Shahdadpuri, who gave up a thriving diplomatic career to pursue his dreams in business, says, “I am a proud Sindhi. I felt that perhaps business indeed runs in the veins of Sindhis.”
‘From Diplomacy to Biz Wonders’ is the amazing story of Sindh-born Paras Shahdadpuri, who had to leave his motherland along with parents due to partition of Indian subcontinent in 1947. They had first migrated to Nagpur and then to Delhi.
From being a seasoned diplomat, Paras Shahdadpuri – chairman, Nikai Group of Companies – decided to change the course of his career at 42, something many may not have the courage to do.
Shahdadpuri, who was born in 1945, and now is 77, last served in the Indian mission as an Economic and Commercial Head in Libya before he decided to give it all up for his entrepreneurial dreams. His first posting as a diplomat was to Beijing in 1970 when the India-China political ties were tense. Apparently, China back then was literally an iron-clad country with no source of information available to the Chinese or to outsiders. The job of a diplomat, therefore, was extremely challenging though very interesting. Then he went to the other extreme on his second diplomatic assignment to Washington DC where they were inundated with information. He had a memorable encounter with the then famed Secretary of State and National Security Advisor Dr. Henry Kissinger. I was exposed to the world of free trade where entrepreneurial spirit was celebrated.
He then moved on to Jeddah where again he had a memorable visit with King Khalid. By late 1970s, the Gulf had assumed importance as India’s energy supplier and host to thousands of semi-skilled and skilled workers who participated in the infrastructure building of Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. He had very emotional moments when he handled ageing Hajis from India. “I am proud I could assist them in performing this most important event in their life,” he had said in an interview.
Getting ‘stuck’ in Dubai
1986 is the year Shahdadpuri considers perhaps one of the most defining years of his lifetime as it was when he took bold decisions, treaded new paths and discovered new beginnings.
It was also the year Shahdadpuri started a business dealing with garments in London and ended up in Dubai – which would ultimately become his home and business center.
Shahdadpuri shares his story:
My last diplomatic assignment was in Libya where I had the privilege of handling the state visit of the late PM Indira Gandhi despite the nightmare of dealing with the mercurial and eccentric Muammar Al Qaddafi! India had huge economic engagement of over USD 2-3 billion in early 1980s but we had not developed trade and commercial relationship. In my final year in Tripoli, I was given a challenge to develop the commercial relationship which was barely at USD I million. Challenges have been sources of my adrenaline and I worked tirelessly to grow this trade relationship from USD 1 million to almost USD 200 million in one year. It was then that I realized my own business acumen. I felt that perhaps business indeed runs in the veins of Sindhis (I am a proud Sindhi!). The superannuation age used to be 58 years and India was a closed economy. Obviously there were some simmering frustrations while in government service and after some deep thought, when I was 41-42 years of age, I decided to venture into a new career. It was the biggest and boldest decision of my life – to leave a secure and relatively glamorous diplomatic career in favor of a business career of which I had no experience. But I had the “junoon” to carve a new path and create my own legacy and identity.
Having lived abroad for more than 15 years, setting up a business in India was not my best choice; so I ventured to an English-speaking country where I could do business and provide education to my children. This was mid-1980s and I set up my office in London, dealing in commodities, buying and selling urea, rice, tea, coffee, detergents, etc. During one of my trips from India to UK, I travelled via Dubai where I missed the onward flight connection. It would have been tough for me to stay at the airport for 24hours and while in the transit, I approached one of the immigration officers in his traditional ‘Kandura’ dress. Instinctively, I spoke to him in broken Arabic which I had learnt during my Middle East postings. Seeing me stammering, he invitingly told me “bolo baba bolo, kya mangta”. I was pleased at this gesture and I explained to him my predicament that I didn’t have visa to go out in the city and I didn’t want to stay at the airport. He took my passport and in 10 minutes, handed me in a visa. I came out and saw Dubai for the first time – in 1987. Even at that time I was impressed with the infrastructure in telecommunications where one could dial ‘‘00” from any street telephone booth (while in India we had to book trunk calls with various priorities — ordinary, urgent, lightning); there was no restriction on foreign exchange (while in India we were given maximum USD 500 for visits abroad), absence of any income tax or sales tax, existence of the biggest Indian school in the world, friendly Emiratis, proximity to India and shopping galore – all this amazed me and it was love at first sight! I didn’t have to think any further to shift my business to Dubai. In the next few months, I was in Dubai where I set up my trading business.
“Back home to London, I had told my wife I wanted to relocate to Dubai. The decision had been taken,” he added.
Starting up in Dubai, however, needed him to be brave and face the risks of entrepreneurship.
Shahdadpuri said, “I maybe a Sindhi and as you know Sindhis are famous business people. But nobody in my family has treaded the path into entrepreneurship. My father and brother are both service professional[s]. So when I told my parents I was quitting my job to start a business, all eyes were on me. Of course I had their support through and through.”
He recalled how he started the initial set up in Dubai inside a 5,000 square feet space of warehouse.
“It was in Zabeel Road. I could not afford to rent an office space. So I started leasing a space inside a warehouse. It is from here I started the import-export business. I built a small room inside the warehouse. I sub-leased half of the area which fetched me a rent of Dh42, 000 per annum.” he said.
Starting from scratch
He added: “I used to buy in Deira and sell in Bur Dubai and make some good profit. The first year my profit was Dh250, 000. Remember everything was new to me. Running an office, a business or the product which I was dealing with. It was all new to me. But I used my common sense and I treaded the path slowly and surely.
“I did not borrow even when I started the business. I used the capital I had saved. The only assurance I had was a cousin who gave me some funds as a back-up. It was psychologically great for me. But I did not touch his money at all.”
Today, Shahdadpuri’s company, ‘The Nikai Group’ enjoys an annual turnover close to two billion dirhams, according to its chairman.
He started with trading in commodities in 1988 and chose Dubai to be the headquarters of his business activity and this laid the foundation of the NIKAI Group of Companies – a diversified business group that has forayed into Electronics, Home Appliances, IT, FMCG and Retail Food Chain.
“Quitting a secure diplomatic career was the biggest risk I took and I am grateful to God Almighty that with His blessings, it paid off. No career is without its challenges. There are failures and one can stumble but the question is, has a person gotten up, pulled up his courage and faced the challenge successfully? I have done this a number of times and I thank God for granting me the strength to successfully face challenges. Focus, commitment, diligence, perseverance, determination, passion, ‘junoon’ are some important words in my dictionary,” he stated while talking about challenges he faced.
Shahdadpuri, also affectionately known in business circles as a ‘gentleman and a statesman’, has won a number of prestigious awards including the Bharat Shiromani Award; owner of a Superbrand. He has earned the reputation of a philanthropist, taking deep pride in serving the community.is a global conglomerate built on the promise of ‘Reliability’. Under the leadership of the diplomat-turned entrepreneur, the group of companies has grown into an international operation from a humble trading enterprise in a time span of two decades.
Shahdadpuri has been honored with many accolades and titles for serving the business community. He received the ‘CEO International Achievement Award for 2012’ at power brands hall of fame and was hailed for his contribution to the Global Electronic Sector during the Middle East Business Leaders’ Summit in 2013. Forbes listed him as one of the top Indian leaders in UAE and he has been featured as 100 Most Influential Global Indians.
Indian man, Japanese brand?
Nikai’s name has reached global consumers due to Shahdadpuri.
He said, “Nikai was a brand in Japan not dealing in electronics but some small instrumentation and watches. That company was not active. We approached them and we told them we want to buy this brand. We gave them a compensation and we took the name.
“The brand today [under the leadership of Shahdadpuri] is registered in more than 100 countries. We supply to around 60 countries in the world. We have our own offices and distribution network in UAE, Saudi Arabia, Oman, and Egypt.”
Shahdadpuri added, “Today Nikai is a name bigger than other brands. I am proud that which has been nurtured by me, we have reached a level that we are counted among the top three four brands in the world. It is a huge satisfaction that I have been able to create a legacy.”
The company currently sells 400 million products across home entertainment, appliances, and white goods in over 60 countries, including Asia, the subcontinent, the Middle East, Africa, Eastern Europe, and North America. What’s more, it has over 5000 employees and 60 million satisfied customers worldwide.
The enthusiastic leader works 12 hours every day.
Was it a struggle?
Shahdadpuri said, “Sure was. But I could not have come through it all without the support of my wife. She is a pillar of strength. When I told her I was giving up my job – which was rather sought after – to start a business, she did not bat an eyelid.”
“She simply asked me to go for it. We had two school going children aged 15 and 12. There was little saving to fall back on. But I knew there was more to life than moving files. There was a gut feeling I would do well. I felt an urge and I felt I would succeed. Rest, time would tell,” he added.
Shahdadpuri attributes his success to his base, the United Arab Emirates, and said, “When I came to [the] UAE, I did not have money, a property to fall back on, nor did I know this place well enough. I did not have good banking relationship or understood the product I was dealing with. We were able to do it all thanks to the UAE, the government.”