Yusuffali: new viceroy
A retail giant from the Gulf goes off the blocks in London by taking East India Company under his wings and turning old Scotland Yard premises into a luxury hotel
Nattikafirka, a small fishing town in Kerala, once witnessed battle runs of Tiippu Sultan in one of the fiercest episodes in his head-on clash with mighty East India Company in 18th century. Later days saw the British colonial enterprise asserting its ascendancy in South Indian coast. Old timers still attach the British-era description for the revenue sub-division, firka, whenever they mention Nattika.Early this year, MA Yusuffali, an Indian businessman with a quick smile, hailing from Nattika, bought a bulk of the company shares in a historic twist. Call this revenge of the empire, if you like.
The company which set up its operation in 1600, grew from a mercantilist firm into a de facto state, taking over territory, building boundaries, maintaining army, minting currency, when it’s not selling silk and silver, cotton and cardamom.Soon its balance sheet was smeared in red ink as it crumbled under the weight of vast empire it built. In 1874, the company shut the shop, passing on the assets – almost half the world –to the British government directly, commencing the Raj.
In 1980s a group of British investors tried to revive the company after getting a government approval. An Indianbusinessman, Sanjiv Gupta, bought the company off from the British investors. The company traded tea and chocolates in its modest flagship store in London’s Mayfair and a store in Bluewater Mal, Kent and a pop-up store in Covent Gardens, London. The entry of Yusuffali is all set to change its fortunes.
The new investment will enable the fine foods unit, where Yusuffali bought 40 per cent stake, to expand its store network in Europe, the Far East and prepare for a launch in the United States. “We will support East India Company to develop into a truly global luxury brand and will deliver great results in the coming days. I am sure our alliance will help the Company to expand its business in new regions and markets,” said Yusuffali.
Yusuffali has a remarkable past to show that he can turn words into deeds and he has enormous financial muscles to flex. He is the Managing Director of Abu Dhabi headquartered EMKE Group, which controls 32 per cent of retail market in the Gulf region.
At a time when retail customers are demanding home delivery of breakfast cereals and grills on drones, 104 hypermarkets and supermarkets across the region under the flagship brand of LULU, the EMKE group has 500,000 shoppers everyday.
Hailing from a traditional business family in Kerala, Yusuffali came to the shores, literally, of the UAE in early 70’s to join his family’s small trading business in Abu Dhabi. Hard work coupled with his uncanny knack for finding new businesses, led the young Yusuffali to explore the wholesale Foodstuff trading market in and around Abu Dhabi. Slowly he started importing famous brands of frozen food products from Europe and distributing them to retailers and catering companies in UAE. Soon the EMKE stores, as it was known then, became one of the top importers and traders of Foodstuff in the UAE and business now included cold stores, food processing and re-exporting to other markets as well.
But the big break came in the early nineties, ironically, during the first Gulf war, when the group decided to make its maiden foray into the world of retailing with the launch of its first supermarket in Abu Dhabi. Year 2000 was a major milestone for the Group, as the first LULU Hypermarket opened its doors in Dubai, and as they say, rest is history. After the success of its hypermarket format, he immediately went about setting up Line Investment & Properties LLC, exclusively to handle shopping mall and real estate projects and in a short span of five years opened 12 landmark shopping malls and Future plans include seven new shopping mall and mixed use projects in the UAE, Oman, Bahrain, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and India.
Lulu Group is today ranked third in the “Forbes Top 100 Companies” making an impact in the Arab World. Deloitte ranks the Group as one of the 11 fastest growing retailers in the world. Planet Retail U.K. has also ranked the Group as the No. 1 Hypermarket chain in the region. With an annual turnover of US$ 5.35(2013) billion, the Group is one of the major business groups in the Middle East enjoying a 32 per cent market share.
Yusuffali’s success comes at a time when retail companies are in a death spiral of quality problems, failing sales and widening losses. But if one thinks Yusuffali is all about retailing and business ventures, then sample this: He is first expatriate to get elected to the Director Board of the prestigious Abu Dhabi Chamber of Commerce & Industry; First Gulf based Indian to get Padma Shri – India’s one of the top Awards for social work and humanitarian activities; First UAE based NRI to get”PravasiBharatiyaSamman” Award from the President of India, the highest honor bestowed upon Non-resident Indians.
First and the only NRI from the Middle East to be nominated as a member in the Governing Council of Overseas Indian Facilitation Centre set up by the Ministry of Overseas Indian Affairs with an objective of promoting overseas Indian investments in India. He is also director of the first private sector airport in India – Cochin International Airport, Chairman of MES Medical college, just to name a few.
He is widely seen as the unofficial ambassador of India to the Gulf, be it his close proximity with Rulers and authorities in the region or his “never say no” approach towards the needs of Indian community, the Indians and Indian governmenthave always found in him a man they can turn to in the hour of need.
Lulu Group International has made an £110 million agreement with London developer Galliard Homes to create a bespoke 92,000 sqft 5-star hotel within a magnificent refurbished Edwardian building at 1- 5 Great Scotland Yard, to be known as The Great Scotland Yard. The hotel was the location of the original Scotland Yard Police Station and later the British Army recruitment centre for Westminster. This is the second investment by Yusuffali MA in London. Last year he invested in East India Company.
The iconic hotel will provide a mix of luxury bedrooms, restaurants, library, lobby/lounge and private meeting, entertaining and dining rooms complete with 24/7 concierge service. An adjoining Grade 2 Listed Victorian townhouse will be incorporated into the hotel and used to create a magnificent entertaining suite.
The completed hotel will be seven storeys high with two basement levels. It will retain the grand Edwardian Imperial red brick and stone facade with arched main entrance, ornate pediment and tall windows with feature brick and stone detailing. The interior design will be contemporary and stylish, providing a modern compliment to the Edwardian architecture.
AdeebAhamed, (son in law of Yusuffali) Managing Director of Twenty14 Holdings, the hospitality arm of Lulu group said “we are extremely pleased to have concluded this deal for the iconic Scotland Yard building. We have been actively evaluating investment opportunities that both grow our footprint and contribute to the further development of London and our interest in the iconic Great Scotland Yard is a step in that direction.”
The hotel is scheduled to open in Q1 2017 and will provide employment for up to 250 full time staff.Don 0′ Sullivan, Managing Director of Galliard Homes said: “Galliard Homes is delighted to have reached an agreement with Lulu Group International to create a bespoke 5-star hotel in the heart of London’s Whitehall. The Great Scotland Yard Hotel will be a brand synonymous with exceptional service and refined luxury and quality.”
The hotel site has a fascinating history. Between 1829 and 1890 Great Scotland Yard formed part of the headquarters of the newly founded Metropolitan Police force. It was here that the famous Plaistow Marshes (1864) and Jack the Ripper (1888) crimes were investigated and Scotland Yard was made famous by novelists including Charles Dickens and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.
In 1910 the current Edwardian building was constructed on the site and served as the British Army Recruitment Office and Royal Military Police headquarters. It is here that Lord Kitchener famously told WWI recruits “Your Country Needs You”. In 1982 a refurbishment introduced a new atrium and the building later became the Ministry of Defence Library until 2004.
“The Great Scotland Yard is really an important part of the fabric of London and it will be a great opportunity for us to be a part of the culture and legacy of this great city and help in its development, added Adeeb Ahmed, who is also the CEO of Lulu Exchange after signing the deal in London.
Twenty14 Holdings is the newly set up hospitality arm of LuLu Group International, focusing on acquisition and management of assets around the globe. The entity has over Dh1 billion worth of assets in the Middle East, UK and India. The company is currently working on setting up its newly acquired property at Business Bay in Dubai, slated to open in October 2015 and also jointly owns the Sheraton Oman Hotel in Muscat with Al Hashar Hotels LLC, a 230-key five-star architectural marvel which is currently under renovation.
When the British East India Company had started out in 1600, it had $35,602 in bullion and goods, stuffed into just four ships which were setting out for the expanse of Indian Ocean. At the close of business hours 415 years later, Yusuffali is bringing in ship loads of retail experience and fresh investments to help it rise from ashes to a less oppressive future.