as a 18-year-old with a job profile of a pick–up driver and salesman. The universe had different plans for him, but only time would show him that.
“I landed in Dubai on November 2 1983. [I] am soon going to complete 36 years in a country that has made me who I am today. Gratitude is the word that comes to my mind, at this point,” said Bhatia in an interview with Gulf News at his manufacturing plant in Jebel Ali Free Zone.
“I came [to Dubai] as a salesman and pick-up driver for a hardware shop in Dubai. My employer also owned a garment shop in Bur Dubai’s Juma Masjid road and I worked evenings there selling clothes. I worked hard for a living - from 7 am until 11 pm. My salary was just Dh1,500. But I was happy. I just wanted to make it on my own,” he remenisced.
History in Bahrain
However, the Middle East was not a new geographical zone for Bhatia's family. Bhatia said that his great-grandfather was the official driver for the Bahrain ruler nearly nine decades ago. His grandfather also worked for the ruling family there. They [his great grandfather and grandfather] were involved in the pearl fishing industry of Bahrain.
Bhatia’s father however dabbled in real estate business back home in India and was the one who found success in the family lineage.
So when Bhatia told his father he wanted to work in Dubai as a driver and salesman, it took some convincing.
“My father was not too happy with the idea. But I was inspired. I had seen enough of Amitabh Bachchan movies to know that when you are a self-made person, the feeling of worthiness is at its peak. And so I left home at 18 for greener pastures,” said Bhatia.
Asking for a Dh200 salary hike
Four years after his arrival in Dubai [in 1987], Bhatia was engaged to be married. He added, “My father asked me to return home to India as a meagre salary of Dh1,500 would not be sufficient anymore, what with my family growing.”
Bhatia’s father gave him an ultimatum at this point. “He said ask your boss to increase your salary to Dh5,000 or else come back to India.”
Next day Bhatia mustered the courage to speak to his boss. But he was scared to ask him to increase his salary to Dh5,000. He said, “It was a massive jump and I know he would refuse right away. So I asked him for a more reasonable hike of just Dh200 instead!”
But that too was declined, leaving Bhatia heart-broken. The next step was clear to Bhatia after his dad's ultimatum - he decided to put in his papers and look for another job.
Turning point in his life
This, he says was the turning point in his life. When Bhatia quit his job after working in the company for four years, he only had Dh7,500 saved in cash and Dh5,000 worth of gold jewellery.
Bhatia insists there were no ill feelings when he left.“He [the boss] taught me business principles, he taught me how to deal with customers and make a presence in the market. He was a matured businessman and I was a young man who did not even go to college. So he groomed me. And he groomed me well. If I have a business sense today, it is all thanks to him. I will be ever grateful."
Citing an example of this, Bhatia talked about how one day, owing to a wound on his feet, he decided to wear open sandals to work instead of the formal shoes. “My boss looked at my feet and said I had to wear my shoes or go home. He did not want me in the office with my sandals. He was a perfectionist and I try and incorporate his principles till today.”
Back to India and then back again
Bhatia continued, “At first I went back to India but within a week became restless. I told my father I wanted to return to Dubai. I say this to people even now. Once you breathe the air of Dubai, you don’t want to be any place else. This is the story of expats. This is home to us.”
And so he took up a job in a shipping company but within a year it closed down. “The company went bust and I was back to square one.”
He was running out of options.
Starting out on his own
As to his decision to start something of his own after all this, Bhatia said, “I had some money saved from my previous job and together with what I had saved from my second job – it all amounted to Dh14,300 cash. I decided to start my own company. After paying for my license, a local sponsor and rent for my shop, I was left with Dh20 in my pocket. In order to start my business, I borrowed money from my supplier and clinched my first deal. I made my sale and returned all money to the supplier. Plus I had a little profit left which I reinvested. I have grown my business this way since.”
According to people in the industry, Bhatia’s company is unique in the sense that it does not work on credit basis.
“We are a manufacturing company and we work only on cash or Letter of Credit basis. So effectively, we have zero bad debts within the company,” Bhatia told Gulf News.
There has been no looking back since for him – popularly called in Dubai and among industry people – as the steel man or steel magnate of Dubai. Bhatia has 750 people working in his company now.
Words of wisdom
“Never stop aiming for the stars. Even today my friends tell me I should thank god that my first boss refused to give me the Dh200 raise. I turned that around to my benefit. If you have a dream do what you can to realise it.”
Bhatia also advised youngsters with a dream to be entrepreuners that keep your core focus in mind.
Don't give up
“Don’t deviate from your main core business. A lot of times people are tempted to try different things at one time. That doesn’t work. It just cause more chaos and confusion.”
Creating work life balance
“My family works in my company. My wife and two sons are closely involved in the business. We keep a professional relationship at work. But we make sure to have a good holiday.”