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We imported Kashmiri Apples following Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s appeal to do business in Kashmir, Padmasri MA Yusuf Ali

Thiruvananthapuram, April 7(BPNS)

Padmasri MA Yusuf Ali is a name who never needs an introduction as he can be easily considered as the brand ambassador of Kerala in the middle east and an avid nationalist who will always be there to support the Indian cause in the Middle east. A self made business man who had struggled to get a foothold in the middle east since the early 1970’s has succeeded in making it big. However Yusuf Ali is a person who is always grounded with high ideas and have the impeccable capacity to execute what he has in mind and that too for the larger good of the society. The Lulu group of which he is the Chairman now employs around 40,000 people of which more than seventy percentage are from his home town Kerala.

MA Yusuf Ali speaks to Bharathpost.news in an exclusive interview

1:Lulu group is in the news for accepting the Prime Minister Narendra Modiji’s appeal to do business in Kashmir after the special status was removed ?

Ans: I have always considered that it is the prime responsibility of all Indians to accept and act upon the policies of Govt. So naturally when PM Modi during his visit to UAE in 2019 put forth the idea of investing and supporting the state of Kashmir, I was the first one to give my commitment. Immediately a high-level delegation had visited J&K to hold talks with authorities and other key stakeholders, as a result we started importing the famous Kashmiri apples, first time to the gulf countries.

Currently, Lulu imports apples and saffron from Kashmir and imports will significantly increase in the coming years, he said. The proposed new sourcing & logistics center will have most modern food processing and packaging and will also provide employment opportunities to the local youths. Lulu imported more than 400 tons of Kashmiri apples during last year, slightly short of target due to the restrictions of Covid pandemic

2:MA Yusuf Ali and Lulu group has now emerged into a global brand..Please explain the struggle you carried out to reach this position?

A: As the cliché goes, nothing comes easy in life. Same applies to me also. Right from my first journey to the shores of UAE in 1973 till date I have always believed in 3 simple mantras: There is no short cut to success, Never be a remote-control leader and never diversify into unknown territories just because someone else made money there.

So, I never considered my life as a struggle, it was more like a learning curve. Be it the initial days in the UAE in early 70s without AC or proper electricity or trying to source food products from abroad and storing and selling them in unknown markets, I was excited. 

My family used to own a small trading center in Abu Dhabi, and I naturally joined them. We used to do almost all work ourselves right from loading and unloading to driving around and selling them. Slowly we got into import and distribution of frozen food products from Europe and the US. I started to distribute the supplies not only in and around Abu Dhabi but also to farther interior areas of the emirate. The business started to pick up and we expanded to include bigger range of products in both food & non-food categories.

We went on to start cold stores, meat & food processing plants, large scale import and distribution to big hotel groups, catering companies, ships chandleries, etc. By 80s we had sizeable share of the wholesale and retail food market with operations that covered the entire UAE.”

After the success in the wholesale and distribution market we ventured into the retail sector with the opening of our first supermarket in Abu Dhabi. By now, I was independently handling the affairs of Lulu Group and I saw great potential in the organized retail sector. The economy had started to boom with the OIL revenue taking the center stage. The time was right to enter the supermarket business and thus was LULU launched. This happened in the height of the Gulf War and people were a bit skeptic of investing into new business here. I was clear in my thinking and strong determination made sure that I went ahead with my plans. The visionary founder of the UAE, late HH Sheikh Zayed was spearheading the “march to future” of this great country with many significant projects and initiatives, lots of people from all over the world had started to come in.. and by god’s grace we never had to look back.

Dubai was fast emerging as the epitome of world class shopping and with the launch of Dubai Shopping Festival, I saw great potential for bigger and larger format of shopping centers. So, in 2000 we opened our first large format LULU HYPERMARKET in Dubai. This really was the turning point for the group and we soon expanded into new markets with bigger and better hypermarkets in all major cities of the GCC. Today we have 198 stores of different sizes  in GCC, Egypt, Indian and the Far East, catering to more than 16 lakh shoppers, every day. 

I must say I never thought of this kind of massive expansion. But the kind of response we started getting for our brand from all stakeholders made us bolder and confident to enter new markets and expand beyond the UAE and GCC. Today we have retail operations in GCC, Africa, India and the Far East and our sourcing offices are in almost all major cities across the globe.

3: MA Yusuf Ali is often mentioned as the unofficial brand ambassador of India in UAE. Why are you called so?

Ans: I don’t attach much importance to usages such as “unofficial brand ambassador”, but yes, I consider myself as an Indian first. So obviously I am always more than eager to do my bit to promote India in each and every forum and opportunity. With almost 5 decades of exposure to every aspect of socio-economic-cultural fabric of Gulf and India, I consider it as my duty to use this for the betterment of Indo-Gulf relationship and to improve the image of Brand India and Indians. I am happy that my humble contributions have worked well in this direction and have been well appreciated. 

4  There has been several instances wherein the media reported on your belevonance to institutions and individuals,for example the huge support you have provided to Gandhi Bhavan which hosts more than 1000 people who dont have a home..Please explain the.motivation? 

Ans: As a firm believer, my philosophy of philanthropy is based on the teaching of Prophet, which says that “if your neighbor goes to bed hungry, you shall be held responsible”. Though I don’t want to go the details of my philanthropical activities, I keep aside a very sizeable portion of my earning towards various charitable activities, not only in India but around the world. The focus areas are healthcare, public welfare, disaster/ calamity support and education.

Philanthropy for me is a way of life and the feeling that I might be in the prayers of some of these families every day, is what I value most as an achievement.

5:  You are a person who employs thousands of people. How are you managing this huge work force during this Covid pandemic?

Ans: As cliché it might sound, but no amount of education or technology can ever replace the “human” element in business. So I always value our human resources as the biggest asset and invest in them. Yes, Covid pandemic has inflicted upon us worst challenges and like almost all organizations world over we also are going through tough times, but “this too shall pass away”. I firmly believe that a leader should not ditch his team, who have worked and grown with the organization through its ups & downs. Loyalty and sincerity is a two-way road. All through the COVID not a single LULU employee was terminated, or their salaries reduced, at the same time not a single colleague of mine left us. I highly value the way they stood firm with the organization and endured those initial tough Pandemic times and kept serving the community like a frontline warrior.

6: In public speeches ,you used to profusely quote Bhagvath Gita, have you learnt it ?

Ans: As true believer, I think we all should learn from all religions and religious books. I have extensively read and continue to read the Ramayanas, Bhagvath Gita, Bible and other similar spiritual literature. They all contain many great learnings which can guide in our personal and professional life.