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From Dh28 a month to running an education empire in UAE

As a young engineer who came to the UAE 38 years ago, entrepreneur Abdul Lahir Hassan, chairman of Iqra Education, reaped the benefits of a welcoming country and people and stuck to his Islamic values to grow an education empire

At the end of 1979, I landed in the UAE along with my wife. I came to Dubai from India at age 22.

Back in my home country India, I had started working for a construction company at 21, earning Rs 500 monthly. My parents’ pride at seeing me working at a young age is a vivid memory and it keeps me going even today. My first hard-earned salary in Dubai was Dh2,500, most of which was sent back to my parents.

The glaring, bright sun here was something new to me. Though I wasn’t worried about the heat, it was rather contrasting to my home state, Kerala. I remember having to buy sunglasses, which I couldn’t afford earlier, but it became a necessity. I also decided to learn the local Arabic, as the UAE Ministry used to offer free Arabic classes at the time for all. It was a fun time learning a new language, which helped me a lot to build my relations and network with the community here.

My first impression of the local citizens that I interacted with was rather contrary to the perception about them back home. I found them extremely cooperative and civilised, possessing great intellect, wisdom and perception. So much so, we have sustained cordial relationships even today, after 40 years of our first acquaintance.

My first job in the UAE was as a junior engineer in a consulting company, which I got through my mentor, my late father-in-law Haji Kamaluddin. He was instrumental in moulding my value systems and made me a strong believer in the principles of Islam.

I started my first business venture: a building maintenance company called Gamma. My wife, a teacher, started a small nursery in Satwa called Apple Nursery, which has now grown into The Apple International School. As is the case with laying foundations of any new enterprise, we did face many struggles and hardships, but Alhamdulillah, owing to the cooperation and support of our sponsors and my small team’s enthusiasm and commitment, we were able to reach all milestones and establish our business.

Due to conflicts in neighbouring countries, UAE was at the time hit by recession, and the majority of people faced a crisis. Over the years and due to the constant mercy of Allah, we accomplished ease in doing business thanks to our healthy and positive local relations. Today, the business has grown to the level of a specialised, reputed company with landmark projects in all emirates. We also serve the community through our four schools – The Oxford School, Dubai; The Apple International School, Dubai; The Indian Academy, Dubai and The Indian Academy, Sharjah.

In addition, we have a construction and real estate company in Kerala, India called KHB.

In my current work, I look over the finances and the overall management of the business. In my spare time, I play badminton and run a badminton club. As founder-president of the Apple International Toastmasters’ Club, am actively involved in training sessions in communication, public speaking and leadership skills.

The best advice that I have got in my life was from the former Indian President and scientist, the late Dr APJ Abdul Kalam – “All of us do not have equal talent, but all of us have an equal opportunity to develop our talents.” My golden rule has always been living with integrity and upholding the Islamic ethos and values. In all these years of entrepreneurship, never have I fostered transactions and loans involving interest.

For the younger generation coming into the UAE with a similar vision and aspirations as I did, my advice is, don’t wait for things to be perfect before you make your first move. No swimmer learnt how to swim before he plunged into the water. If you fail with one plan, start another. Stay true to your ethics. Try to give this country your best, and it will give you only the best in return.

‘It is now much easier to reach out to businesses’

As we see, the UAE is going through an amazing transformation phase, adopting innovative technologies and digitalisation of data, says Abdul Lahir Hassan. “Processes have become more streamlined. The ease of doing business in Dubai is a benchmark India can learn a lot from.

As a budding professional who landed 38 years ago, I am indebted to this country for providing me with a conducive, encouraging environment to flourish in my business endeavours. This is a reassurance to all up-and-coming entrepreneurs – you will gain enough support from this country to achieve what they aspire.”


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