Rizwan Sajan arrived in Dubai in 1991 with nothing in his pockets but a dream in his eyes. The only positive thing he could cling to was his first-hand experience in the building materials industry. He didn’t have money, but had a heart of gold!
He was 28 years old then, and had been working for more than a decade with his uncle in Kuwait. He had lost his father at the age of 16 and had made his way up from the streets. He had started feeling settled in the business with his uncle, when suddenly the Gulf War started and things got so bad that he had to leave Kuwait and his job.
The decision to leave Kuwait and go to Dubai wasn’t easy; however, he had to survive and take care of his family. When he arrived in Dubai, he looked up to the sky and promised to himself that he would work, work and work until he builds a future for himself and his family in this land of dreams and opportunities.
LAND OF DESTRUCTION VS. LAND OF OPPORTUNITIES
In the year 1991, when most people were glued to their TVs watching Scud missiles devastating Kuwait during the infamous Gulf War, the citizens and traders of Kuwait were actually living the horror of being in the midst of the destruction. Two names relevant here are Jacob Moses and Rizwan Sajan.
Before 1990, they didn’t even know who Saddam Hussein was, but in 1991 Rizwan Sajan had to leave his home, family and job in Kuwait because of him. For many that would have been a dead end. But Sajan was determined to do good in life, and came to Dubai. In Dubai, he worked for a hardware store initially where he earned AED 1,500 per month. Gradually, the situation in Kuwait started getting back to normal and as the word got out that he was in Dubai, his former business associates started calling him to place orders for building materials.
He recalls all good things about his uncle Moses and how he taught him to do business and survive, "My business ethics are largely due to the influence of my uncle Jacob Moses who taught me that 2+2=5."
After about 10 months in Dubai, he thought of using his savings and his know-how of the building materials industry and went about starting his own company, Danube. He started as a small shop in Deira and his first employee was Mrs. Sameera Sajan, his wife. Today, Danube is present in over 50 locations in 9 countries with employee strength of over 2,500.
25 years after he came to Dubai in 1991, he is considered as one of the persons who literally helped in building Dubai. The growth was mutual and he has already created a close to 3 billion dollar company.
THE FORCE CALLED RIZWAN SAJAN
Creating relationships and bonds is not easy, especially if it is not your own country. However, like everything else, he has created a strong network and his ability to sell building material is unparalleled.
He has established the UAE’s largest building materials company – Danube Building Materials FZCO. Currently, he is the Founder & Chairman of Danube Group that comprises Danube Building Materials, Danube Home, Danube Properties, Milano, DanubeDirect.com, Danube Systems, Alucopanel, Cha Cha Chai, Xti and Tudors. He has grown his empire brick-by-brick from one office to more than 50 branches with a global reach into the UAE, KSA, Qatar, Oman, Bahrain, India, China and Africa.
It is said that it is very easy in Dubai for people to become super-rich. However, people see only the wealth and fail to see the blood and sweat that goes in the making of the wealth. Sajan kept on taking different risks and turns when others believed in going steady to grow.
He has established different businesses at different times – brokerage business, timber, Buildmart (now called Danube Home), etc. and has created astounding success in all of them.
Being a highly self-assured personality, he states, "I feel proud when I share that all my business units are doing well, in spite of tough market conditions. My team is confident to close the year on a high; however, I have a few words of advice for them: stay cautious in your approach and make informed decisions and don’t act in haste."
He is excited about the upcoming Expo 2020 in Dubai. "The biggest opportunity will be supplying building materials to major projects in the region; especially, Expo 2020, which is less than 4 years away and we are expecting almost 25 million people visiting Dubai within a span of 6 months."
DANUBE IN THE DESERTS OF THE UAE
Hailing from the State of Gujarat in India, Sajan’s choice of the name Danube may seem strange to others; however when he started, a lot of his materials used to come through Europe via the river Danube. The river itself is believed to be the life blood of Europe and a source of nourishment. "That’s what I wanted my brand to be: a source of pride, growth and nourishment for me and every single person who invested in me." So, Danube arrived in the deserts of the UAE, and the nourishment proved to be mutual.
He feels that he has been successful in creating an excellent journey for himself by the grace of God, and because the rulers of Dubai, over the years, have sustained a conducive work environment. The fact remains that any business would thrive here, if only passion and hard work are the main ingredients in it.
He remarks, "The leadership of the UAE have always believed and delivered on their promises to people since 1970s. The ‘never-heard-before’, innovative and best ideas see the day of light in this great nation, time and again. I have been a witness to the futuristic leadership for long now and these great leaders have made sure that no matter what, people, businesses and economy must thrive. Happiness, brotherhood and integrity have always been on the forefront to support the UAE’s march to become the most advanced country. The world history beckons the leaders of the UAE."
THE MAN AND HIS FAMILY
On asking who is Rizwan Sajan as a person, he was straightforward, "I am a loving husband, a loving father, an astute businessman, a billionaire and I appreciate all my roles because I happen to be Rizwan Sajan of Danube under destiny’s hands. It was the support of almighty, family, friends, business associates, Government of Dubai and my roots – which can be traced back to India."
He describes his typical day as, "My passion is work which I don’t take for granted, so a typical day would start with a half-an-hour swimming session followed by breakfast with family, and by 10:00 AM I am in office. My day-to-day activities would include discussing the innovative ideas with various teams, though once finalised, the ground work and other decisions would be passed on to the respective team leads."
His family is his world and his small world comprises his wife Sameera and son Adel. He is nowhere near the retirement age; however, has helped Adel grow into a responsible gentleman and a smart businessman already.
When he thinks or talks of his wife, Sameera, his eyes shine and show great admiration for her. "Sameera played and continues to play an important part in my business. She has supported me through the bad times and applauded through the good ones. She has always given me the freedom to give 100% of my focus to the business. She has tackled all domestic issues with utmost ease throughout our married life."
He lovingly talks about Adel, "I have been a businessman for most part of my life. Now I see the second generation of Sajan family playing a bigger role in managing the business and taking Danube to greater heights. As far as my role is concerned, I will still be at the helm of the affairs, guiding the young generation.
"Adel started quite young and I remember, during his early days, I would put him in various tasks and departments at Danube during his summer breaks. His first assignment was working in the warehouse with the blue-collar workers and from there on he worked in almost every department until he turned 19. That was the time he was given a real responsibility – starting the chandelier division in the Danube Buildmart (now Danube Home), which had just begun operations. By the time he graduated, he had good knowledge and experience in marketing, logistics, buying and all things retail. Our retail division was kicking off and that’s when Adel took the reins of our retail divisions."
Adel Sajan is no stranger to success; he has grown up as the scion of the Danube Group, the region’s largest building materials company. He continues, "With his maiden venture, Danube Home, already going from strength to strength, Adel is poised to take over from me and I have no doubts even as a businessman about his capabilities.
BRAND LEGACY OF DANUBE
He chose Sunil Gavaskar, Juhi Chawla and Shilpa Shetty as the brand ambassadors of Danube, because like Danube they too are regarded as greats in their respective fields, given their brand legacy and trust which are also Danube’s traits.
Obviously, it works both ways. "The brand ambassadors we have would have never come on board with us, had they not been convinced of our dedication and quality. It goes without saying that these associations invariably result in visibility, bonding and reach-out of the highest level."
Danube had successfully floated the idea of home-ownership two years ago. The idea grew and matured as a record number of customers joined the sustainable and affordable housing bandwagon. "Danube is known for quality, and once again there would be no exceptions as quality reigns supreme on all accounts in our latest launch: Glamz."
The unwavering customer trust in the brand for over two decades has established Danube’s projects as the preferred choice across geographies, which is why each project stands 100% sold-out because of its immense popularity, which prompts sales to close within weeks of their respective launches.
Now, Danube’s first project – Dreamz – is well on schedule for delivery, whereas other projects – Glitz 1, Glitz 2, Glitz 3 and Starz are all 4–5 months ahead of schedule. So he adds, "We are hopeful that Glamz would be no different."
Danube has established itself as an innovative organization, be it venturing into varied sectors, bringing in new products or reaching out to customers – directly/indirectly. Hence, the brand promise is innovation. As a matter of fact he says, "It doesn’t matter what is the size or scale of the project, if the right intent is there, then Danube will adapt it to serve its customers better."
THE HUMAN FACTOR
He had a humble beginning and now he is counted among the richest in the UAE and the world. He puts it simply, "I believe my background helps me stay grounded."
He is also successful because people who join him stick with him. He shares, "Relationships are for life, that’s what I have always believed in. And while you are at it, make sure all you do is work, work and work, as there are no shortcuts to success. I find the right people and invest in them followed by trust – and their empowerment – to do the job perfectly."
He also believes in training his employees well. "The objective is to formally create the opportunity of continuous learning for team members, thus leading to improved organizational and individual effectiveness which proves beneficial for the team members as well as the organization in the long run."
Now that he has almost unlimited wealth, he doesn’t flaunt it. He has a humble disposition. He believes in living to the fullest rather than living for profit.
He has won numerous awards including the Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum Business Award and the Dubai Quality Award. Recently, he was on the cover of Forbes Middle East magazine’s May edition and retained the number twelve ranking in the "Top 100 Indian Leaders in the UAE" List.
He is also involved in philanthropic activities helping people who are currently in need of a support. He feels that it is the duty of every human being to help people and give back to the society in his/her own capacity.
Since the time Danube was established, he has been promoting community initiatives. In 2012, the company designed its own social initiative called the Danube Welfare Centre (DWC) to address the challenges faced by the blue-collared individuals in the UAE. The Welfare Centre aims to provide formal training and assistance to the trainees and helps them meet the demands of the labour market. The Welfare Centre offers a 3-day training program to a batch of 15–20 participants from diverse nationalities free of cost. He explains further, "We train them on communication skills, personality development, interview skills, building self-confidence and developing positive attitude."
One of Danube’s most popular initiatives involves holding a lucky draw amongst blue-collared workers, whereby the company sends two employees on "Hajj" and other four for "Umrah" each year.
Additionally, to lift up the spirits of the labourers working in the region, Danube serves Iftaar to more than 60,000 labourers every year during the month of Ramadan.