A Quarterly Newsletter from the UAE and Oman member firms of the PKF International Ltd.

VOL 17, Issue 4 October 2015

Interview

Rizwan Sajan is the founder and chairman of Danube Group, the leading building materials company in the GCC region. In 1993, two years after coming to the UAE, he started a small trading firm with his wife Sameera, opening their first store in Deira, Dubai. Sajan, with his confidence and business savvy, has charted a path that has transformed Danube from a small trading firm into the number one construction and building materials company in the GCC region. The company’s operations comprise four segments namely, Building Materials, Danube Home (Home Interior Solutions), Cha Cha Chai and the recently launched Danube Properties. As a testament to his leadership and business acumen, Rizwan has been awarded top honours by some of the region’s most prestigious award bodies. Beginning with the title of ‘Businessman of the Year’ claimed at the 2010 edition of the Ahlan! Masala Awards to ‘Visionary of the Year’ at the first CEO Awards by Middle East magazine, he has been recognized as one of the top 25 ‘Young Asian Achievers’ in the UAE.

Q. Danube is Rizwan Sajan and Rizwan Sajan is Danube. The growth story of Danube and the man behind Danube is well documented. We want to know from the man himself about his journey from a humble salesman to the man who owns whatever he wishes?

A. Starting out as a salesman in India, I had a chance to witness what people in the market desire. With my uncle’s help, I set up a business in Kuwait, which came to a halt due to Saddam Hussein’s invasion. Subsequently, I moved to Dubai and involved myself in trading of building materials and started exploring a number of possibilities to offer immense value to my customers. In my opinion, most of the time having a good idea doesn’t mean you will attain success. The value is in the execution of that idea and that’s what I have invested maximum focus on.

Q. Apart from your visible support role, who are the unsung heroes behind Danube’s success?

A. Every individual at the Danube family has served as a pillar and has helped us in our success. One man cannot be responsible for everything and the most important aspect of business is to be surrounded by a great team whose members support one another. I have a work force of around 2,200 people, most of whom have served Danube since its inception.

Q. Success breeds success. However, there has to be a mantra behind the phenomenal organic and inorganic growth experienced by Danube. What are the principal factors behind the continuing success and formidable reputation of Danube?

A. The fruit of success has never attracted me but it’s the way in which the seeds were sown that I was always concerned about. The main principle I have followed over the years is to align my business objectives with the demand in the market. A small example would be the fact that every family associated security with having a home. In times like these, owning a home seems like a far-fetched dream but I have devised a strategy that works for consumers as well as my business.

Q. Any service industry is driven by its people. What drives the ambition of Mr. Rizwan Sajan?

A. Keeping differences in backgrounds and appearances aside, everyone existing on this planet has something in common, which is a passion for a cause. My passion is Danube. I started the company and have seen it grow one step at a time. I have spent years nurturing it and helping it grow. The position Danube has attained is a testimony to my passion and I strive every day to maintain its reputation.

Q. Excellence has been a hallmark of Danube and its projects, whether in building materials or real estate. How difficult, or easy, has it been to maintain this consistency over the years, particularly the difficult ones following the recession and market slowdown in 2007?

A. The Dubai market was hit hard in 2007 but in just a few years the market has stabilized making our ventures touch a prolific mark. Every year, we are launching more and more projects just because we are confident that the Dubai market, with all its ups and downs, has revived itself through difficult times and will continue to do so.

Q. In a way, real estate was the logical extension of your building material empire. How challenging was it to enter / grow in this sector? What other rabbits is Danube going to pull out of its magical hat?

A. Entering the real estate business was not a big challenge as we were well aware of the inner workings of the industry. We have been supplying building materials to renowned contractors in the region and have accumulated an immense bank of knowledge about the industry.

We have established a brand umbrella, under which we specialize in literally all aspects of a home. This includes our building materials wing, our real estate venture and our home decor section. We also exercise an active part in the F&B business with over 10 Cha Cha Chai outlets all over Dubai. Besides these, we are also venturing into the field of fashion. We have tied up with a Turkish men’s wear brand and also, a Spanish footwear brand.

Q. How will the current economic challenges and the World Expo 2020 influence the future of Danube?

A. Expo 2020 has opened up doors of investments, which are picking up at an incredible pace. Our plans at Danube have been formulated keeping the Expo 2020 vision in mind and we are ensuring we move ahead with more projects in the near future. We are dominant in the affordable housing line, which has enjoyed a good demand as compared to the luxury homes segment. At present, the market is low but this is sure to pick up in the near future.

Q. It is easy to mistake Danube to be your only passion. What are your interests outside of expanding your already burgeoning business empire?

A. My interest beyond work lies with my family. I am a very family-oriented person and enjoy immersing myself in conversations with my wife and my children.

Q. What words of wisdom does Mr. Rizwan Sajan the entrepreneur have for budding businessmen in the region?

A. People always say 2 +2 = 4, my uncle taught me that 2 + 2 = 5 (i.e., always strive for more);
Secondly – Work, Work, Work! There are no shortcuts to success; and
Finally – Trust! Find the right people and, then, trust and empower them to do the work.