With love, hope and perseverance, the possibilities are limitless. Who would know this better than Bal Krishen.
As CEO of Century Financial, the enterprising Indian expat in UAE now runs the trading floor of a multi-million dollar company where he once mopped the floor.
In between that, he worked in Dubai as a room boy at one hotel, bellboy at another and had a two-year stint as a loader at a factory in Jebel Ali.
The “rags-to-riches” trope may be a cliché, but for Krishen it’s one that’s grounded in reality.
One of nine siblings, Krishen grew up in a modest family in Doda district of Jammu and Kashmir state. To supplement the family income, he started earning when he was barely in his teens.
“I would take agricultural products like mushrooms and chilli pepper from my village to the city and use the money from their sale to buy toys and bangles which I then sold to the villagers,” he said as he sat ensconced behind a massive desk in his plush new 15,000 square feet office in Emaar Square in Downtown, Dubai.
But the rise to the top has not been easy.
Krishen’s father was a schoolteacher. When failing health forced him to retire early, he distributed his life savings among his children. Krishen’s share came to about Rs 16,000 (Dh 850 as per today’s conversion rate).
It was with this money and some from his own savings that he went to New Delhi where a travel agent provided him a UAE visa and air ticket. “I told the agent I wanted to go abroad. He asked me if I would consider the UAE and I said ‘yes’ half realising where it was and what it would be like there.”
Landed in Fujairah in 1993
In April 1993, Krishen first stepped foot on UAE soil. “I landed in Fujairah which received international flights from India those days. I couldn’t afford a taxi so I waited at a fuel station till late evening until a cabbie who was going to Dubai offered to take me along. I still remember where I spent my first night in Dubai. It was at Blue Star Hotel in Deira where the room tariff was Dh20,” he recalled.
Krishen said his first job in the UAE was that of a dishwasher at Saree Palace Hotel in Deira and the second as a loader at a carton factory where he was required to haul gum sacks weighing 40 kilograms each.
“Life was tough but I promised myself that I will never look back and I never did,” said Krishen.
In 1996, he joined the Orchid Hotel in Dubai as a bellboy and worked his way up to become an accountant.
It was while working at Orchid that Krishen came in contact with a European bank manager who was so impressed by his mental maths skills that he suggested he tried his luck in a financial institution.
Krishen took the advice to heart. So much so that he immediately quit his hotel job, prepared a CV and showed up at the Al Khaleej Centre office of Century Financial.
However, landing a job at Century Financial was no mean task.
An outrageous plan, working for free
“Even their peons were more educated than me. Understandably so, they refused to touch my CV. Requests to arrange a meeting with the management were also declined. But I didn’t let the setback deter me. Instead, I came up with an outrageous plan. I used to stand outside their office with a placard saying that I was willing to work for free for six months.”
The stunt attracted the attention of Century Financial chairman Sulaiman Baqer Mohebi who founded the company in 1989 to make global financial markets accessible to Emirati and expat clients. “He hired me as a cleaner. My job was to dust the furniture, mop the floor and clear the trash bins. The stock market fascinated me but I had no idea how it worked. I watched transfixed as dealers struck deals over the phone. In fact, I was so much in awe of them that I picked a few words from their conversation and used to practice speaking them before the mirror,” he said.
“One day, when I was confident enough, I approached the chairman and expressed my desire to go into sales. He appeared a bit skeptical but when I told him that instead of a regular salary I will take a commission of Dh25 from every Dh100 I made for the company, he agreed.”
A new chapter began
This was to be the beginning of a new chapter in Krishen’s life.
Within days, Krishen had investors queuing up outside the office with cash.
So how did he achieve this?
“I tapped into the gold souq. It’s another story how I did that. I would walk up and down the gold souk road several times a day doing nothing other than smiling and waving at the bemused traders and exchanging greetings with them. Often, I would step into their shop and buy tea for all the customers. The idea was to pique the curiosity of traders. It worked. Soon they started to recognise my face. Before long, they began to ask what I did for a living. At that point, I would give them my business card and invite them to invest with us. That’s how I got most of my clients some of whom are still with me,” said Krishen who now employs nearly a hundred dealers.
Married with three children, Krishen’s meteoric rise has inspired many people to never give up on their dreams.
Century Financial today operates across 100 global markets, giving customers access to multiple asset classes: currencies, stocks, commodities, indices, metals, energies, and exchange-traded funds.
But Krishen is not ready to rest on his laurels. “I am planning to open a retail bank in Dubai,” he lets in. “I want to keep going and keep growing.” Courtesy Gulf News