“The UAE is my home away from home”
Life can be challenging, but it’s your mindset that determines success. Giving up in times of adversity is easy. However, relentlessly fighting for your dreams and turning them into reality requires something greater than persistence.
Many may dismiss these “noble thoughts” as moral aphorisms, but Anis Sajan, Vice President of Danube Group, is a shining example of the “UAE Dream”, which similar to the “American Dream”, has come to fruition thanks to his three decades of hard work and an unwavering belief in certain core values that he held fast to even when the going got tough in his formative years at home in Mumbai, India in the late 1970s.
Anis lost her father Asker Ali Sajan, who worked as an employee at Nathani Steel, at the tender age of eight and her world, a home in Pant Nagar, Ghatkopar, “collapsed overnight”.
He recalls how his father was a beloved figure in the company when the entire workforce turned up at his funeral. The untimely death of the father made his elder brother Rizwan, who is eight years older than Anis, the sole breadwinner of the family. Those were hard times.
With brother Rizwan Sajan, founder and chairman of the Danube Group
Anis’s mother Gulbanu Sajan was afflicted with epilepsy and her elder sister Shabnam stepped into the role of her “godmother” to ensure a carefree upbringing of “playing cricket and flying kites”, despite the growing financial constraints.
Anis displayed an archetypal Sajan trait and has always been “a gifted salesman”. He started selling fairy lights during Diwali, an annual Indian festival of lights, to earn pocket money when he was barely 10 years old.
With sister Shabnam Kassam
“It’s not what I won, but it was more important to understand the value for money and try hard sales. It’s a life lesson that has served me well,” she says as she recounts her salad days in her beloved Mumbai, amid her well-appointed living room in her tastefully decorated villa in Emirates Hills (The villa goes beyond the bricks and mortar and an assortment of rare artifacts that money can buy, but it is the love and warmth of his wife, Rubina, and their two sons, Azhar, 24, and Sahil, 21, who make up his happy family. Anis is a devoted family man and a strict disciplinarian).
Rubina, Anis, Azhar and Sahil Sajan
Anis was having the time of his life with his friends and batch mates at KJ Somaiya College of Arts & Science in Mumbai when Rizwan, who had then taken up a job in oil-rich Kuwait in 1980, asked the his younger brother to join him. .
“I could not refuse his plea because he has been for me a father figure, a mentor, a friend-philosopher-guide, an endearing relationship that we still enjoy today,” Anis remembers fondly. On January 2, 1990, Anis landed in Kuwait, where Rizwan was making a mark in the timber business at Atlas Commercial Company under the able guidance of its owner, Jacob Moses.
Anis’s stay in Kuwait was “uneventful as she missed Mumbai a lot”.
The Gulf War-1 cut short his stay in Kuwait and he returned to Mumbai on 2 October 1992. Over the next 14 months, Anis, who had moved from Pant Nagar to Bandra after Rizwan bought an apartment tony Mumbai. suburb, he honed his salesmanship skills with Eureka Forbes, an Indian consumer goods company that was capturing the lion’s share of the water purifier market. He was one of the company’s top salespeople and at times earned 20 times his meager salary based on his “stupendous sales performance.”
The road was going well, but life, as always, had other plans for Anis, who was destined to leave his mark on the Arabian Gulf.
Rizwan, who had moved to Dubai in late 1991, wanted Anis to join him.
So this time, it was the United Arab Emirates, a young nation slowly making its mark on the world stage, thanks to the visionary leadership of its founding father, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan.
He arrived in Dubai on 12 November 1992 and was stunned by the charming Emirati official at the immigration desk, who greeted him in Hindi, “Aap kaise hain?” (how are you?), to make him “feel at home in a foreign land”.
A sentiment he has nurtured for the next 30 years and continues to swear by the country that has become a “home away from home for its unprecedented safety and security and a cultural melting pot – a happy mix of East and West celebrating diversity”. .
However, Anis’ influx to the UAE would not have been possible had it not been for Rizwan, who ensured that his younger brother did not miss out on the Mumbai vibes. Rizwan started Anis in Karama, one of the vibrant Indian neighborhoods of a fledgling Dubai, which instantly struck a chord with the young man, who was destined to thrive in Dubai.
“The driver’s license in those days was one of the most precious possessions. Few expats could get a license quickly. However, I was one of the lucky ones to get one within three months, which came in handy for my sanitary ware business. I still remember my first car in the UAE, a Mazda pick-up (its registration number was 88530) which helped me transport goods in Dubai and around Sharjah and Abu Dhabi,” he says. Rizwan continued with his business of wood and the brothers were making inroads as wholesale suppliers in Deira.
A team of four, including two employees, was making a punch.
Soon, Rizwan, an accomplished businessman from his formative days, decided to name his company after the Danube, the second longest river in Europe after the Volga, on a trip to a wood factory in Romania for the water in 1993.
The United Arab Emirates, says Anis, “is blessed by the hand of God.”
“Initially, it was the rebuilding of Kuwait after the First Gulf War, which was followed by the disintegration of the Soviet republics, that brought Russians to Dubai in large numbers. They were bulk buyers to whom I sold my sanitary wares until we diversified our portfolios, such as hardware, tiles, electrical and bathroom accessories, etc. I went to exhibitions in Bologna, Italy, Frankfurt in Germany and Taiwan to buy sanitary fittings and shower curtains. reeds that the Russians bought in large quantities”, he says.
In 1996, he married Rubina as his company flourished coinciding with His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the United Arab Emirates and Ruler of Dubai, unleashing a flurry of ambitious development plans for the emirate
Rizwan and Anis were at the right place at the right time. The unity of being—time, place, and action—couldn’t have been more timely for the Sajan brothers, who at the turn of the millennium were poised to cash in on the real estate boom in Dubai between 2003 and 2008 amid the opening of the real estate sector.
In 2003, Rizwan invested in four villas in Dubai Marina, one for himself and Anis and the other was rented out, as major developers at the time relied heavily on the Sajans for steel supply , wood, sanitary products, hardware and electrical accessories. They ensured that construction raw materials were never in short supply and weathered the 2008 global crisis, the aftershocks of which were also felt in the UAE.
The 2008 recession, widely regarded as a time of adversity, also presented a rare opportunity for the Danube Group to venture into uncharted territory in the retail building materials business that was underpinned by a simple business motto of “no risk, no gain”. The Sajans opened their first store, Build Mart, in Ras Al Khaimah (RAK) in 2008, selling everything needed to build a house under one roof, from chandeliers sourced from China and Italy to to wallpaper and kitchen utensils.
Buildmart, since renamed Danube Home, has grown and expanded to Manama, Bahrain; to other emirates in the United Arab Emirates, including Abu Dhabi and Fujairah.
Danube Group, which started with two employees in 1993, employs more than 4,500 people in the six countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) and Jebel Ali, Dubai, serves as its corporate headquarters.
The Sajans decided to venture into the real estate business – developing and selling properties – in 2014, which disrupted the Dubai real estate market due to its innovative pricing mechanisms.
Dreamz was the first real estate project, a four-bedroom villa priced at more than Dh3 million for expats, which was launched in Al Furjan in 2014.
“The venture was a runaway success as we looked at the other end of the spectrum such as Dh400,000, Dh600,000 and Dh800,000 for a studio, one bedroom and two bedroom respectively in Al Furjan, Arjan and Miracle Gardens.. We could offer amazing prices because we were passing on our margins in building materials to our customers. This is how we have always been ahead of our competitors. We could offer the quality of Dubai Marina to our expatriate home buyers for the first time at the price of Discovery Gardens,” says Anis.
Also, the one percent payment plan has proven to be a game-changer for expat home buyers in the middle annual income bracket, who are looking to convert their rental expenses into Equated Monthly Installments (EMIs) .
“A home buyer must pay 52 percent of the cost of their apartment, including two installments of 10 percent each, to get a key. This pricing mechanism was unheard of in this part of the world. Significantly, the debatable question is why people invest in Danubi Group? It’s not just about the pricing and payment plans, it’s their innate trust in the brand. It’s our carefully built reputation over the years. Our organic growth and ethical business practices, which are our greatest capital and assets,” he adds.
Danube Group’s brand ambassadors over the years, from legendary Indian cricketer Sunil Gavaskar to actresses Juhi Chawla, Sushmita Sen and Shilpa Shetty, reinforce the high trust quotient that has built two other powerhouse brands, Milano and Casa Milano, run by the dynamic children of Anis. Azhar and Sahil. For the uninitiated, Milano and Casa Milano jointly offer affordable and luxury bathroom accessories and tiles, respectively, that celebrate Italian craftsmanship.
An avid yoga practitioner and cricket enthusiast, Anis has had a fulfilling life, thanks to the visionary leadership of the UAE, whose constant support and encouragement helped Danube Group emerge as a corporate entity homegrown that is making forays into real estate to hospitality to entertainment.
However, he has a couple of pending agendas. India and Pakistan, two major cricketing nations, had last played a Test match in December 2007. Although both teams have met in the shorter versions of the game, Anis has the ambition to host a three-match bilateral Test series. between main rivals Dubai, Sharjah and Abu Dhabi.
A cherished dream that may come true one day along with seeing Danube Group’s footprints spread across the globe, under the leadership of the next generation of Sajans, including his nephew Adel, Danube Group’s Managing Director, and their children. , Azhar and Sahil. “Adel, Azhar and Sahil have a connection, like I do with Rizwan, which is a big factor in our success. I’m sure it will be crucial to spread Danube’s influence around the world,” says Anis.