Humility personified: Meet M A Yousuf Ali, the face of Indian business in the Arab world

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Those who meet this ever-smiling and smart-looking man, would be struck by his simple and amiable manners. He patiently lends his ears to whoever approaches him with any problem and won’t send back those who seek help from him empty-handed. He is a pillar of support for those who undertake social, charitable and humanitarian activities.

That’s M A Yousuf Ali for you. This enterprising NRI businessman from Kerala, who leads the thriving Lulu Group International, tops Malayalee businessmen on the latest Forbes list of richest Indians. He has won this distinction by beating five other Malayalee businessmen Ravi Pillai, Sunny Varkey, Kris Gopalakrishnan, Azad Moopan and P N C Menon. According to the Forbes Listing, Yousuf Ali, with a personal wealth of USD 370 crore, is currently the 24th wealthiest Indian and the 737th richest in the world.

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This 60-year-old businessman is an inspiring story for upcoming entrepreneurs and management personnel. He moved to Abu Dhabi at the age of 18 to join his uncle who ran a manufacturing company in Abu Dhabi. Learning the trick of the trade from his uncle, he worked his way up and set up the Lulu Group, a company which today has a USD 4.5 billion turnover, with operations spread over three continents. Deloitte has ranked the Lulu Group as one of the ten fastest growing retailers in the world.

His success lies in the fact that he could identify a great business opportunity in the UAE’s retail sector at a time when it witnessed a major change, with the traditional groceries and supermarkets yielding place to large neighborhood stores and hypermarkets.

Although retail business continues to be the mainstay of the Group, it has since successfully diversified into sectors like Trading, Imports and Exports, IT, Shipping, Travel and Tourism, Education, Food Processing, Hospitality, Banking etc.

He hit international headlines recently with the acquisition of the historic Scotland Yard building in London. The 92,000 sq.ft. building is being converted by Yousuf Ali into a five-star hotel to be managed by the Steigenberger Hotel Group. According to reports, the costliest suite in the hotel to be opened in 2017 could be as expensive as euro 10,000 for a night!

He expanded his business empire to his homeland, Kerala, by establishing the 5,000-seat International Convention Centre and Garden Hotel at Thrissur in his home district in 2006.

Since then he has created many business landmarks in Kerala that include :

LuLu Shopping Mall in Kochi, the Group’s first retail venture in India, the Kochi Marriott Hotel, the only luxury hotel in Kerala to have a roof-top helipad, and Lulu Cyber Tower at Inforpark, Kochi, employing 4,000 odd IT professionals.

Lulu Group is now constructing an International Convention Centre and Grand Hyatt Hotel on Bolgatty Island off Kochi. The Group is also investing Rs 400 crores to develop the 13 lakh sq.ft. Lulu Cyber Tower 2 at Infopark campus, which is expected to provide employment to 11,000 IT professionals.

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Making an aggressive foray into the banking sector in Kerala, Yousuf Ali acquired 4.99 % shares of Thrissur-based Catholic Syrian Bank and increased his stake in the Federal Bank to 4.47 %.

Yousuf Ali is working virtually as Kerala’s brand ambassador in the Gulf. The Kerala Government relied on his close connections with the Saudi rulers to felicitate the construction of the Smart City project in Kochi which had run into a series of troubles in the initial stages. The first building in the Smart City is expected to be commissioned towards this year-end.

It is a recognizing his clout in the Gulf, that the Government of India has nominated him as a Trustee of Overseas Indian Facilitation Centre, credited with the responsibility to promote overseas Indian investments in India and facilitate Business-to-Business partnerships between Indian Businesses and Overseas Indians. He enjoys good rapport with Prime Minister Narendra Modi who is keen to tap Yousuf Ali’s business contacts to promote his pet Make in India project.

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Yousuf Ali is the biggest employer among all Malayalee businessmen. The Lulu Group employs over 40,000 persons, representing 29 different nationalities, the big chunk of whom are Indians, mainly Keralites.

Setting a lofty example for other employers, he has conducted recruitment drives in his home town Nattika in Thrissur district and hired a good number of local youths for his business empire. He has thus become a cult figure for the educated and unemployed youths of his native town.

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