The late Mr. M R Chhabria, the founder of the Jumbo Group was the guiding force in built up the $ 1.5 billion Jumbo empire. The Jumbo Group's success story reflects the personal triumph of its founder. In 1974, Mr. Chhabria started Jumbo Electronics in Dubai with a modest capital base but a great vision. A dynamic personality, Mr. Chhabria played a key role in transforming the consumer electronics business in Dubai by injecting innovative marketing strategies that helped keep alive interest in the local market well beyond the region. Today it has grown into consumer electronics giant and is among the UAE's first transnational corporations with global presence.
A Harvard University business graduate, Mr. Chhabria also acquired a number of Indian companies including Shaw Wallace, Dunlop India, Hindustan Dorr-Oliver, Mather and Platt, to name a few.
Mr. Chhabria attributed the success of his empire to dedication, commitment and above all to the enlightened policies of the UAE Government and in particular to the visionary and business-friendly approach of the Rulers of Dubai. It was these factors that have made Jumbo a household name in the UAE. His vision was encapsulated in his own words "At Jumbo Electronics we are not resting on our laurels. There is a sea change taking place around us - new opportunities have opened up global markets that have been exploited. At Jumbo, the pursuit of excellence transcends the barriers of time any place. Indeed, an exiting millennium beckons, rich with promise".
Having created a vast empire, he suddenly passed away in 2002 following a brief illness at the young age of 56 leaving his legacy to his wife and three daughters.
The UAE and the region's business community miss the influence, drive and business dynamism of his remarkable personality.
Few first generation Indians have achieved so much in such a short span of time. Fewer still could flutter the Indian flag high in the global arena. M R Chhabria did what most Indians didn't dare. When India was still in the license Permit Raj' and integrating globally was relatively unknown, MRC took off to Dubai to set up what is known as the JUMBO Group.
What made all this possible? A spokesman of McKinsey & Company described him as a true visionary with impeccable entrepreneurial skills, He would take bold steps and move with great speed — a rare quality found among entrepreneurs.
In an interview with a Dubai journalist, he had stated "My inspiration is Akio Morita. He was a visionary. He created an institution with Sony. I was closely associated with him, learnt valuable lessons from him and admired him a great deal".
True. His icon was Morita. In the late sixties, MRC as a young man had a passion, but no financial backing. He dreamt of a global conglomerate when most of his Harvard educated colleagues settled for comfortable jobs. From an electronics shop in Lamington Road to a global empire, which he operated from Dubai, is a success story which few Indians have achieved in their lifetime.
He was a perfectionist to the core - whether it was the quality of the products or services, or delivery systems, he aimed at the best. It is said that the perfectionist mania transcended in his personal life too. The zeal with which he pursued perfection was also responsible for the success of the JUMBO Group.
Little was known of him when he shifted to Dubai and started Jumbo Electronics with a capital base of 50,000 dirhams. The success story began when he signed a deal with Sony Corporation in 1975 and became its distributor in the Gulf. Jumbo Electronics, the firm he founded, has become Sony's biggest distributor world-wide.
Having built a base, his ambitions grew. He dreamt of an empire through takeover mechanisms. The metamorphosis began. It was like a conqueror and his conquests. In 1985, he took over Shaw Wallace, one of the liquor majors in India.
Having tasted success in his first major takeover, MRC never looked back. In 1984, he acquired UK-based Dunlop Rim and Wheel Ltd's stake in Dunlop India, which was then the country's biggest tyre maker.
Soon thereafter other acquisitions followed. He acquired Hindustan Dorr Oliver, Mather and Platt (India) and Falcon Tyres. In Indian business circles, he was branded the ‘Takeover Tycoon’.
Several of the companies when taken over were sick and turned around under his leadership. Pampasar Distillery, Doburg Laser Brewery, Haryana Breweries, Central Distillery and Brewery, Falcon Tyres are few examples.
It is easy to look over the past two decades with a great deal of satisfaction at what Jumbo Electronics Company has achieved. But looking back has never been our style. Too often, companies with a rear view mirror approach have been overtaken by the rapid pace of change taking place globally. Yes, we look back - to do a self introspection, to check out our strengths and build on them for the exciting journey that lies ahead.
We are committed to offering only the very best to our customers, our business associates and to the countries we operate in. Our customers have come to expect the finest from us - be it in consumer and professional electronics, information and communication technology, industrial security systems, office equipment, broadcast equipment and home appliances - all backed by superior after sales service.
Our success has also been possible, thanks to the efforts of our people. We have attracted the finest talent, and given them the environment to perform, which they have done - handsomely.
Yes, there is plenty to be satisfied about. But, at Jumbo Electronics, we are not resting on our laurels. There is a sea change taking place around us - new opportunities have opened up in global markets which have to be exploited. In keeping with these opportunities, we are venturing into new businesses, and new product categories in a focused manner, while simultaneously strengthening our traditional base and consolidating our international presence. At Jumbo, the pursuit of excellence transcends the barriers of time and place. Indeed, an exciting new millennium beckons, rich with promise.
Jumbo Electronics Co. will be there. Making it happen. For you.
M.R. Chhabria, Founder
Many would not have heard the story of the Raja and Rani and their beloved Rajkumar. Rajkumar would clap his hands when Rani sung him a lullaby. He kept looking at her new clothes with a smile and eyes wide open. Whenever Rajkumar cried. Rani gave him a toy, but Rajkumar would not be content with just a toy.
He was generally a silent child. But very observant. He would become quiet when his father's radio played Hindi film songs. Hold his mother's pallu when she left him in the room alone. Lying on his mother's bed and looking at the ceiling fan, Rajkumar would seek attention from everyone who went to that room by making some sounds. Like any other child to any other mother, he was the most beautiful child for his mother. Yet, so different from every one else when he grew up. Because, when he grew up, it was his heart that was most beautiful and full of compassion.
The family lived in a three-room flat on the third floor of Mangalwadi building in Mumbai's Girgaum. On the 1st of March, 1946, this Rajkumar was born to Rani, wife of Rajaram Dwarkadass Chhabria. They named their Rajkumar as Manohar, as both the parents fell in love with him the moment they set their eyes on him. True to the meaning of his name, Manohar would sway and win over every one with his lovely expressive eyes. Dosibai Hospital at Charni Road, where he was born, was not far away from the flat. He would hear the other children there crying all the time. And he did not want to be known as a crying baby.
There was nothing extraordinary in his childhood. Many boys his age were naughty but as during his infancy, he was an observant and quiet child. He remembered everything that happened in the school. His classmates hardly remember him for speaking out aloud except when there was any injustice done to anyone which he always fought. He would make his stand clear.
He liked to play cricket. But for hours drowned himself in the radio and the parts that enabled him to listen to his favourite Hindi songs. While listening to those songs his face would flush with dreams. His dreamy eyes would become dreamier and he would become more silent than his usual self. When it came to eating bhel-puri at Chowpatty, he would be the first one to pick up his plate and often ask for more. His parents would laugh at seeing his taste for bhel-puri. Sometimes his friends would tease him, "you are not a girl that you should eat chaat"
Undeterred by these comments, he continued to be a silent boy with his passion for electronic items, love for bhel-puri and dreams to excel. Sometimes, at Gateway of India, he would spend his evenings just looking at the ships on the horizon. Little did anyone know that this innocuous boy of St. Sebastian School will make it so big that people would dream to work in the institution set up by him.
Passing out SSC was a joyous moment. Recalls Ramesh Bajaj, his childhood friend: Manohar's father was sitting with me when the SSC result came. Everybody was very happy as clearing SSC in the Sindhi community those days used to be a big thing. He then joined Siddharth College, but wasn't keen on continuing with his studies and wanted to join his father's radio part shop at Lamington Road. Later on, as his business flourished, he realized that higher education had its own merits in running a successful business and completed a Harvard business course.
At the Lamington Road shop, he started seeing big dreams. The Chhabria and Bajaj families would go out for vacations to Matheran or Mahabaleshwar. He would be lost in the heights of the pine trees there and waves of the Arabian Sea in Mumbai. His eyes would see beyond the streamers that sailed on the rough waters. He was planning something big. He could not be bound within the confines of the Raja Radios at Lamington Road.
Nepoli and Volga restaurants were his favorite joints. Like any other family, both Chhabria and Bajaj families would go out to watch the illumination on the Republic Day. Manu would laugh like a baby at a good joke but was not mischievous at all. He was fond of good clothes, a fancy which only grew with the passing of time.
When Manohar decided to move to Dubai, he was already married to Vidya and was the proud father of two daughters. With a small amount of money, he set up his Jumbo Company to fulfill his Jumbo Dreams. Those were the days when Jumbo jets had just been introduced. He too had a Jumbo vision.
Family values were ingrained in him. Born and brought up in Mumbai. he had retained his family values even while in Dubai. He respected people, something he learned as a child. Sentimental and sensitive as he was, he would get worried when his dog was unwell. Care for his butler and his driver and secretary. Care for his old friends from the school days. He would find answer for all kind of situations. Though he stayed of fights in his childhood, he was a fighter; a quality withstood him in steed while creating and expanding his business empire.
Growing up in a joint family with lots of uncles, aunts and cousins had taught him making the best of a situation in getting the best results. He would know how a person could reach in a particular situation. He idolized his father, was close to his mother. He had a rare quality the quality to forgive.
Manohar would cry while watching a movie, laugh with a friend and miss his wife and kids when away on business. He was not just a man of steel, he had a soft heart, a heart that stopped beating on 6th April 2002.
Rajkumar, who was born to Rajaram and Rani Chhabria and whose name was Manu - Manohar. Not many would know the story of his life.
For the world, he was Manu Chhabria - the liquor baron, the corporate raider of the 80's, the takeover tycoon. For me, he was simply "Papa." All little girls look up to their father as being a superhero, and I guess as a kid I was no different. Most little girls grow out of the phase though, but in my case my wide eyed adulation for my father stuck on well beyond my wonder years. My father was in a way, a super hero of sorts. Not the all brawn and no brain cartoon figure type, but of a more realistic sort. Strong, powerful, sharp, witty- he possessed an aura of greatness around him. That was what he was for me- invincible.
On the 6th of April 2002 this invincible man slipped into a state of eternal silence. The world mourned the loss of a savvy business magnate-newspapers spoke at length about his achievements and applauded his accomplishments. What the world did not see, was that he was so much more. My father was a great friend to many and his in your face, what-you-see-is-what-you-get attitude to business also transcended into the way he dealt with personal relationships. He was honest, open and more than anything, generous. He had few friends but the ones he did, were for keeps- whether they were from his school days in Bombay or from his early days in Dubai- he treated them like family and that is what they remained to him till the end. A friend's son had flown down from New York to give his condolences to the family and when asked the reason for his long journey said very matter-of-factly, "He always made time for me. He was my pillar of strength" - and I realized he was just that for so many others- myself included.
As a father, at the risk of sounding cliche, he was warm and loving. Papa's incredible sense of humor often made it hard for us as kids to understand why he made others tremble at the very sound of his voice. He was always there for us to give advice and to impart those golden words of wisdom he did so very often. He was there on all important occasions, be it my birthday, my high school graduation in Switzerland, or helping me settle into my dorm at college. While in college I would cry to him complaining that all my friends drove around in Porsches, BMW's and other such cars, and why should I, M R Chhabria's daughter, be condemned to riding around in a tram for transport? While he promptly bought me the latest Benz to drive around in Dubai during vacations, my status in Boston remained car-less till the end. He was a conservative father and the act of giving me free transport meant just too much freedom for him to bear. He told me he had nothing to prove to me and that I shouldn't to others either. He lived his life on his own terms and he always tried to impart the same to myself and my sisters.
Ever since I was young I'd always wanted to be a writer. My father always let me make my own decisions and had also approved to let me do an English or Communications major while at college. It was my mother who made me realize that a business major would be more suited to gear me for my future. A few months back I approached Papa and told him that I wanted to write a book on his life. He looked a little taken a back and asked me, "for what?" "For people to read Papa," was my reply. "Why the hell would people want to read about me? What have I done?" was his innocent response. All requests, demands and later even tantrums ordering him to talk to me about his past fell on deaf ears. He refused to cooperate and insisted that I was wasting my time, and the only words I ever wrote about him are these. Don't get me wrong, he loved the adulation of the Press when they gave it to him- and why not? He had achieved so much in his life. He just never thought he had achieved enough.
If a few people know the man behind the angry stare, fewer know that he was a romantic at heart. While people often say that his first love was his work, it cannot even compare to the love he had for my mother. Traveling, he would often call her ten times a day asking her even the most mundane of questions like what she ate at all meal times. Recently my mother gave Papa a card that read, "To the King of my Castle... from the Power behind the Throne" and he laughed heartily saying how apt it was. He always attributed his success to my mother and us three daughters, but when it came down to it, he always said that she was where his real power came from. He consulted her on all matters, no matter how trivial or convoluted they were, and she always had the final say in business and family matters alike. On the 16th of March, while my father was being prepared for his Bypass surgery, he asked to see my sisters. A ventilator pipe in his mouth restricted him from talking and IV drips in his right hand, from writing. He motioned them to get him a pen and paper and with a shaky left hand wrote the words "Take care" I mouthed "Mama". When my mother later went to see him she said the words, "you have to live for us" to him. "No", he motioned. "For you."
After his demise, there was a common feeling of shock and disbelief amongst friends and family alike. Amusingly enough, a lot of people shared the same sentiment that Papa would come marching through the door and yell at them for the way things were being handled while he was away. He had always been a stickler for perfection and that is how he was till the very end. The day before he passed away he had even insisted on setting a haircut while he was in ICU. He was supposed to go to a regular room the next day and I had tried to reason with him that he could get a haircut then. "Now!" He had said sharply and that was that- a barber was arranged in the next half an hour. It was this fetish for perfection of his that made my sister Komal take the decision of cremating him the day after he passed away. A man like him would never have tolerated a hushed up, hurried affair, she said. He lived in style and he will go in style, were her exact words. The next day as I rode with my father's body to the cremation grounds I realized how right she was. The otherwise congested Mumbai roads silent, traffic stalled, police cars in the front, police cars at the back with stationed guards saluting him every few kilometers. It's like the pandit who performed the final rites said, "It was a farewell fit for a King". My father deserved no less.
One of my father's recent favourite one-liners was, "I'm not an angry young man anymore" to which I once replied, "Yes Papa, now you're just an angry old man". He looked at me not very amused and then burst out laughing. It is this anger of his, this passion that has permeated through him into his group companies and it will live on forever. It's like any person who ever spent enough time with him will know, just because his eyes were shut, it didn't mean he wasn't listening. Nothing's changed. And for all those who think they've lost a husband, father. Chairman or friend in him, I'll just say this - Manohar Rajaram Chhabria is, was and will always be invincible. He'll live on in our hearts forever.