I never consider anybody as my subordinate. If any of my staff doesn’t send their parents any money I used to send whatever amount I can to those parents’ accounts: MA Yusuf Ali opens up…
I always consider the people working in my firm as colleagues and not as subordinates, according to famous business man and proprietor of Lulu Group, MA Yusuf Ali. Naturally to improve the living standards of employees are important and needed for the well being of the company. I don’t admonish those who don’t send money to their family back home. If any parents inform me that they are not getting money from their children, I try to convince those staff member and persuade him to send money. Even after that if he doesn’t send money, I myself send whatever possible to those parents’ accounts. After coming to know this, some of them understand their mistake and will come to apologise to me. It is a must for the company to have peace of mind at all my colleagues’ homes. At present, whoever earning high incomes in lakhs in my company is mostly those who have joined me as executive or salesman, not anybody who joint from outside overnight. It is like a child growing up and becomes father and grandfather in a family. These disclosures came in an interview of MA Yusuf Ali conducted by famous journalist Unni K Warrier for Malayala Manorama.
Here is the full interview Unni Warrier conducted with MA Yusuf Ali
Looking from the 11th floor of the office, which has a look-alike of five star hotel, the desert looks like a sea of milk. The vicinity is too deep that one can’t identify where the desert merges with sky. The sun reflects from the sand like from that of a mirror. At a distance, vehicles speed through the road with glitter of sun. The only greenery is that of palm trees planted at both sides of the road. In the middle there is blue colour of a lake. The climate is very hot with strong winds blowing frequently. This is the backside of Abu Dhabi city. At the other side of office one can see plenty of skyscrapers, competing with each other in terms of height. This is the office of Lulu Group, constructed in the middle of city, which itself is developed in the middle of desert. MA Yusuf Ali is standing with hands folded and looking at the panoramic view of sky and desert. After a while, he broke the silence.
I used to stay in house next to that road. A room without A/C in searing heat. Many a nights I used to lie down gazing the sky on the terrace. Also there were some nights I slept off tired after loading goods to vehicle.
Yusuf Ali, popularly known as ‘Yusuf Bhai’ is now one among top thousand billionaires in the world and the 40th ranked billionaire in India. He was developing his empire over the last 4 decades. He spoke at length about life and maintains a smile even when there was a difference of opinion. He spoke about happiness, celebrations, anguishes, tears and virtues. At times he looked disturbed when talking people who have hurt him.
Q: Have you ever felt hurt by Malayalees?
MA: I will not say all malayalees have hurt me. But a few among them have pained me. It was me who stood as guarantor for a big newspaper to help them getting license to publish in Abu Dhabi. After a few months their channel continuously spread the rumour that I have encroached two cents of property in Kochi. They even showed footage shot from various angles of our new Lulu centre. I don’t demand anybody to remember the favour I have done. But one shouldn’t propagate false and bad news against anybody. Those who criticized me didn’t enquire who the real Yusuf Ali is. I grew up working in this desert for the last 42 years. All these are the result of hard work put in by me and my team. The royal family of Abu Dhabi has given me 44 acres of land free of cost to construct the largest shopping mall in Abu Dhabi, “Murshim Mall”. The cost of land alone now will come to around Rs 3800 crores. Besides, they gifted property worth Rs 600 crores to build my house. I never asked for any of these favours. It is the result of the love this country has for me. It is the reward for the love and respect I gave to this country. Reward for doing such a big business and creating job opportunities for many. It is this Yusuf Ali, they say, has encroached two cents in the home state Kerala. Every news should have some truth in it. They propagated it throughout day and night. I could have stopped it but I didn’t. They don’t know Yusuf Ali. But they should have enquired how Yusuf Ali reached this level. There was a time when I used to do loading and unloading of goods amid the exhausting heat of the desert. (Yusuf Ali’s temper and voice rose unusually, secretaries came to the door. Yusuf Ali said by showing both his palms)
This is a hard worker’s hand. God knows it. I haven’t done anything against the will of god. Not even a single paise is made through illegal means. All these wealth came through hard work, prayers and god’s blessings. (Emotionally Yusuf Ali recited a verse from Quran, which meant “God is with those who are truthful and kind”).
I am saying this in the month of Ramadan. I haven’t stolen anything from anybody. I haven’t made anything through illegal means. I challenge you to show me anything I made through wrong means. I will repay it or may be double that amount. (He kept silence for a few minutes). Brother, why I am not disclosing these things to anybody is not because of fear but because of pain. I am an ordinary businessman and a simple human being and it really hurts when you are accused of something which you haven’t even imagined. There was period when I dreamt about having an A/C during the desert temperature was around 52 degree Celsius. Now Yusuf Ali may be in Forbes list of billionaires, but deep within me there is a middle-class youth who stepped into a ferry to reach gulf with plenty of dreams.
Q: Is it true that you have done loading and unloading or was it just an impulsive reaction?
MA: I never say anything out of impulsion. When we were running general store in Abu Dhabi many a times due to shortage of workers we used have done loading goods to the vehicle. I am proud to say that. From those days to even today I am prepared for hard work and that mindset was the only asset I had when I came to Abu Dhabi.
Q: Do you remember the long ferry journey to Gulf?
MA: It was about 43 years back. I reached Abu Dhabi on December 31st in 1973 after sailing for 9 days. My father’s brother MK Abdulla, who had business those days here, came to receive me. The Gulf those days was not so attractive as it is now. A real desert. Very few big buildings. We began with a grocery called general store, where essential commodities were sold.
Q: Abu Dhabi during those days?
MA: Electricity will be available only for few hours. There were only 2 good roads. A/C was a luxury for only rich people. Not so many trees like now-a-days. Heat will exceed 50 degree Celsius most of the days, but I never felt the heat as my mind was full of cold and happy dreams about the future. It is those dreams which took me to this position. It was not possible to go home once in two years. Even if we can manage to arrange a ticket, we will not go as we were anxious about continuation of job here. We were thinking that after reaching a good position only we will go home. (Even today Yusuf Ali need not take a ticket, he owns an aircraft).
Q: Time spent in Ahamedabad?
MA: Our family is of businessmen for the last four generations. My blood also is the same. My father’s brother MK Abu was in Ahamedabad and we had a general store and agency for Prestige cooker. That’s when I first saw a pressure cooker. In my home town Natika there were only traditional kitchen utensils and wood burning stove those days. I studied the details of pressure cooker like valve, washer etc.. as I had a habit of studying deeply about anything if I get interested in it. It was while in Ahamedabad, I joined business management class.
Q: You learned business at Ahamedabad?
MA: Nobody can learn business from school. It is like a child learning to walk, can’t say when one has learnt it. Every step is part of learning. Even now I try to study things from people around me including the boy who serves me tea. Those days a feeding bottle called ‘Popsy’ was launched. The company placed a typical display for ‘Popsy’ in front of our shop, which was a new experience for us and the company gave us a special gift. Even those days I used to dream about doing something new.
Q: Have you ever gone to that old shop later?
MA: When I went to Ahamedabad last time to receive ‘Pravasi Bharathiya Samman’, I walked through the street where our shop was situated and I saw the old shop ‘Key Traders’. A lot has changed now. But still the flooring of the shop is same even after 46 years. I stood on that floor for some time nostalgically as it is on that floor Yusuf Ali started dreaming big. I got my youthfulness back.
Q: Where were you staying those days?
MA: We were staying in a small room at place called ‘Panchkua’. I used to lie down on the terrace gazing at the sky, dreaming about doing something big and reaching somewhere big.
Q: Do you remember the first journey to gulf spending nine nights in the ferry?
MA: I didn’t sleep at all. I had a bundle of magazines, which I read again and again, especially Boban & Molly, to reduce tension. In the nights I used stay awake thinking about new country, new language, new business etc…
Q: After reaching Abu Dhabi?
MA: Shortage of facilities like lack of good water etc.. Because of extreme heat very few people used to come out in the day time. Not much business also. But still we managed to do some good business. We used to collect items from various people and sell it. The moment when we thought why don’t we import these items directly led to the birth of Lulu. The search for opportunities to import opened up new avenues for us. We started directly dealing with producers and we became businessmen come importers. That’s how Lulu grew from small scale business to super markets, hyper markets and Malls.
Q: Life those days?
MA: Brother, we didn’t have time sit worried about the living conditions and to move forward we had to work till late nights. There were nights we couldn’t sleep because of heat. Never worried about lack of A/C and had we wasted time worrying about all those we wouldn’t have reached this position. Every day we thought what to do tomorrow and even now I think about tomorrow.
Q: Are you sleeping less even now-a-days?
MA: I sleep only for five hours and daily practice yoga. Offer prayers five times a day and remember father, mother and ancestors every day.
Q: Was Yusuf Ali a mother’s baby?
MA: Can anybody say whether father or mother was their favourite? Father was always busy with business. Father’s elder brother (Vallyuppa) and mother groomed me. I learnt compassion, kindness, virtue etc.. from my mother. She will never say no to anybody. Her doors were never closed in front of hungry. Those days there was poverty in my home town Natika. Most of the people were fishermen who did not know how to hide their hunger in the name of pride. They will ask anybody when they are hungry.
Q: Heard that your school fiends used to come to your house to have food…
MA: Yes. Without any classification of religion and caste my mother used to call and give food to everybody who was hungry. Present MLA TN Prathapan used to come to my home and had food many a times when he was studying with my younger brother Ashraf Ali. Prathapan himself has disclosed that born in fisherman’s family he had experienced poverty. My mother will share food with whoever asks her.
A couple of days after my mother expired, an elderly woman came to my house and wanted to meet me. She wanted to hand over the receipt of bangle pledged by her to me. I asked my secretary to give her the needed money, but she insisted to meet me. She told me that the bangle belonged to my mother and she had given to that lady when she didn’t have enough money to help her. Actually that lady didn’t come to get money from me but to apologize for not being able to give back that bangle to my mother.
That day I cried many times thinking about my mother. She proved that virtue is more glittering than a gold bangle. These types of deeds take you closer to god. I always treaded the way my mother showed me. My ‘Vallyuppa’ Kanchi Kunjahammed Haji and his wife Kunjubeevi taught the virtue of compassion to my mother.