Q: Do Yusuf Ali cry for anything else other than remembering mother?
MA: While seeing the letters written by people describing their tragic life I feel like crying. What worries me more is knowing about the situation of people with chronic diseases. Even reading these type of news in the newspaper also makes me cry. I try to do whatever I can to them. Even thinking about how kind god has been to me also brings tears to my eyes.
Q: You often say that money is not everything, but isn’t it a fact that money can do most of the things?
MA: My mother died in car accident on the way to Dubai from Abu Dhabi. My father, who got injured in the same accident, succumbed to injuries while undergoing treatment in well equipped Khaleefa hospital. I was ready to give away everything I have to save my father. But father departed leaving all the wealth behind. If money can do many things it could have saved my father. Had god has given me my father back, I was ready to give up everything and return empty handed. My entire wealth was helpless to alter my fate. Money has restrictions. Yusuf Ali was a helpless man with so much of wealth during when my father was fighting for life in Intensive Care Unit in the hospital.
Q: Is ‘Vallyuppa’ your role model?
MA: No. Prophet is my role model. He has said what each and every man should do at home and in society. He has said about the way of life for everybody, how to do business and his words are dictums to follow the path of truth always.
Q: Doesn’t ‘Vallyuppa’ has a role in grooming you in your childhood?
MA: What he has taught me in my childhood has always stood by me when I grew up and it is those things which helped me reach this stage. He has told me not belittle anybody. If you consider anybody as mean person, it is the beginning of your way down, he has said. Even now I don’t demean anybody.
Q: According Forbes magazine, the 737th billionaire in the world, 40th richest man in India, personal assets worth Rs 15,000 crore, Lulu’s annual turnover of Rs 36,000 crore. From an ordinary man to this status, haven’t you ever felt arrogant?
MA: I never felt arrogant. This growth is not just only Yusuf Ali’s hard work and efficiency. Every year during Ramadan, I have fast breaking meals with the rulers or members of kingdoms of various Arab countries. I am nobody in front of them. Seeing them will wipe out the arrogant feeling from your mind. We should observe the big people so that you can assess yourself. Don’t just live by watching only mirrors.
(Yusuf Ali’s office room is an amazing world. White chairs, expensive leather sofas, attractive artifacts, Yusuf Ali’s photographs with rulers and kings, tables made out of teak wood and excellent lighting arrangement with a feel of village ambience).
Q: Don’t you feel angry at politicians who take money from you often and then criticize your projects?
MA: Why should I get angry? They are politicians. If I have to compete with them in politics I should know better politics than them. I know only business. Why should I get defeated by playing a game, which I do not know. Also, I don’t give money to anybody for any favour.
Q: You got the same VS Achuthanandhan, who opposed filling the paddy fields, to inaugurate your Thrissur Lulu Convention Centre, which was constructed after filling the land. On that occasion VS said Lulu is a lotus sprouted out of dirt. What is the magic behind making an adamant politician like VS to call Lulu a lotus?
MA: I have never felt VS is adamant. I have never exploited my relationship with him and he doesn’t need any help from me to continue his existence in politics. He knows that I haven’t done anything illegal and I am ready to prove it. There is legislation in Kerala to utilize land for non-agricultural purposes. Looking from outside many people have said many things and Yusuf Ali is ready to answer their questions. But I don’t have time to reply to all of them. VS is a straight forward person and only because I have done everything through proper channel I am able to stand in front of a man like VS. I don’t think one can influence these leaders with money and also it is not my way of doing things. They all are brilliant people with clear perspective. They will say whatever they have to say and I am ready to rectify if there is any mistake from my side. Also Yusuf Ali will say what Yusuf Ali has to say. I do not do anything to keep them with me and if we do everything properly nobody will oppose you.
Q: Even within the party, not many are close to VS and Pinarayi alike. Aren’t you very close to Pinarayi also?
MA: Don’t make that an issue. Pinarayi is a man with big vision on development. I know that the slow progress of development in Kerala for various reasons is worrying him. Only somebody who thinks about the society will have such concerns. (Yusuf Ali spoke at length about politics and leaders and also shared some humour. Before that he politely made sure the recording phone is switched off).
While travelling by car Yusuf Ali showed me many big buildings in Abu Dhabi and told me about them. While passing by his own Lulu Mushrif Mall, which has changed the shopping history of Abu Dhabi, he just made sure there are enough crowds in the mall. It is unbelievable to think that 40 years back this man used to transport goods through the searing heat of this desert. The car is entering his house.
Q: It is heard that the island in Kochi ‘Bolgati Palace’ was developed by central government for Yusuf Ali……
MA: You also are talking about hearsay issues. It was around 8 years back government decided to lease out Bolgati Palace. Those days we have never thought about investing in Kochi. After 8 years it was put on auction and we successfully took part in the auction. I cannot sell that property and go to Natika with that money because it is government property. Is it Yusuf Ali’s mistake that he took part in the auction? We have acquired that property legally and we are constructing India’s most attractive convention centre there.
Q: After having so many issues will you invest more in Kerala?
MA: We have invested Rs 1600 crore in Edappilly Lulu centre. We can understand that even after 60 years of running Bolgati Convention Centre, we may not be able to make it profitable. Many people said that Edappilly Lulu centre will be a flop. But the people have taken it as a celebration and made it a success. It was reflected even in the tourism industry. Once Bolgati convention centre is opened we will bring international conventions like that in Singapore to Kochi. The benefits of such ventures will be extended to hoteliers, small scale farmers and even to taxi drivers. At Lulu’s technopark coming up in Kakkanadu will open up opportunities for 11,000 employees. The construction of five star hotel at Thrissur has already begun. Investing in Kerala is not just based on profit. We are proud to invest in Kerala. Through this we tell the world that India and Kerala are investor friendly places. This is our gratitude to this country. Yusuf Ali is not scared of mean threats or abuses by unimportant people. I don’t belong to monopolist magnates. I grew up through hard work.
Q: Do you think Kerala hasn’t understood Yusuf Ali?
MA: Both LDF and UDF have given more love and respect than I deserve. Keralites have given unbounded love. I am happy that I could give employment to 25,000 Malayalees. Those who are pointing finger at me are such people who couldn’t create even a peon’s job. If Yusuf Ali makes a mistake, Yusuf admits it and rectifies it. Only love can defeat Yusuf Ali. I always surrendered in front of love. I have no complaints against even those who point finger at me as one day they will realize who is Yusuf Ali.
Q: How did you overcome the shock of accident and death of parents so quickly?
MA: Prayers, staunch belief in god and the love of people around me.
Q: Do you remember saying goodbye on that tragic day?
MA: I was traveling to London that day. Mother hugged me said you are traveling too much, should take care of health. Father asked me why I am working so hard. Then I asked father that can we compare hard work you have put in Ahamedabad and Natika. He just patted on my back and smiled. Before getting into the car mother once again kissed me, which was unusual.
Q: Your grandchildren haven’t got the love you have got from your ‘Vallyuppa’ and his wife, are you compensating enough for that?
MA: I always tell my children that I realized the love of ‘Vallyuppa’ only when I myself became a ‘Vallyuppa’. It is more than that of parents. It was my ‘Vallyuppa’ who taught me how to pray to god and live according to the messages of prophet. It was he who enlightened me about love and compassion and I pray to god that I should be able to pass over those virtues to my grand children.
Q: Why did you divert your children and in-laws to different businesses other than Lulu?
MA: Right now there is big team comprising my brother and cousins and they are capable of running Lulu. New generation is looking for new businesses and I let them choose their line and they are happy about it.
Q: It is heard that you often recite verses from Quran, have you done religious studies at a young age?
MA: I used to study well when I was a child. During my journeys I used to read and listen Quran recited by scholars. I collect what ever written about Quran. Recently I noticed a story about Quran in Malayala Manorama. It was all about the respect and value given to other religions by Quran. The meaning of that verse was if I didn’t stop somebody from offending somebody, there would have been a religious war. According to Quran the noble man is he who joins the happiness and worries of everyone and such person is called “Muhassin”.
Q: Are you a “Muhassin”?
MA: I try my level best to become a ‘Muhassin”. I don’t envy anybody who is doing better business than me and I also try to meet them and take the positives from them. May be that is why we became successful in business. I don’t envy even the retail giant Walmart. I just wish that one day Lulu will become such a big retailer. That wish gives us enough energy to work hard.
(We are entering the ‘palace’ of Yusuf Ali. The house of same Yusuf Ali, who poured water on himself to escape from heat around 40 years ago. Big and wide rooms, imported Persian carpets, Chandeliers worth lakhs of rupees, collection of gifts received from various VIPs and rulers, variety of guest rooms, dining tables decorated in golden colours, beautiful artifacts made out of teak hung on the walls, overall a five star hotel’s ambience. Yusuf Ali just finished his Ramadan prayers and came to the room. There were many guests. Food items from various countries were arranged. Yusuf Ali explains to guests about each and every food items, compels some of the guests to have it and he himself serves food to them. It would have been great had his mother, who forty years back used to serve food to Yusuf Ali’s schoolmates, witnessed this feast. Guests departed as it is night time and Yusuf Ali entered the vegetable garden behind the house.)
Q: Is practicing Yoga helping you in this hard working life?
MA: I don’t sleep for more than five hours. Through Yoga I give enough rest and develop energy to body and mind. We are hard working with body and mind. Even in sleep our mind works. You have to give enough rest to mind and body and through Yoga I do it. After giving enough rest, mind and body work more efficiently. The praying rituals of Muslims also give enough consideration for body and mind.
Q: Your intimacy with the ruling families and governments of various gulf countries are famous. When foreign magazines released a data of top ten people in close connection with ruling families in gulf, you were there in the list. How this was possible?
MA: I planned to open the hypermarket in Abu Dhabi just before the gulf war. It was time when people have been fleeing the country with whatever they have. Many people thought I also will leave the country. But I didn’t go back on my decision and with big publicity I decided to open Lulu. The father of UAE and the country’s first president Sheik Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan came to know about Lulu and he called me to meet him. He asked me why I am investing money here instead leaving the country. I said, whatever I have made, I made it from this country. When this country is facing a crisis my conscience does not allow me to escape from the country. If war happens I am ready face any consequences this country and its people have to face. By that time the war has began to have its effects in gulf. When I said that I am ready to face anything the father of UAE hugged me and he has passed on that love to the next generation also.
Q: Is it this relationship, which developed the business?
MA: I never approached any of ruling families for my personal benefit. I have sought their help only for India and Kerala and they have helped me on those occasions. I will use that relationship only for India and will not use for any other purpose.