10 richest Indians in the GCC

One of them started as a taxi driver and another came here with just about AED 3 in his pocket.

Meryl D'Souza August 15, 2016

As of 2015, about 2.6 million Indians live in the UAE alone - making them the biggest expatriate population in the country and the third-largest Indian expatriate community after those in the United States and Nepal.

There was a time when Indians comprised of only the working class within the GCC, but over the years, we’ve seen a rise in the number of entrepreneurs and businessmen. Those men aren’t limited to the UAE though, they’ve spread across the GCC in a bid to serve the needs of the vast Indian diaspora in the region.

Here, we look at the ten wealthiest in the GCC:

Micky Jagtiani
Founder of Landmark Group
Age: 64
Net worth: $4.4 billion

As a teen, Mukesh “Micky” Jagtiani, dropped out of college and started driving a taxi and cleaning hotels in London to make ends meet. By the time he was 20, he moved to Bahrain to live with his family but a series of unfortunate events left him an orphan at 21. With a family inheritance of just above AED 22,000, Jagtiani started Babyshop in 1973. Today he leads a diversified company that boasts more than 1000 stores across 10 countries. 

Yusuffali MA
Founder of EMKE LuLu Group
Age: 60
Net worth: $4.2 billion

At 18, Yusuffali left his native Kerala to join his uncle, MK Abdullah’s manufacturing company and realise his Gulf dream in 1973. The young boy developed the company’s import and wholesale distribution and soon ventured into retail. By 1990, he launched the Lulu Hypermarket. Most recently, he bought the old Scotland Yard building in London for $170 million with plans to turn it into a hotel.

Dr Ravi Pillai
Chairman and managing director of the RP Group of companies
Age: 62
Net worth: 2.9 billion

Pillai left Kerala for Saudi Arabia in 1979. Despite his venture with businessman Abdullah Jufan not going according to plan, Pillai stuck with construction and partnered with Nasser Al-Hajri. The company started with around 120 people, all of them recruited from a town called Nagercoil in Tamil Nadu. His meteoric rise started with the industrialisation of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the construction boom in the Middle East. The RP Group of Companies today employs around 70,000 people, more than 45,000 of whom are Indians.

Sunil Vaswani
Chairman of the Stallion Group
Age: 53
Net worth: $2 billion

At 21, Vaswani believed that his father’s Nigeria-based trading business – a modest operation at the time – had the potential to be much bigger than what it was then. He did two things to take that business to the next level: first, he identified key products and services that impacted people’s daily lives, and developed a business model that delivered them to the mass population at high quality and fair pricing. And second, he collaborated with world leading companies in delivering their expertise to the underdeveloped African markets. Today Vaswani lives in an Emirates Hills apartment that includes an indoor aviary, a nightclub, an automatic carwash and a casino.

Sunny Varkey
Founder and chairman of GEMS Education
Age: 59
Net worth: 1.9 billion

While young Sunny was studying at a boarding school in India and later went on to complete his education in Britain, his parents launched Our Own English High School in Dubai. When Sunny came back to the city in 1977, he opened a small trading company, and then became part owner of the Dubai Plaza Hotel. Meanwhile, his parents continued to teach English at their institution until, in the early 1980s, the Dubai authorities told them that they either had to construct a purpose-built facility or shut down. That's when Sunny stepped in - and took the first small steps towards building his vast fortune. Today, Varkey's for-profit educational empire - run under his Global Education Management Systems (GEMS) business unit - manages 90 schools across 30 countries including the UAE, Qatar, India and Britain. 

BR Shetty
Vice-chairman & chief executive officer of NMC Healthcare and UAE Exchange
Age: 74
Net worth: 1.8 billion

Shetty’s isn’t a rags-to-riches story. In the state of Karnataka, his family were local landlords and politicians. Shetty was pressured into moving after he was unable to pay off a bank loan he took to get his sister married. His family offered to help, but Shetty was too stubborn to accept and so he arrived in Abu Dhabi in 1973 with a little over AED 30. Today, he owns the 100th floor on the Burj Khalifa and is one of the most influential men in the UAE.

PNC Menon
Founder and chairman of Sobha Ltd.
Age: 67
Net worth: 1.5 billion

In 1976, Menon ran into Brig Gen Suleiman Al Adawy in a hotel lobby in Kochi. The two conversed for a long time before Al Adawy invited Menon to Oman to explore business opportunities. Two months later Menon flew to Oman with nothing but Rs. 50 (about AED 3 right now) in his hand. The interior decorator borrowed 3,000 Oman Rial from a bank, bought himself a pickup and began hunting down clients and contracts. In 4-6 years he would call the Diwan of Oman a client.

Azad Moopen
Chairman and managing director of Aster DM Healthcare
Age: 63
Net worth: 1.5 billion

When Azad Moopen came to Dubai in 1987, he wanted to accomplish two things: earn enough to build a palatial house and then bring back a ‘foreign’ car. Needless to say he did those things, but didn’t return. Instead he opened more clinics with accompanying pharmacies that fed each other’s growth. What started as his private clinic in 1987 gradually ballooned into one of the largest healthcare groups in West Asia and India.

Raghuvinder Kataria
Chairman of Kataria Holdings
Age: 67
Net worth: 1.1 billion

When it comes to Kataria, we’re in the same boat as the internet: there’s not much we know. The man is the only one on the list who doesn’t even have a Wiki page. Here’s what we do know about the British citizen. He sold a minority stake in Sunil Mittal's Bharti Airtel at the stock's peak, cashing in an estimated $500 million. In 2009, he bought 2 buildings in Emaar Square in the central business district for $205 million and he has a stake in Vopium, a Skype rival.

Joy Alukkas
Managing director of Joyalukkas India Limited and chairman of Joyalukkas Jewellery LLC, Dubai
Age: 59
Net worth: 1.1 billion

In 1987 when Joy and his five brothers who initially comprised the Alukkas jewellery group in Kerala were still a team, he was intrigued by the wealth that expatriates in the Middle East were sending back to Kerala. He made the trip to Abu Dhabi in 1985 but wasn’t successful, so he turned his attention to Dubai. That didn’t work out too well either. With the Gulf Wars breaking out in 1990, Alukkas decided to head back home. He gave the emirate one more chance in 1995 though, and has never looked back.

All figures taken from the Forbes' 2016 Billionaire List.