Jenny Joseph lived in poverty before he set foot in the UAE at the age of 18. Today, he is 57 and a multi-millionaire florist who owns his namesake business - Jenny Flowers. His life took a 360-degree turn for the better, a chance few get in their lifetime.
This is also why Joseph is humble and grateful for the achievements in his life. As we sat down for an interview with this florist-turned-businessman, his soft persona was a reaffirmation of what he wants to ultimately achieve.
“I want to be known as a good human-being that is all,” Joseph said.
Growing up with responsibilities
Born in a little village known as Manjoor in Kerala, Joseph is a third-generation descendant of Bishop Mar Mathew Makil of the Knanaya Catholics community in Kottayam.
Talking to Gulf News in his shop in Oud Metha, Joseph said his childhood was harsh in every possible way.
Hailing from the Kasaragod district, Kerala in India, Joseph was entrusted the responsibility of taking care of his 10-member family from a very young age.
“Getting money to the table was tough to say the least. My father died when I was young and my mother had to shoulder the responsibility of taking care of 10 children. I was ambitious and willing to work hard, and was the natural choice to be ‘the one’ to step out of the comfort zone and work for a livelihood.”
Living away from his parents and siblings was not a new concept to him; he was packed off to live with his maternal grandmother when he was just 10 years old. Living with his grandmother came with hardships.
“I was her pet, alright, but there was a whole lot of responsibility on my shoulder[s] when I was living with her. My day would start with preparing tea for my grandmother, wash[ing] her hair and do[ing] the morning prayers with her. I also helped my grandmother with the household chores. Even after all these years I remember my grandmother. She was a major influence in my life and I pay my gratitude to her every day, even today.”
His grandparents were timber merchants, but his grandmother had a love for gardening and landscaping. It was almost a given that Joseph would end up running a business – but only time would tell when and how he would rise to become a multi-millionaire.
When Joseph turned 18, his grandmother felt the time was right for him to leave home and find a job outside the country. It was 1981 and Dubai was the talk of the town, it was said to be a place akin to the 'Promised Land'.
“We were going through tough financial circumstances at home and I was forced to get out of India to earn a living. It was the need of the hour.”
“There were many people from Kerala who were working in the Gulf. When they returned to India for holidays, they would not stop gushing about the promising life here and how it was the city with a massive saving capacity. A friend of mine who used to clean cars in Dubai arranged a visa for me”, Joseph said.
In 1981, Joseph landed in the city.
“Within a year, I found a job at a hotel in Deira, where I worked as a janitor-cum-receptionist. It was a small Inn and I was put in charge of the entire place. My employer was a Pakistani businessman and we bonded really well. He laid a lot of trust in me and soon I was managing the place on my own. I worked here for eight straight years before my boss decided to relocate to Singapore. He gave me the responsibility of running the hotel in my hands. It was a huge responsibility,” he recalled 38 years later.
He was much loved at his workplace and his life improved.
“I remitted money every month to my mother and grandmother. The money was used for their daily sustenance and also took care of my siblings’ education. There were a lot of expectations from me”, Joseph said.
However, in a confession to Gulf News, Joseph admitted he felt was not mature enough at the time to take on the responsibility of the hotel business. “I was young and my focus was not on the job at hand. I had several hobbies including dance and theatre, and was deeply involved in them. My hobbies took a lot of my time.”
Starting out on his own
Six years later, Joseph decided to leave his job at the hotel and start a floral business of his own. “Gardening was close to my heart as I had seen my grandmother do it every day. She taught me the skill of gardening and landscaping. She would take me every day to her employer’s garden and she taught me everything about flowers. Whatever I am today is because of her."
"Coming from a family of entrepreneurs, I had a dream to be independent – be on my own. I put two and two together. Since gardening and landscaping [were both] close to my heart, I dived into this line of business”, Joseph continued.
Back to square one; and a God-sent gift
He said it was a life changing moment in 1992 when the Gulf War struck the UAE. His business crumbled and he was back to square one with no money in his pocket.
“I had to pull up my socks and get my focus back on track. But I was clueless as to how I would do it. I was forced to take up menial jobs and worked as a domestic worker in three houses. There was no other choice for me. I was desperate and had to survive somehow in Dubai,” he said.
“The only good thing that came out of all this was the love and help I received from my friends in the UAE. In addition, I learnt to keep myself busy spending time with people of determination. This gave me tremendous happiness. I used to visit an Emirati businessman in a hospital every day. He was partially paralysed. I would sit beside his bed and talk to him. We bonded really well. One day I was sharing my problem about my financial distress.
"The next day when I went to the hospital to see him he asked one of his staff to hand me an envelope. There was Dh30,000 cash inside. He told me to use the money to re-start my business. I became emotional. It was like God sent this to me. That was a turning point in my life and the rest is history as they say,” said Joseph.
Lessons learnt in life
Joseph was given the opportunity to turn his life around and he could not afford another hiccup. So he knew he had to act responsibly.
Today, Joseph has built a good network. He is a successful millionaire. But he has not forgotten the old days. “Social responsibility and helping one in times of need are key essentials in life. To give you an example, when I got married my friends and family pooled in the money to meet my marriage expenses. This was possible only because I have helped others throughout my life. All these people came back to help me when I needed them most.”
“If you are a businessman, remember if your profit is Dh10, only take Dh2 home, put the rest of the money back in your company,” he added.
Awards and philanthropy
Joseph has been awarded several times for his philanthropic achievements. Even while managing a business, he also finds time to spend with people of determination and those in distress. He has done extensive work to ensure autistic youngsters get jobs after they graduate and earn the security they deserve.
He invests, he explained, not just money but also his time in such projects.
"I think autistic children need more than just schools for their education and that is why I spend time with these children."
Jenny Joseph strives to improve the world for those with special needs. Through the years he has lived in the UAE, he has never waivered in his help for this community, which is perhaps why he is considered a greater humanitarian than a businessperson.
"I maybe a millionaire, but a lot of my money goes to helping the needy. My needs have definitely grown, yet they continue to remain simple. I came to UAE with nothing. I made all my money here in the UAE - the least I can do is give something back to the country and its people."