INTERVIEW: Rizwan Sajan’s impressions about Bosnia and business opportunities

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“Park Group Dubai” (PGD) recently hosted in Bosnia Indian businessman Rizwan Sajan who made a name for himself as the founder and chairman of the building materials company The Danube Group.He is ranked 7th among the ‘Top 100 Indian leaders in the UAE’ List by Forbes Middle East.

Established in the year 1993, Danube Group began with a small trading enterprise as a dream, but today the dream has been transformed into reality. Rizwan Sajan has raised his business empire from scratch into a multibillion-dollar conglomerate with nine companies spread over 50 locations in 10 countries and employing more than 3,600 people. 

As one of the largest suppliers in the GCC region today, Danube’s operations are dominated by two main segments- Building Materials FZCO and Danube Home (Home Interior/ Décor Solutions), which brings together a variety of state-of-the-art products available at showrooms strewn across the MENA region.

Danube has successfully expanded itself in UAE, Kuwait, Oman, Bahrain, Qatar, Africa and India, to name a few. Danube occupies more than 5.5 million square feet of land in JAFZA which makes it one of the biggest land bank occupiers in JAFZA. Its warehouses across the UAE stock more than 50,000 products to the envy of its competitors.

We talked with mr. Sajan during his visit in Bosnia. He spoke about his business success, his impressions of Bosnia and business opportunities there, and his plans for investment in the future.

Your general impression of Bosnia and Herzegovina?

Oh my God, I love this country. I come here for the first time and literally I’m in love with this country for the reasons I find the people are very very warm over here, a lot of business opportunities are here which is also really nice. Generally, when you enter a country it’s the first impressions which you get about the country and that’s what makes you positive and that’s what makes you „yes I want to do some business“. The same happened when I went to Dubai.  When I landed in Dubai the first impression I got was that this is the place I want to settle down. And it happens the same thing over here. When I came over here I just felt that this is a country that has a lot of opportunities and I should be here as soon as possible and start my business over here.

 

What would you say was your crucial strength to come all the way where you are now?

You see, Danube Group was established 27 years ago with absolutely zero money. When I say zero money that means we had no money and had come from Kuwait when Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait. I worked in Dubai for 1 year before I could start my company. And then I told my wife that I love this country, like I just mentioned Bosnia, and I want to start my business over here. And my wife said: “Are you crazy, wanna start a business in Dubai. We don’t have any money”. I said let me try, because there’s something I know, which is the brokerage business. Brokerage is when somebody wants to buy and somebody wants to sell, and you try to make a commission out of it. I had to contact the sellers and find the buyers who wanted to buy my material. So that’s how we started our company in Dubai with only me and my wife and my first employee. Gradually we started doing some trading over there. Now we are having 3600 employees working for me in a company called Danube Building Material, Danube Home and also Danube Properties. Danube Properties are not as cheap as Bosnia but it’s quite reasonably priced compared to the elements of the city. Today Danube Properties is one of the fastest growing companies in UAE, and I’m very very happy that we took the decision of starting it over there. God has been very kind to me and also the people over there were very very nice.

 

How did you discover Bosnia and Herzegovina, what triggered you to come and visit?

Bosnia was interesting for me for a very long time and I also know a lot of my Emirati friends who come over here. When I was on the flight for Bosnia, my flight was half full with my Emirati friends and most of them I could see later sitting here in the Swiss hotel. So I was very  fortunate that I also picked the right hotel. Then one of the main reasons I would say I came to Bosnia is because I have a friend called Iftikhar Yousuf. He inspired me to come to Bosnia. When I was in his office in Dubai, he said: “You have to come, Danube Group has to come to Bosnia”. The problem is we are in our comfort zone over there in UAE. Although we are present in 20 countries, we are still in our comfort zone in UAE. I told Iftikhar: “Why Bosnia? Who came to Bosnia?” But he kept pushing me and he said you have to come to Bosnia. And I’m so happy that I made the decision to come over here, because that really changed my vision about what Bosnia is and what I can do over here.  So I would say yes, Iftikhar is one of the reasons and another is that I have a lot of my friends who were coming here to Bosnia and that’s the reason I’m here.

Which reasons would you give to other investors for investing in Bosnia and Herzegovina?

There are many reasons to come here to Bosnia, although I’m very new to Bosnia. But let me tell you a few reasons. I will start with five reasons, but then maybe I can go more even than five.

One of the reasons is you have a lot of greenery over here which we don’t see in the UAE. I mean anywhere you go you want fresh air, that’s what we look for. And everywhere I’m driving here there is a lot of greenery.

Bosnia has many business opportunities because Bosnia is  a growing country. There are plenty of business opportunities here which we have discovered in the last 3-4 days. Because we have the Danube Home it is one of the best opportunities for us.

Also I feel that people here are very nice, and they are welcoming the tourists without any problem.

Then, here in Bosnia we can open a company without any partner.  That is very very important for a foreign investor who wants to come and invest here. You just have to come and form your company without any partner. Also I believe government rules and regulations are not that difficult.

The food. I enjoyed the food over here. Excellent. Mind-blowing food, the type which we like to eat. Especially we from the Middle East.  

And the most important thing. I must say I want to congratulate Bosnian government for keeping the road so clean. I was just telling Iftikhar. Look what a lovely place. These people have managed to keep the road so clean, and also very nice. Infrastructure is, I would say, very good. 

There are more than 5, and I told you it’s going to be more and more. And this is only my third day in Bosnia, so if I’m going to stay here longer, I’ll probably find more reasons for investors to come to Bosnia. 

Basic criterion to contribute to your decision to expand your business?

When I enter any country the first thing I should have is an intuition that this country works for me. That intuition I had as soon as I landed in the airport. Immigration was cleared so fast. It is very very important for a foreigner when he comes that he is hassle-free. He is out of the airport, baggage is there on time. Then the welcome at the hotel. Then the people around you. When you move around you can see happy people. You want to be entering a country where people are happy, people are enjoying themselves and also you find business opportunities. So, yes Bosnia did fulfill my criteria of starting a business over here because I could see that positive energy, positive vibes and most importantly what I heard about Bosnia is that the security is very good. It is very very important for a foreigner that when he comes over here, he should not be looted, he should not be mugged by Bosnian or any other people. And what I got to understand is that Bosnia is a very very safe country to start your business. So this is all the things that matter to investors and like I mentioned to you earlier, you can start your business without any partner. So yes definitely Bosnia fulfills my criteria of starting my business here and I should be here with Danube Group very soon.

Can we expect the Danube Group in Bosnia and Herzegovina soon?

Yes, that’s what I have planned. Because when I was moving around I could not see any store like Danube Home. Danube Home is a store where you can get everything you need when you want to furnish your house. Like I mentioned to you earlier, we are in business with building materials. When you are constructing your house you require all the cement, and the steel and the plywood and all of that. After your house is ready you are required to furnish your house and that’s when Danube Home comes there. When your house is ready you require sofas, kitchen, garden furniture, tiles, aluminium, glass, windows, doors, ceiling, flooring. Everything under one roof Danube Home provides. I think this is the start of the opportunity for Danube Home to be there, because I did not see any similar stores which sell this in bosnian market. And I should be coming here with the Danube Home concept very very soon.

Your son Adel is already managing a big part of your business, how do you see yourself in the future business wise?

Adel definitely is managing the business very well. He’s the one who’s responsible for the Danube Home. He’s taking Danube Home to a new level, because every year he’s growing at a growth rate of 30% – 40% or 50%. You’ll be happy to know that even in the pandemic this particular Danube Home has grown 40% in 2020 and we are expecting to go another 40-50% in 2021. So this business model was possible because he had the vision how to drive this company to multinational companies. And today, Danube Home is there in 20 countries and they are already signed up for many other countries which you will see. By 2025 we should hopefully be in the 50 countries. That is a vision of Adel. He wants to make Danube Home a multinational company like other multinational companies which are there in the world. And this is very much possible because the variety which Danube Home has for any country, no other store has this. And that’s what people are looking for, that you go to the store where you’ll find everything and you don’t have to bargain the prices. You get value for money. You get aftersales service. And that’s what Danube Home is all about. So I’m sure the Bosnian government and the people will be very happy if Danube Home comes over here. Because that will fulfill or make many people happy over here. As I understand, a lot of construction is happening in Bosnia. A lot of new houses are coming in. So, yes, Danube Home definitely will help and Adel is going to take this forward. As soon as we go back, I will discuss the plan with him. And he’ll be here with his team and start Danube Home as soon as possible.

Do you have any advice for young business people?

Today’s  generation or today’s world is very competitive. But at the same time there are a lot of opportunities. The world is going very very fast and one has to figure out something or think something out of the box. Now to do something out of the box one has to work in a particular company and then decide what he wants to do. I go and give a lot of these lessons in many of the colleges, universities, or the small Industries. The most important thing I tell all the extras is to first figure out what your strength is. For example, if you ask me, my strength is sales. I’m a very good salesman. Somebody could be very good at writing, he could be an editor. Somebody could be good at painting or somebody could be a chef. So you need to figure out what your strength is. Now, once you figure out what your strength is then you work towards it. Only focus towards that. Don’t diversify your mind. Sometimes they’re trying to do work at the shop or sometimes they want to pursue their careers in computers, or they do singing. That’s not that. You need to first figure out what your strength is. Work in that company for 3 years and then plan or focus for the next three years where you want to be. This is very important, because you cannot just say: “That Bill Gates is so rich, I want to become like Bill Gates”. You can become like BIll Gates, but it takes some time. You need to have a vision of every three years where you want to be. Focus on that. Work towards that. Don’t waste your time on social media or something else. Show that every time which you have is utilised in upgrading your skills, trying to do something extra in that particular skill and trust me the world has today much more opportunities than it had earlier.

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