Rizwan Sajan: A Resolute Leadership Charisma

Rizwan Sajan
Rizwan Sajan | Founder and Chairman

Great leaders are not required to be the most intelligent person in an organization. Their curiosity rather than their intelligence drives them to find innovative solutions to long-understood problems. When the time comes to implement a solution, they know the strategies and their expertise to bring their vision to fruition.

Transformational leaders use their keen perception to look toward a better future and see the small obstacles hindering smooth execution. They intuitively sense where the direction their organization needs to move in order to compete within their sector.

These personalities are key players because they care and recognize that even the smallest detail can cause a significant setback. There is no ordinary path to innovation. There is no safe route leading through disruptive change. These stalwart personalities comprehend that calculated risk-taking is a necessary and integral part of their job.

These adept leaders lean on their innate curiosity to seek novel approaches; they rely on research and act assertively when opportunities are discovered. Mr Rizwan Sajan’s leadership acumen excels as a stalwart leadership charisma with exceptional abilities and a broad vision inspiring him to establish the Danube Group.

In an interview with CioLook India, Mr Rizwan, the Founder and Chairman of Danube Group, sheds the spotlight on the significance of the Danube Group—highlighting his journey and opinions on the company’s future.

Mr Rizwan, please enlighten our readers about your journey as the Founder and Chairman of Danube Group and how your efforts have made the company excel as a leading building materials supplier.

My entrepreneurial journey started when I was 16, right after my father’s sad and untimely demise, which forced me to undertake the responsibility of the family – my mother, sister, and my younger brother. We are a closely-knit family living with our humble means. My father’s untimely death pushed me to look for earnings while I was still in college.

My late father’s colleagues offered me part-time employment to help us, and I then started working in their company after classes – to make both ends meet. Since I was underaged, I could not travel abroad for employment when my uncle offered me a job to work in his building material shop in Kuwait. So, I had to wait till I was 18 when I joined his business as a full-time employee – my first proper job.

It was a great learning experience for me, and I was a quick learner. I undertook more responsibilities to help the business grow–to such an extent that my uncle gave me enough freedom to make decisions on his behalf. Under my leadership, the business continued to rise. This was when I realized that I had an understanding of business. Then came the Iraq-Kuwait war – that forced us to shut the business and leave Kuwait for good.

So, I was back to square one after a stint of nearly ten years. In 1993, I took a flight to Dubai to try out my luck and joined a building materials shop as a salesperson. I quickly found my feet on the ground and helped the business grow. But the company’s stock and capacity were low. But I didn’t want to say no to a contractor just because my company didn’t have the stocks. So, I used to source them from others and supplied them to the contractor with a margin. This is how I generated some funds, which I invested in setting up my business–Danube Building Materials Co., in 1993.

It was a two-member team operation in which my wife was the only employee managing the office. At the same time, I used to run around in getting contracts and supplying building materials. Since I used to ensure the contractors got all the supplies on time, with the right quality and price, I had started getting more orders and hiring more people to support the business. Then we set up warehouses and retail stores and began to import products directly from the international suppliers. This is how we grew.

Then we shifted our headquarters to Jebel Ali Free Zone–where we used to import, re-export and stock our products for local and regional distribution. The development of the real estate and construction sector helped us grow our business fast, as Dubai’s real estate sector powered the growth of Dubai’s economy. We became the most prominent building materials supplier in the UAE and then expanded throughout the GCC countries.

As we grew our business, we also invested in our people, processes, and systems in order to become more efficient. So, now we are a diversified business conglomerate active in more than ten countries and real estate, construction, building materials, home furnishing, bath and kitchenware, manufacturing, joinery, hospitality solutions, etc. The business is currently run by a team of 1,800 well-trained professionals spread across all the business units.

Please brief our audience about Danube Group, its USPs, and how you are currently positioned as one of the best building materials suppliers?

We are very good at marketing and selling our products. Danube has, for a long time, been a building materials supplier. However, we had built a household brand in the region. No building materials supplier builds its business as a brand – as it is a business-to-business operation, not a household or consumer product business. However, we are perhaps the only building materials supplier to have established a household brand, so much so that even housewives and children knew our name.

This reflects our marketing prowess. I realized this early on. So, when we entered the retail space with Danube Home, it was an instant success. Today, Danube Home is the largest home furnishing and home improvement brand in the GCC – spreading worldwide. Our brand popularity was so strong that when we entered the real estate business with a cluster of 171 townhouses under the Dreamz project, it was sold out at launch in a few hours’ time! This was due to the public trust in our brand.

Following our success in the first project, we launched 17 projects in the next eight years and delivered 11 of those projects. This is the highest launch-to-delivery ratio – which reinforces buyers’, brokers’ and investors’ confidence in our properties. In an economic sector where delay in delivery of homes has been a chronic problem, Danube Properties has so far successfully delivered 4,556 units with a combined sales value of Dh3.63 billion – nearly two-thirds of the entire portfolio value.

With the sell-out of our latest project Gemz, Danube Properties’ development portfolio now exceeded 8,272 units, with a combined development value exceeding Dh5.65 billion. In the building materials and home furnishings business, we hold more than 50,000 types of products at any given time within our inventory.

What professional qualities and values do you think your clients, colleagues, and employees admire in you the most?

I am very hands-on, straightforward in my work, impartial, and fair. I like to empower people – allow them to make decisions, make mistakes, correct themselves, and develop leadership within the company. I believe in transparency and accountability. All my colleagues are accountable to the company for their activities, and transparency is built into our system.

Being an experienced leader, share your opinion on how adopting modern technologies like AI and ML impacts your industry and how your firm is adapting to the change?

Building materials, construction and real estate are hardcore brick-and-mortar and traditional businesses. Technology has little room other than the introduction of newly improved and technically advanced products. Otherwise, it is a concrete – cement, re-bars – a labour-intensive business.

Considering the current industry scenario in the Gulf region, what kind of challenges do you face, and how do you drive your firm to overcome them?

I think inflation–higher cost of construction materials and higher shipping costs–is a serious concern. It is a global problem–not a local issue. High oil price is a double-edged sword as it is good for the oil-exporting countries, while it hurts consumers as gasoline prices increase, so transport costs increase.

What would be your advice to budding entrepreneurs who aspire to venture into the business arena?

My pieces of advice are effortless – don’t chase money. Develop a habit of dreaming and dreaming big. Link your dream with a socio-economic cause or a problem and create a business to solve that problem. Chase your dream. Your dream will bring you money.

Think big but act small. Think global but act local. Don’t be scared to fail.

Think digital but act physical to deliver the digital dream. Develop digital start-ups. But don’t lose the age-old values. Your value system will keep you going. You might keep failing–but the most important thing is–don’t lose faith. Be brave. Admit mistakes and take ownership of mistakes. But learn from each mistake. Failure is really the pillar of success.

Respect people–including your customers, colleagues, and suppliers. Be genuine. Identify problems or try to foresee them before occurring and take preventive measures. Remain humble. Some people can’t handle success. They become arrogant—their attitude changes with time. When success comes, don’t let it affect your thoughts. Remain humble and grounded.

How do you envision scaling Danube Group’s operations and offerings in 2022 and beyond?

This year is a year of growth for us, and we are growing on all fronts – real estate, home furnishing, building materials and hospitality solutions. We are expanding horizontally–across new territories and vertically–in all the business verticals that we operate.

Please give us a few testimonials of your clients/customers and a list of awards/recognitions that accurately highlight Danube Group’s position as a leading name in building material suppliers in the industry in Gulf.

 We have won – including Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum (MRM) Award, Dubai Quality Award, Dubai Government Excellence Award, Forbes Middle East Award, and Arabian Business Award, among many others.

However, the most significant award for me is customer happiness. Nothing beats the happy smile on a customer’s face when they tell us how glad they are with our products and services – be it a home, furnishing, a decoration piece bought from Danube Home, or when a contractor expresses his happiness after installing our products in the building.

Nothing can beat their happy smile. That’s the most prominent award or reward for my team and me. At the end of the day, we work for our customers, and we strive to achieve their happiness.