M A Yusuff Ali needs little introduction. Widely celebrated as the most influential Indian in West Asia, Yusuff Ali is the Chairman and Managing Director of UAE-based retail giant Lulu, which has 193 stores in the Gulf and elsewhere, setting new benchmarks for the entire retail sector. From humble beginnings, Yusuff Ali has crafted a remarkable success saga in the Arab world, both in terms of business and influence. The Wall Street Journal included him in the list of most influential non-royals in the Emirates.
Recently, Yusuff Ali has been nominated into the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas Samman Awards (PBSA) jury committee by the Prime Minister of India, Narendra Modi, on the occasion of 2021 PBD Divas Convention.
In an exclusive interview with Business Voice, Yusuff Ali talks about a wide range of topics, from Atmanirbhar Bharat to Kerala’s business friendly atmosphere. Here are the excerpts
How do you look at the present investment scenario in Kerala?
Kerala, which is God’s own country, is one of the few states to have marketed its natural beauty successfully in the leisure tourism sector. The State’s unique heritage and cultural diversity has attracted tourists from all over the world. Apart from Tourism, there are many sectors including Food Processing & Agriculture, Manufacturing, Logistics, Water & Sanitation and Social Infrastructure that attracts investments to Kerala.
The present global health crisis has greatly affected investments all over the world. At the same time, I am sure things will improve in the coming days and more investments will come to the State of Kerala.
Job Loss has become a major issue in these times. You are at the helm of a business empire that employs a large number of employees inside and outside India. What has been your approach to employees in the age of pandemic? And what are your suggestions to other entrepreneurs regarding this?
Our Lulu Group employs a strong workforce of more than 56500 staff from 43 different countries. We are proud and privileged to employ the highest number of Indians outside India. Also, we employ more than 8000 staff in India. Globally, all businesses have been affected due to the pandemic. It is needless to mention that our businesses have also been affected. Many business establishments around the world have reduced the salary of their staff to withstand this difficult period.
Gulf leaders treated their citizens and Indians equally and gave all the medical and other support to Indians as given to the nationals. This could be possible only because of the personal relationship of our Prime Minister with the leaders of the Arab world
At the same time, our Group has not reduced even a single rupee from the salary of any of our staff. I consider our staff as my family members and I am proud to say that it is their hard work, sincerity, dedication and commitment that have helped our Group to grow and expand over the years. This is the reason why I have decided to stand by them during this difficult period though our decision has caused a great financial burden.
My suggestion to other entrepreneurs is to support their staff during this difficult time. This will ensure the continued loyalty of their staff after the pandemic.
Will there be any slowing down of new investments from Lulu because of Covid-19?
There will not be any slowing down of new investments from our Group.
In fact, we are more aggressively continuing our expansion drive. Having said that, I should also admit that this pandemic has slowed down many of our ongoing projects due to staff shortage and other related reasons. These are reasons beyond our control as the whole world is going through an unprecedented situation and everyone is affected in one way or the other.
Is the construction of Mall projects – in Lucknow and Thiruvananthapuram on track? Will there be a delay in completion because of Covid-19?
Actually, our Mall projects in Lucknow and Thiruvananthapuram were ahead of schedule before the pandemic.
At the same time, as I have mentioned earlier during this pandemic period due to staff shortage and many other related reasons our projects are slightly delayed, but we are trying our best to complete it at the earliest. Currently, there is a delay of 1 year because of this pandemic.
What do you think of the business-friendly attitude in Kerala?
All political parties in Kerala, irrespective of their differences, sincerely wish to bring investments to Kerala. At the same time, we should keep on striving to find new ways in attracting more and more investments for the growth and prosperity of the State. Political parties, Government officials, Environmentalists, Media and the Residents of the State should be friendly towards businesses coming to the State keeping in mind the employment opportunities of our current and future generation. Only then we can strengthen the confidence and trust of investors.
Your suggestion to improve Kerala’s ease of doing business score from its 28th position?
Kerala is coming out with various measures to attract new entrepreneurs to the State to ensure industrial growth. New projects in industrial sector will accelerate this step. As I said earlier, the different political parties, Government officials, Environmentalists, Media, the Residents and other stake holders have equal responsibility and they should move together to attract investments to the State. I sincerely believe that the State will be able to improve its position next time.
I can say with conviction that with the leadership of our Honorable Prime Minister, the image of India and Indians has gone up all over the world
What do you want to tell those youngsters who are about to step into entrepreneurship in this age of pandemic?
As we know, the whole world is going through a very difficult phase. It is needless to mention that this period has put before us many challenges. At the same time, if you are confident, dedicated, sincere, punctual and hardworking in all you do, you can overcome all these challenges. There will be nothing to stop you from achieving your dreams. One thing we should always remember is that there is no shortcut to success.
What is your take on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s call for Atma Nirbhar Bharat (Self-reliant India)?
Atma Nirbhar Bharat (Self-reliant India) has captured people’s imagination and become a mantra for everyone. I am sure this vision of our Honourable Prime Minister will make our country a bigger and more important part of the global economy by pursuing policies that are efficient, competitive, resilient and being self-sustaining and self-generating. This will definitely be a pathway to success for our young future generation.
I can say with conviction that with the leadership of our Honorable Prime Minister, the image of India and Indians has gone up all over the world. Today, world leaders view India with great respect. This is due to our Honourable Prime Minister’s relationship and interaction with them. Also, the reform measures undertaken by the Government under the dynamic leadership of our Honourable Prime Minister has resulted in a record Foreign Direct Investments (FDI) in our country and India is on its way to reach the US$ 5 trillion economy in the very near future. This dream will be fulfilled in reality.
I also want to mention one very important thing. As we all know, the majority of the expatriates in the Gulf countries are Indians. Out of this significant number of Indians the majority are from the State of Kerala.
During the initial time of the pandemic COVID-19, our Hon’ble Prime Minister personally telephoned all Gulf leaders and requested them to help the Indians in the Gulf. That has made a huge impact. Gulf leaders treated their citizens and Indians equally and gave all the medical and other support to Indians as given to the nationals. This could be possible only because of the personal relationship of our Prime Minister with the leaders of the Arab world.