Dr Bavaguthu Raghuram Shetty (“Dr BR Shetty”) was born in Kaup, Udupi in the state of Karnataka, and has served as the Vice Chairman of the Municipal Council in Udupi. He later went to UAE and realising the rudimentary nature of healthcare facilities there ventured into the field of healthcare by establishing New Medical Centre (NMC) in 1975. Today it caters to over 5 million patients annually across 55 facilities in 10 countries. In 2009 he was honored with Padma Shri by Government of India. He was the first recipient of the ‘Order of Abu Dhabi’ by the Govt. of Abu Dhabi in 2005, the highest civilian award for contribution to the development of the community and the cause of the Emirate. He received the first-ever Swiss Ambassador’s Award 2008 from HE Wolfgang Amadeus Bruelhart, Ambassador of Switzerland, Abu Dhabi, Pravasi Bhartiya Samman Award from Dr APJ Abdul Kalam on behalf of the Govt. of India (2007). Organiser special correspondent Arun Lakshman spoke to Dr Shetty about his journey and vision behind this healthcare venture. Excerpts :
Padma Shri Dr BR Shetty is a big name by himself in the Middle East. Tell us your growth story?
As each expatriate has his own struggles to come up in life, I have also suffered a lot here in the middle east. However, the visionary Shaiekh Zayed or Sheikh Zayed Bin Khalifa Al Nahyan whose centenary year this is changed the lives of several thousand or rather lakhs in UAE as also mine. I am not what I am but for the vision of this ruler who changed the face of UAE. I came in Abu Dhabi on May 3, 1973, and had to struggle a lot to find a job. I went door to door selling medical products and I can be considered as the first medical representative of the United Arab Emirates. I had no shirt to change, only a single shirt which I used to wash at night and put on in the daytime after it gets dried. I walked from shop to shop and from place to place in the extremely hot summer of UAE and had even carried cartons on my shoulders to deliver the medical products. However the hard work paid off and now I am owning a chain of medical stores, UAE exchange and a pharmaceutical company besides several other institutions. All this success is my hard work and blessings from my parents and the vision of His Highness Late Sheikh Zayed who transformed my life.
You had a political and social background before your voyage to the UAE, Can you please explain?
Politics is natural to me as my father late Ambalappadi Shambu Shetty was a freedom fighter and elected Municipal councillor from Udupi. Following his footsteps and urge to transform the society landed me into politics but mine was different as I was a Jan Sangh man from my young days of Udupi. Later in 1968, I contested the Udupi municipal council elections as a Jan Sangh candidate at the age of 26. Atal Behari Vajpayee campaigned for us while Indira Gandhi campaigned for the Congress candidates. We won the elections with 12 seats while the Congress had 3 seats. It was a resounding victory those days. I was just 26.
Can you tell us about your Udupi days as Vice-president of the Municipal Council?
in 1968, I contested the Udupi municipal council elections as a Jan Sangh candidate at the age of 26. Atal Behari Vajpayee campaigned for us while Indira Gandhi campaigned for the Congress candidates. We won the elections with 12 seats while the Congress had 3 seats. It was a resounding victory those days. I was just 26.
I was a very dynamic boy during those days and Atal Behari Vajpayee who was a gifted orator was moving through our area and I used to drive him in my car. There were times when we used to sleep on the verandah of shops with books as a pillow. As a vice president and councillor, I contributed a big way to the development of Udupi. Atalji was particularly interested in sanitation and a clean Udupi. However Udupi those days was not clean and the scavengers used to carry the nigh soil manually. We decided to stop this and started the sanitation process. For that, we had to start sewage system and when sewage was started, we had to start underground drinking water system. We stopped manual scavenging and the drinking water pipes were also a big hit in a town like Udupi. This made me and Dr Acharya very popular among the local people and in the next elections also I won. This time people wanted me to become the president. However I denied this and Dr Acharya continued as president and myself as vice president.
After being a successful councillor in your hometown Udupi, why you came to UAE?
It’s a big story as I went bankrupt and had debts from Syndicate Bank as those days politics was a passion for serving the people. We did not hear about corruption and to convert politics as a profession to make money. This resulted in me turning debtor and to evade that I had to come to the UAE which welcomed me.
Can you tell us about the growth of your companies?
I opened New Medical Centre in the year 1975 where the first doctor was my wife. You should note that she was a medical doctor while I was a pharmacist. She worked hard and with the support of the Malayalee community here, I could develop New Medical Centre into a major conglomerate. My mother, when I was keen to move over to UAE to clear my debts, offered to sell the ancestral property to clear my debts. I rejected this and told her that I am a man and can deliver. She then advised me that whatever I do, It should be of help to ten people around and no curse from a single person. This is my doctrine and I open any venture keeping this in mind. This philosophy has guided me all through my life.
You have started your own pharmaceutical company, tell us about it?
Neo Pharma was born after an existing license company from India did not rise up to the mark to cater the services of this market. Neo pharma was born in UAE and we have technology transfer contracts with several world leaders including Pfizer, Abbot and Biocon. We are into generic drugs and other pharma products and have developed into the number one company in the UAE.
As an expatriate who had spent a major part of his life in UAE, how do you feel are the rulers of this country towards expats?
The rulers are highly magnanimous and have helped the expatriates to reach big heights putting their hard work and expertise in the UAE. Sheikh Zayed was a major visionary and whose ideals and visions are carried forward by the present rulers. With the advent of the Narendra Modi government in Delhi, the relationship between the rulers of UAE and the Indian government turned much better giving a big relief and expectations for the expat Indian community.