The number of UAE-based Indian billionaires on the Forbes list of the 100 richest Indians rose to nine this year, from seven last year.
The UAE has become a magnet for many entrepreneurs from India in sectors such as pharmaceuticals, retail and financial services.
About 2.6 million Indians live in the UAE, making them the biggest expatriate population in the country and the third-largest Indian expatriate community after those in the United States and Nepal.
“Once upon a time it was just blue-collar workers, but now you are talking about entrepreneurs in trade and tourism, financial services, and maritime,” said Promoth Manghat, the chief executive of UAE Exchange, the money transfer firm that was founded by B R Shetty, another UAE-based billionaire on the list.
Micky Jagtiani, the founder and owner of Dubai-based retailer Landmark Group, topped the list of the nine Indian billionaires in the UAE. He has a fortune of US$5.3 billion, up from $5.1bn last year.
Mukesh Ambani, the Mumbai-based chairman and managing director of the petrochemicals, oil and gas conglomerate Reliance Industries, topped Forbes magazine’s list with a net worth of $18.9bn.
The Landmark Group has about 2,000 stores generating estimated annual revenues of $6bn across the Middle East, Africa and India, according to Forbes. SportsOne, the group’s sporting goods chain, has been expanding rapidly.
Mr Jagtiani, whose wife helps him run his retailing empire, also has interests in hotels, fitness gyms and confectionery, according to Forbes.
Some say the success of Indian businessmen in the UAE came about because the competition to serve the needs of the vast Indian diaspora in the country is not as stiff as it is in India.
“Millions of Indians have migrated to the UAE. They grew up there and became the second generation,” said N S Venkatesh, an executive director of treasury and international banking at IDBI Bank in Mumbai. “As that migration happens, it fuels the growth of the UAE, so businesses naturally start to grow and there is a captive market without the competition of India.”
Mr Venkatesh also cited the UAE’s low taxes as giving businesses an advantage. He noted that many non-resident Indians, a term for Indian expatriates, are now returning to India after the election of the business-friendly prime minister Narendra Modi last year.
Since assuming power last year, Mr Modi lost little time in enacting his plans to overhaul India’s economy, Asia’s third-largest.
Besides moving towards market-based energy pricing by removing energy subsidies, Mr Modi is getting ready to pass a goods-and-services tax, further open the country up to foreign investment and better provide targeted subsidies for agricultural fertilizers, cooking gas and food for those most in need of them.
Yusuffali M A, the managing director of Lulu Group International, is the richest Indian in the UAE after Mr Jagtiani, with a fortune of about $3.8bn.
The Lulu Group – a retail conglomerate of 118 hypermarkets, supermarkets, grocery outlets and a dozen malls – is expanding in Africa, South East Asia and India.
Mr Yusuffali made headlines in July when he bought the old Scotland Yard building in London for $170 million with plans to turn it into a hotel.
The others on the list are Ravi Pillai of RP Group; Sunni Varkey, the owner of Gems International schools; Sunil Vaswani of the multilateral conglomerate Stallion Group; the Aster MD Healthcare founder Azad Moopen; the chairman of the developer Sobha, PNC Menon; and the chairman of Kataria Holdings, Raghuvinder Kataria.
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