Interview by Millionaire Magazine of Mr. Mohan Valrani on his life, achievements and the years ahead
We all recognize Mr. Valrani as a partner of the Al Shirawi Group, founding Chairman of the Indian Club and current chairman of the Indian High School, but Mohan is a modest and retiring man and it is doubtful whether more than a handful of people, outside his family, really know the man himself, his inner thoughts and feelings, his philosophy and morals, in short the private man behind the public persona. We met Mohan at his private office in Indigo Icon Tower–Jumeirah Lake Tower, Dubai and posed some searching questions, which he answered with engaging frankness. When asked about his links to Dubai, Mohan mentions seeing Dubai, as a place to live and work, that has been wonderfully good to him and he is lucky to have a right partner, Abdulla Al Shirawi. Through the ups and downs of business life they complemented each other and remain close friends. Mohan’s married life has been spent in Dubai and he built his house in Emirates Hills to suit his tastes. On asked of his retirement, he explains,
"It is true that I am less active in the business than I was hitherto but I still go almost every day to my office, for a short time, and help out when I can. I don’t think that at the time of retirement you should draw a line under one life and start another. I also think that it is a mistake frequently made to move away into a new environment unless one is returning home to family and friends. My family is here, my wife and my sons and I take great pleasure from a growing tribe of grandchildren. I am not trying to found a dynasty here but I have felt completely at home in Dubai for a long time and I intend to keep my main home here surrounded by my family and my many friends"
Mohan’s seems unfazed when asked about the continued prosperity of the Al Shirawi Group after his retirement. He says,
"We have been preparing for the transition of management to the 2nd generation for over 10 years so I am more than confident that the 2nd generation are well prepared to deal with the most challenging of environments. Each member of the 2nd generation has specific management responsibilities within our 35 company group. Their education and training has all been directed towards their active participation in the Group and they are supported by their own teams of competent people we hire only the best. I am fully confident in their ability to carry on and develop the business after my retirement and, in fact, we are almost at that point now with my role gradually being transformed into that of a father figure and a guide. The future is now in their safe and capable hands"
Mohan does not seem too affected by the current economic climate. He confidently tells us,
"My life in business spans fifty years and in that time I have seen, and sometimes suffered from, many periods of rapid growth followed by correction. The real estate bubble in Dubai was fuelled by unbridled speculation. Residential buildings were thrusting skywards, block after block, without apparent concern for the demographics, who would buy and live the promised luxury lifestyles"
Thinking aloud, Mohan feels the demand came from the…
"Flippers and developers and, sadly, a lot of people have damaged their lives and lost their money as a consequence. The collapse could have come at any time but regrettably it came at the worst possible time when the financial crunch struck the rest of the world and threw markets of all kinds into turmoil. We prepared ourselves for this correction quite early in 2008 when it appeared to me that the property frenzy was at its height and we laid contingency plans for rapid withdrawal from vulnerable sectors of the economy. A family-run business like ours has the great advantages of flexibility and quick reaction to change. With us it is a collegiate process, quick identification of opportunities or problems followed by quick response, and all on a consensual basis at board level. We have no politics we look at situations together and then act together swiftly. I have always been a man of quick decision in business matters, not autocratically but I certainly don’t hang about when trouble is brewing, as it clearly was"
We ask Mohan if there were any plans to make the Group public by means of an IPO. He responded by saying.
"We looked at the technical feasibility, some years ago, of launching an IPO at the DFM but there are legal impediments for companies with partial foreign ownership. In any case, public ownership is not altogether a blessing; it brings with it a whole raft of new corporate responsibilities, puts a lots of pressure on short term profitability and sometimes discourages management from taking long-term decisions. One has to look carefully at the reasons why companies go public. If it is done to raise capital for viable expansion or acquisitions, or to reduce expensive borrowings, they can usually looked upon as good reasons. But if the purpose of an IPO is to allow the shareholders to cash in their chips then one should treat the launch with caution. In our study, we found that we didn’t need the money, that our rate of generic growth is quiet sufficient , our leverage is on the decline because of our conservative dividend policy , so the investigation was not pursued. We like long-term planning, we have five years plan which assumes all foreseeable contingencies, but an IPO is not in the present plan"
Mohan is well known for his connection with the India club. He tells us that back in the early 1970’s when he first arrived here, living conditions were rather harsh and they didn’t have the diversion of people that they have now. There were already a lot of Indian nationals here but there was no sense of community or togetherness He adds,
"We were with a sense of being cast alone and cut off. So, it made sense for us to get together not because, as is often said, misery loves company, but because with our combined resources we could make things better for ourselves. I provided some of the impetus and the idea of community quickly took hold. It was good idea waiting to happen. We found a kind and generous patron in His Highness Sheikh Rashid Bin Saeed Al Maktoum and it surprised me how quickly it grew. Today it is the cultural, social and business center for the Indian community and I am very proud of my connection with it"
"I have arrived to a point in my life, a turning point if you like, where I can choose. That is real freedom, when everything is a matter of one’s own choice. My range of choices is only limited by my abilities because wealth is no longer a consideration. I have chosen to embark upon a series of occupation, which are often called ‘giving back I have enjoyed and surrounded myself with great bounty in recent years and I want to help others to improve their lives and their prosperity. Helping people to help themselves is a very rewarding way to spend one’s time and I intend to do that, starting with education and selective philanthropy. I also have special feelings of sympathy towards the handicapped and I want to do all I can to help those people who dedicate their lives to helping them. I cannot care for their bodies or their infirmities but I am able to launch schemes to raise funds to help those who can. These are priorities for me among the many things I have planned for my future"
Mohan was recently honoured with an award of a certificate of Public Recognition by the Russian Federation to mark the work he has been doing in this field. One doesn’t do this kind of work specifically to collect gongs and accolades but it is extremely gratifying when other people express their thanks for what one does. Mohan said he will continue to do all he can for these children because their special circumstances give them special needs. Mohan is obviously a contented man and fits in his skin as the French say. We ask if he has a recipe for that. He answers,
"I would fill your news paper if I don’t hold myself in check on this topic, but let me just say this. I think we all have a duty to those around us to be amenable and trustworthy people. The power to reach this goal lies within ourselves and can be approached in a number of ways. My chosen ways is to keep myself healthy in body and mind. “Mens sana in corpore sano”-all the true values, that is honesty, integrity, trustworthiness and love of other people, take precedence in the mind, affecting one’s appearance and behavior too, and ultimately to be at peace with oneself is a joy I cannot describe. Slowly I’m getting there and it is an exciting and fun journey"
"You are quite right, I am contented, but I am not satisfied yet, I feel that there is more in me. I might do some new business if the mood takes me, or travel to new places, but whatever I do I start each day with a light step and more spring in my knees than I had at the age of forty" I was truly inspirational meeting Mohan and I wish him and his team and family the very best in the future.