If you would like to see a true blue-blooded businessman, who has never ever seen the portals of a business school, except when he goes over to garner awards from them or to deliver lectures to awe-struck business students, meet the Founder and Chairman of the Danube Group – the leading Building Materials Company in the Middle East – Rizwan Sajan, who has been recognised as one of the top 25 ‘Young Asian Achievers’ in the UAE and was the ‘Businessman of the Year’ in 2010.
Twice starting from the scratch, and purely as a result of unimaginably hard work, dedication and commitment, Rizwan Sajan has single-mindedly built up an organisation – the Danube Group – with sales of 2 billion AED turnover per year, employing over 1650 people, including a host of highly qualified professionals, and growing at an astonishing pace of 25 percent per annum even during these times of economic uncertainty.
With over five million sq.ft. of logistics and warehousing area and retail outlets under the brand name of ‘Buildmart,’ the Danube Group offers more than 25,000 products meant for the building industry.
Beginning with a single showroom in Deira back in 1993, today, Danube has showrooms at 31 locations across GCC and India, with procurement offices and factories in Canada, Malaysia and China. Danube has been involved in the Yas Island Development and construction of Dubai Airport Terminal 3, Meydan Race Course, Dubai Sports City, Motor City, Emirates Golf Course, Palm Jumeirah and Burj Khalifa.
Despite all this, Rizwan Sajan is the personification of humility. A workaholic to the core, forever striving to achieve more, he ascribes his success purely to hard work. “I am used to working 16 hours a day.”
His wife, Sameera, and his brother, Anees, are his pillars of support. He says, “Without them I would never have been able to achieve so much.”
Very self-assured and clear about where he is headed, Rizwan Sajan says, “I always knew I was going to be a businessman. I was able to recognise my talents and put them to good use. It’s not something everyone can do.”
There is a long story of hardship and pain behind his success. When he was just 16 he lost his father and had to support the family of four. He worked at two jobs, while completing his studies and at the age of 18 his uncle took him to Kuwait to join his sales team.
He recalls, “My uncle taught me a lot and I started growing rapidly in his firm. Within eight years I was earning 15-20,000 AED per month. I was living comfortably, when suddenly Saddam Hussein’s Iraqi forces invaded Kuwait and we had to flee from Kuwait. I lost everything and was back in Mumbai at square one!”
A friend helped him start up again in Dubai, supplying construction materials to Kuwait. “I decided to venture out on my own in 1993 – first doing brokerage business and then took up an agency for corrugated sheets. The turning point came three years later when I started importing materials on consignment basis. Because of my credibility suppliers trusted me and I got materials directly. I always paid promptly, helped by Habib Bank and HSBC Bank.”
Realising that the Dubai market was very unsophisticated he decided to make things professional, hiring good sales staff and giving them formal training and uniforms. “I decided that we should have a one-stop-shop for all building materials. This became our USP. Every day I spent some time in the warehouse, listening to customers’ requirements. We used to bring in and stock everything in demand, always controlling quality. I started travelling around the world to procure the best of materials.”
We express our curiosity about how he got such a European sounding name for his company. “I used to visit East Europe a lot. We used to go by boat through the River Danube to the forests to purchase timber. The name ‘Danube’ appealed to me. When we applied in the local Economic Department, we put ‘Al Danube’ as the name of our firm because, in those days, the Government preferred Arabic names.”
A major factor for the success of his enterprise is the support and encouragement that entrepreneurs get from the Government. He says, “In the UAE you get the freedom to make your future, thanks to Sheikh Mohammed’s vision. Of course, apart from hard work, luck and timing play important roles for success in business.”
As a person known for his simple living, he says, “I really don’t care much about luxury. Of course, I allow myself the pleasure of flying Business Class because it’s worth the price.”
And the Rolls-Royce parked in his drive way is a gift; he laughs, “My brother gifted it to me – I had a fight with him because I felt it was a luxury.”
Finally, what about his personal plans for the future, “I always keep postponing my retirement. Earlier, I had planned to retire at 50; now I have shifted it to 60. I have achieved everything that I had dreamed of. Now my aim is to expand this business even more. My son, Adil, is 23 and works in the company, he is planning to make our services available online. So at the click of the mouse you can order all your material and have it delivered within a month’s time. A month, because we source the material for you from various corners of the world. I am sure his generation will take the business to a different level. The future is in their hands.”
Just recently Danube, in partnership with the Association of Professional Interior Designers (APID), announced the winners of Danube Students Interior Design Awards 2012 at a gala ceremony held at Grand Hyatt, Dubai. The event was graced by H.E. Humaid Mohammed Obeid Al Qattami, UAE Minister of Education, who presented the awards to the winners.