Q: Wasn’t it a risk to stay back during the war? Was it through prayers you made a decision like that?
MA: I just listened to my conscience. I felt it right to stay back and I always do what my conscience feels right. If anything goes wrong I try to rectify it. There is always risk in business. There was risk in bringing Lulu to Kerala also. Will Kerala positively respond to this huge investment was a big concern. I am not scared to take risk. Prayer and business are separate. I am not divine enough to get enlightened through prayers.
Q: You are the one who took the initiative to set up a cemetery for Hindus in gulf. The reason behind it……?
MA: I have seen the scattered dead bodies of people who get killed in accidents. Because it is scattered it cannot be embalmed and sent back to the native country. It will lie in the mortuary with nobody to claim it. I can understand the agony of their relatives back home. Everybody wants to follow the rituals of cremation of their beloved ones. Just for that cause I requested the ruling family and they were kind enough to allow it. It is the result of prayers of many families. The rulers here know that I will not request for anything which is against the laws and beliefs in this country.
Q: Do you remember anything which touched your heart recently?
MA: An old friend of mine Chinnakal Mohasin from Chavakkad visited me recently. He was here when I came to Abu Dhabi 40 years back. I invited him to my house when he wanted to meet me. After having the food with me he tearfully hugged me and said “Yusuf Bhai you have not changed a bit. I am very happy for that. I have seen you loading goods to the vehicle many a times. Your mind is still the same”. Even my eyes were filled hearing that. I felt like honoured knowing that there are people who has estimated me properly. These are the things invaluable in life. Money alone is not enough for life. I want to pass over these virtues I got from my mother and ancestors to my children and grand children. I pray for that and hope I will be able to do it.
Q: Many a times you have been spotted with colourful dresses, which doesn’t suit a Corporate Head….
MA: Brother I am not a Corporate Head. I am just the captain of this team. This team consists of 34,000 employees. I like colourful shirts. When in Kerala I wear it. Here there are some limitations. Only I choose my dresses. While traveling I get into small as well as big shops. Not particular about big brands. Even a locally made shirt also I will buy if I like it.
(He pointed at the hand of Lulu Group’s Chief Communications officer V Nandakumar’s hand and said, “I gifted that watch to him. It is costlier than my watch. Costly items never fascinate me.”)
Q: Doesn’t your wife have a role in your dressing style?
MA: Nobody has any role in it. My wife helps me to knot the tie every day. I still don’t know how to knot a tie.
Q: Even in business wife’s involvement is not seen…………?
MA: My wife is a good housewife. She looks after my children and grandchildren. When a person like me comes home what we need is peace of mind. And thanks to my wife there is plenty of peace at home. In that way she also has a role in the success of business. A good family life leads to success in every field.
Q: Tell me the most liked three places across the world..
MA: Mecca, Medina and Nattika
(One of the secretaries who is from Nattika had a light laughter. In Lulu Group there are employees from 3000 families in Nattika. Even for new recruitment there is a special consideration for people from that town.)
Q: During these business related traveling, you would have attended many parties. How come didn’t take up drinking?
MA: Many people drink at parties because they think it lifts their status. Actually it is selling their individuality. You should be yourself at any occasion. That is a lesson from business. I haven’t seen anybody from my family drinking. Unless somebody learn it from family nobody will make drinking a habit.
Q: Any projects to create employment opportunities for youth in Kerala?
MA: There should be big investment. Lulu is not a big investment. I have limitations. The ‘Make in India’ and ‘Digital India’ projects announced by Narendra Modi are meant for big corporate investors in India and abroad. There is no Kerala in their mind. The 10 corporates who took part in the launch of those projects are not from Kerala. They never mentioned Kerala in their speeches and none of them have any projects in Kerala. When the country is moving forward Kerala is experiencing a stand still. To avoid that situation we should stop calling them monopolies. When they are investing worldwide what is the point in few people opposing them here. They will not invest here and they have nothing to lose. Those who oppose them are spoiling the future and doing cruelty to the youth in Kerala. The investors should feel like coming to Kerala. There should be safe and friendly atmosphere for them.
Q: Isn’t Kerala safe?
MA: Once the Lulu IT Park is completed in Kochi, 11,000 people will get jobs there. If projects bigger than this comes in Kerala lakhs of Keralites will get jobs. A share of their income, which will amount to crores, will be distributed to auto drivers, fish vendors and vegetable vending women etc..The construction cost per square feet is Rs 400 lesser in Bangalore than in Kochi. Last year after January 14 days of work in Kochi has been cancelled because of strike and ‘hartal’. Thousands of employees lost payment for 14 days, ie half a month’s salary. Those who organized strike didn’t lose anything. When other states are welcoming investors with full cooperation who will come to Kerala where everything is a controversy? Roads, buildings, electricity everything is a controversy here. Both the UDF and LDF governments are willing help investors, but that is not enough, the people should cooperate.
Q: The future of Kerala youth?
MA: I have big concern for the youth of Kerala. Those who go out of Kerala are settling down at the place where they get job. They are not coming back to Kerala later. Their next generation is not growing in Kerala and it creates a vacuum. I am concerned about what will happen after 20 years. The big corporates should come to Kerala. The country is inviting them now and we should not lag behind. We should not welcome them with flags. It is not their need to invest in Kerala, it is our need. We should tell them that this is a beautiful and friendly place. The people who are prone to strikes should think that Yusuf Ali with Rs 3000 crore investment is a small person. What we need are bigger investors.
Q: The presence of Lulu?
MA: One of the benefits arose out of Lulu Centre is the significance of organic farming. The vegetables produced by organic farming have attracted many foreigners and some of them started exporting from Kerala farmers. There happened a 40% rise in organic farming products export from Kerala. Lulu has a small credit in that. Kerala has big possibility in this field. If Kerala decides to do farming there is big market for that.
Q: Any message to youngsters?
MA: What the state need are young educated politicians. Many countries in Europe have Prime ministers and ministers who are below 50 years of age. They all are highly educated. Many of them are economic experts. We need such people in politics. Politics should not be a means to survive. Parties should understand what happens in political parties in various countries in the world.
Let the seniors be advisers. Decision makers should be youngsters. Politics should not be a venue for illiterates and criminals.
(Abu Dhabi is in the beauty of night now. Yusuf Ali’s car moved along beautifully lighted streets. Here the country is in mood of Ramadan celebration. Yusuf Ali has to take part in function hosted by the ruling family. Today is the commemorating day of UAE’s father of the nation Sheik Zayed bin Sultan al Nahyan. The mosque in his name is a proud asset of Abu Dhabi. It is one of the world’s biggest and beautiful mosques. Tens of thousands are waiting there for prayer. Yusuf Ali treaded through a special path way. His place is reserved among the ruling family members and other VIPs in the front row. A proud moment for any Indian. Nearly 50,000 people are supposed to attend the Eid prayers here.
After two hours Yusuf Ali’s private aircraft flew over Abu Dhabi. Yusuf Ali is one among the VIPs invited to attend the Qatar ruling family’s Eid prayer. Down there Abu Dhabi appears like a beautiful portrait amid the street lights. Roads appear like diamond necklaces. Through the window of plane one can see stars and moon. While tearing of the projected extra thread from the new shirt Yusuf Ali said, “mother used to keep new shirts for me for Ramadan fest.”)
Courtesy: Malayala Manorama and special correspondent Unni Warrier