NO way! I shall not retire till I die… I have a lot to do…”
These are the words of one of the youngest old man in the community of NRIs in UAE, a textile magnate, chairman of the Regal Group of companies, Vasu Shroff. He is one of those expatriates in UAE who has seen Dubai growing from a mass of sand to one of the top global destinations.
Following the partition of India, a family from Gwader (Sind, Pakistan) migrated to Ujjain in India and finally to Devlali in Maharashtra. The youngest member of this family was seven-year-old Vasu, who after few years carved out his destiny on his own terms and conditions in a desert land, Dubai.
After settling at Devlaali, Vasu completed his schooling and moved to Mumbai (then Bombay) for pursuing graduation in economics. But his studies were interrupted as his father wanted him to leave for Dubai to help his elder brothers settled there.
So, in 1963, Vasu bid adieu to his “janmabhoomi” and, as a young man of barely 19 years, landed at the British Royal Air Force’s (RAF) international airport in Sharjah. From there he started for his “karmabhoomi”, Dubai.
Dubai of old was mainly desert with no facilities like electricity or water. The water was sold in a 5-10 ten litre tin at four annas per five litres. These tins were brought on donkey backs. As no other choice was there, this water from a well in Jumeirah was used by everyone for drinking and bathing. This proved hazardous for young Vasu who, within 27 days of his arrival in Dubai, developed severe kidney stone problem. But he stayed on and with time proved that hot and humid weather, lack of proper roads and other facilities were insignificant in front of his determination.
His elder brothers, actually his mentors, initially made him in-charge of a shop stocked with electronics, textiles. Etc. It was a small shop run independently by him. Later, a Swiss person offered Vasu stocks of luxury customer goods to be sold from his shop for a commission of 5 per cent. This deal changed the fortune of The Regal Group of companies established in 1952, enabling it to transform into a well-diversified group with interests in many different core businesses, but with focus on textiles. At present, the Regal Group has around 16 departmental stores across UAE; 70 per cent of the business is of re-export and 30 per cent is domestic.
VASU though attributes the present growth of the business to his two sons, Raju and Vikram Shroff. But the fact is that he is the one whose vision initiated a small shop on a path that made a mark by contributing significantly in the economy of the UAE. The UAE too acknowledged his share in its development and bestowed him with Lifetime Achievement Award at Arabian Business Indian CEO Awards.
Vasu considers UAE his home, a cozy place which inspite of odds provided him all the ingredients and support for success. A God-fearing man and a devotee of Shirdi Sai Baba, he is a good samaritan serving people in distress and always ready for extending helping hand to those who want to establish themselves in the country of opportunities. He is one of the founder members and trustees of the Hindu temple in Bur Dubai and various Indian associations. He founded and is presently chairperson of the Indian Sports Club and the Indian High School.
The Indian High School started with a group of 19 students and now has 16,000 students. He realised that the followers of Hindu philosophy who migrated to the UAE needed a place for observing last rites for their dead. As a result, he became active in acquiring land from the Dubai Government for this cause. The land was granted and, with his efforts, a crematorium with world class facilities became operational soon. Today, no Hindu marriage is solemnised and no cremation is carried out without his signature.
Vasu runs two old homes in India, 12 temples in the States of Maharashtra and Gujarat, a 500-seat school for children with speech and hearing impairment, a hospital and a blood bank in Devlaali, Maharashtra.