Dubai: After nearly 38 years in the UAE, 65-year-old Mario Fernandes has one tip for those who want to climb the ladder of success as he did – hard work and a bag of luck.
Born in 1958 ‘when Mumbai was Bombay’, Fernandes quips, he was the fourth-born among six siblings. As a young boy, Fernandes dreamed of going to college for science and sports.
“I was a hockey player,” Fernandes said, reminiscing about wanting to graduate from a college that would support his passion for the sport. However, he was unable to fulfil this dream because his father, the family’s breadwinner, died in 1977.
Fernandes had to step up and bring in income to support the family and his siblings’ education at his mother’s insistence. He decided to do a technical course in electrical works instead, attending classes in the morning and working in the evening.
Though Fernandes tried his hand at the contract-painting business that his father had run successfully, he was not successful at it. “I was just 18, and it was easy to, you know, play with me. I realised I would never make a profit [in this business],” he added.
Soon, he started doing odd jobs across Bombay including wiring works in houses, construction jobs and sales.
“From the age of 18 to 25, I did these odd jobs… I remember once, while working as a sales executive for a chemical treatment company in Pune, I walked 26 kilometres in one day.”
Moving to the UAE
It was in 1985 that Fernandes got an interview letter for a job he hadn’t applied for. A UAE-based electromechanical company was conducting interviews in Mumbai for technical workers. It was his then-girlfriend, now wife, who had filled out the application.
Even though there were no vacancies left by the time it was his turn, Fernandes said the hiring manager Mr S.G. Nair decided to chat with him. Fernandes added that Nair, who was then working as a construction manager, decided to hire him because of ‘his positive attitude’.
With his mother's blessing, Fernandes flew to the UAE and started working in Sharjah as a technician, until he got a life-changing call in 1990. Nair, current Group MD and CEO of Danway Group of Companies, had moved on from the firm where the duo worked and requested Fernandes to join him at Danway. He accepted and started working as part of the core 5-member start-up team in December 1990.
“We used to get up early in the morning and go pick up workers, and go right away to [the site] get the job done. Then, we would bring them back on a daily basis.”
“We got our first big break in Dubai in September of ’93,” he recollected. Fernandes, then a supervisor, was personally responsible to complete a project before the deadline and the team completed the work well and on time.
“Since then, till date, I am still in Dubai, still working… So I have grown from a supervisor, to an engineer, to a senior project engineer, to site manager and now I work as a project manager. I don’t have the qualifications, but my experience is my qualification. “
Speaking about the opportunities he got in Dubai, Fernandes believes he wouldn’t have received the same chances if he had stayed in his home country. He said, “Back home, I would never be able to do what I did here… You would be tied up in one place…”
'My second home'
“This [Dubai] is my second home. I haven’t been to India that many times since I have come here. If you take an average of 40 years, maybe I have spent 4 years in India.”
Fernandes said, “I love Dubai and Dubai has given me everything… I came here without anything, and everything I have today is because of Dubai.”
“Also it [Dubai] has given me the freedom to work without fear… You can get a phone call and be with your family. With all that this country much safer, much more convenient for people like us… especially for middle-class people to achieve what they’re dreaming of.”
Being chosen as someone with an inspiring story by his company was a complete surprise to Fernandes. He gushed, “I am proud to say that it is my hard work that has given me this… But it’s not only my hard work, I have support from by superiors, all my colleagues, my wife, my son – they all supported me in my journey to this day.”
Fernandes brought his wife to the UAE in 1995, and she worked at Emirates for nearly 20 years. The couple have been together for nearly 47 years, of which they have been married for 34. Their son received a Golden Visa recently based on his academic excellence.
Fernandes bought a home in Pune for when he returns home. As for his post-retirement plans, he said he hopes to visit Dubai often. He smiled and added, “I will try and see what I can do… Now that my son has the Golden Visa, maybe he can sponsor us…”
This is the fourth of a seven-part series highlighting how Dubai has changed the lives of citizens and expatriates. These are all employees of companies that won Taqdeer Award.