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23 June 2017Last updated
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Features | People

Friday touches base with a few personalities we featured in the magazine over the last two decades

As Friday celebrates its 20th anniversary, we hit the rewind button interviewing some personalities who were featured in the magazine

Text by Mrinal Shekar
19 May 2017 | 12:00 am

‘Why don’t we get in touch with some of UAE’s achievers we’ve featured in the magazine over the years and find out how life has treated them since?’ I suggested during an idea meeting for the 20th anniversary issue of Friday.

Before I knew it I was assigned the task of scrutinising old issues of the magazine to identify suitable candidates, touch base with them and get them to agree to an interview and photoshoot – all within the looming deadline.

Despite having spent 15 years, 9 months and 21 days with the magazine, I did not know what I was getting into. Either that or blame it on the fact that I’m mathematically challenged. I did not realise that I was staring at the prospect of flipping through 1,044 issues of the magazine, first creating a long list, then striking out most of the names as they had either left the country or were untraceable (trust me – there are scores of personalities who are not visible on any form of social media) or simply did not have the time.

But amidst all the nerve-wracking, frustrating and anxious moments that I suffered in the process, there were several OMG moments too, as memories from the time – the brain-storming sessions we had as a team putting the magazine together, the fan-girl moments when we interviewed people who have been game changers in their field or bittersweet memories of colleagues who are no longer a part of this journey – hit me like a tsunami.

Twenty years might not be a very long time in a publication’s life but believe you me when I sat down to work on this project, I felt these years and the people we have featured in the magazine have been monumental in my education.

Suhail Mohammad Al Zarooni

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In 1999, when Friday first featured Suhail Mohammad Al Zarooni, he had a thousand cars. Yes 1,000. No, not real ones but those of the dinky variety.

From Ferraris and Bugattis to Rolls Royces and Mercedes, they were all neatly lined up in his cabinet, glittering away under the spotlight. When we went back to check if the collection has grown at all, we are told he now has more than 10,000. That’s not all. Suhail has two Guinness records for his growing collection.

‘In fact I remember sending the article on me that appeared in Friday to the adjudicators of Guinness World Records as proof of what I had achieved, and I firmly believe it was the article that got me the award the first time in 2002,’ says Suhail.

He repeated the feat in 2003 and that was impetus enough for him to add to his collection.

‘The collection now includes almost all miniature company cars ever made; miniature versions of JFK’s car, James Bond’s cars and Hitler’s Mercedes Benz. If that’s not enough I’ve customised cars into police cars and taxis,’ he says.

What makes the collection even more jaw-dropping is the attention to detail in each car. Doors, hoods, trunks and fuel caps that open, ashtrays that slide out and glove compartments that work.

However, it’s not just miniature cars that fascinate Suhail. From Cartier limited edition pens, 24K gold plated bank notes, coins, antiques, Thai Royal Family collection, newspapers announcing significant events such as Queen Elizabeth II’s wedding in 1947 or the assassination of President John F Kennedy, first issues of famous magazines, matchboxes from across the world, M&M cannisters, Starbucks mugs, antique crockery, rare crockery and trinkets from Wedgwood, the 250-year-old royal British brand...

Suhail says he just enjoys collecting and doesn’t restrict himself. ‘I collect everything, indiscriminately. Hoarding has become instinctual, uncontrollable and a primal urge,’ he admits.

Incidentally, it’s not just Suhail who has been bitten by the collection bug. His wife is known to have the largest collection of Lady Diana dolls while his sons Mubarak and Saif Suhail Zarooni have a huge collection of Harry Potter memorabilia.

But Suhail is more than just a hoarder of curios. Philanthropy is very important to the man. He has set up The Al Zarooni Foundation, an initiative that is focused on improving the standard of children’s education across the developing world.

‘I am a proud Emirati and all that I do is focused on putting my country and its people on the world map,’ he says.

Nick Watson

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In the 20 years that Nick has been in the UAE, never has he felt alone. When he and his wife Delphine arrived in the UAE with nothing more than just their backpacks, they did feel the usual anxiety pangs of a fresh expat but it lasted a few months. Being an ex-British Royal Marine and a qualified personal trainer – Delphine is a qualified physical trainer as well – the couple decided to set up U-Concept ‘to provide one-on-one physical fitness training services’.

Within no time the couple were visiting their clients at their homes offering them customised physical training routine. The couple established such a strong bond with their clients that they soon became close friends with them and got invited to weddings and all the special occasions. ‘Through all our highs and lows and experiences, we have never been alone; at times of need or support in some way, strangers of all ages, genders, abilities, nationalities, religions became close friends, lifetime friends, surrogate family. It has made us incredibly grateful,’ says Nick.

Just when the Watsons thought they had found their footing in a foreign land, they came to know their first born Rio, who is now 13, had a rare chromosome disorder called ‘1q44 deletion denovo syndrome’ which causes seizures, sensory integration dysfunction, learning difficulties, gross and fine motor challenges.

‘Rio had his first crippling seizure when he was six months old which lasted a short while. By the time we reached a doctor, he was fine so the doctor could not determine the cause. It took the doctors almost four years to know that Rio has a chromosomal disorder that affects his development,’ explains Nick.

When Friday featured Nick in its January 23, 2009 issue, highlighting his never-say-die spirit, Nick says he was delighted that the article created more awareness about what differently-abled children are capable of and Rio’s condition in particular.

The condition has not affected Rio’s disposition however. ‘While we – Nick, Delphine and their daughter Tia - are the ‘wolves’, Rio is the angel of our team. Rio is such a happy boy and he is happiest when we are participating in races. In fact the only time he’s unhappy is when the race is over,’ says Nick. Whenever the Watsons take part in a racing event, Rio is a part of the journey in some way. And this father son duo take part in one race or the other every weekend during the racing season. The father all focused on his warm up and son all smiles waiting for the race to begin. Explaining the process, Nick says, ‘If it’s a swimming race, then Rio is strapped in a kayak that I drag; if it’s cycling, Rio’s sat in an adapted wheelchair; if we’re taking part in a vertical marathon, then I put him in an adapted baby wrap that is strapped to my back.’

Rio’s enthusiasm and the fact that ‘he is fully accepted, included and integrated into the racing community, without sympathy or pity’ has been one of the inspirations behind Watsons’ initiative called Reaching U that provides a platform engaging families with special needs children, raising awareness about their condition.

‘Rio has changed our lives and directed our destiny. He has proved to us that there is no limit to what he can be included in, only our own inability or limitations for trying them! He has inspired so many,’ says a proud father.

Shamira Mitha

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In 1989, when Shamira Mitha accompanied her husband to the UAE, she was expecting their son Shahzain. Impending motherhood meant her career – or dreams of pursuing one – had to take a back seat.

Keen to stay busy, Shamira took up a freelance assignment as a public relations person with Le Meridien Dubai. Before she knew it, Shamira was offered a job with the hotel coordinating their events and activities. ‘This was a turning point for me, as I had never considered this a career option. This experience was instrumental in shaping my future,’ she says.

So much so that she decided to open her own company Verve in 2009, specialising in hospitality PR. But that is not what she thinks is the highlight of her professional life. That honour is reserved for being on the cover of the December 29, 2000 issue of Friday.

‘It started off as a short interview for an article on how to look after your skin using ingredients from your kitchen,’ she remembers.

‘Then the magazine did a photoshoot that I thoroughly enjoyed and next I know I’m on the cover of the magazine. It was such a pleasant surprise when I saw it. There weren’t too many magazines 17 years ago so my phone didn’t stop ringing.

‘For weeks afterwards, wherever I went, I was recognised as Friday’s cover girl,’ she adds.

It was this brush with fame that Shamira believes catapulted her into the forefront of UAE’s PR industry.

That said, the journey, she admits, has not been an easy one. ‘Initially I was not taken seriously and often made to feel like a wall flower who dressed pretty and entertained media,’ she says. The perception took a while to change and now, in spite of the immense competition she faces from the numerous PR companies that have opened office in the UAE, Shamira is considered to be that go-to person known for her ability to identify gaps in hospitality PR.

As for the challenges she faces, 52-year-old Shamira says they are not from the competition but from the multitude of platforms. While earlier, companies only focussed on the print media, Shamira believes digital media has now taken over. From the internet to social media, Shamira says, ‘It is the present and the future’.

So what does her future look like?

‘I can look back and say my life has been exciting, fun and I have done a lot but still have a lot more to do and achieve and want to keep moving,’ she says.

Judy Roberts

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Judy Roberts first arrived in the UAE in 1983. Her husband, Colin Roberts worked for a freight forwarding company, who post retirement, started a business supplying hand carved, natural sandstone, garden and architectural embellishments to public and private projects around Dubai.

‘I’d started a business designing and making high quality gift items for the tourist industry which I ran for over 20 years along with my art which I sold at fairs and exhibitions and supplied for project work,’ says Judy, who although passionate about art never formally trained in it. ‘Colin also made beautiful gifts in wood to add to our range of products. He became well know at bazaars as the ‘Bottle Stopper Man’ for his unique collectible bottlestoppers in wood embellished with coins from all over the world.’

Judy says she was pleasantly surprised when she was interviewed for a feature in just the second issue of Friday.

But the biggest surprise was when the magazine was out on May 23, 1997; she was on the cover. That’s not all. ‘I was amazed to get a phone call from a friend on a Friday morning telling me to step outdoors and take a look at the billboards. I did and guess what? My image was on advertising billboards though out the UAE.’

But then she deserved to be. She designed nine sets of stamps for the UAE, produced and illustrated a Walking Guide for Dubai, worked freelance for various environment organisations including The Arabian Leopard Trust, illustrated books, won several prizes for her falcon paintings in Abu Dhabi at the Hunting and Falconry Fair, worked on projects for hotels such as The One and Only Royal Mirage, the Sheraton, the Conrad and Vida...

Judy credits the desert for inspiring her to create works of art.

‘I first encountered the desert in the mid-70’s when we lived in Saudi Arabia and I was delighted to be able to return to it when we moved to Dubai,’ she says. ‘I’ve always had an interest in natural and cultural history, architecture and design and all of these aspects of my interests were included in my work inspired by my love of living in the UAE.’

The couple returned to the UK in 2014, ‘partly because of the pressure of maintaining the level of work required as small businesses in what had become a highly competitive market,’ she says. ‘Also our age was a factor.’

Judy, who participated in ‘quite literally hundreds of fairs and exhibitions over the years’, admits she misses the UAE.

‘I miss friends of course although now a lot have moved away, the familiarity of the place, the feeling of safety and its energy. I feel we had the best of times...’

The couple are now settled in Wales, in the UK, but all is not well.

Last May her husband suffered a stroke which left him partially paralysed with other complications. ‘He has been under 24-hour nursing care since then. The trauma has been, and continues to be, devastating for us. Between fighting to get sufficient care support so that Colin can come back home and time spent with him at the Nursing Home, I continue to work, as I must, when I can.’

Abdul Muqeet Mannan

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When Friday first interviewed Abdul Muqeet Mannan in 2012, he was just a 10-year-old school kid. But what he lacked in age, he made it up in determination.

The youngest recipient of the Abu Dhabi Awards, a recognition given to those who made a difference in the emirate, Abdul was obsessed with making paper bags using old newspaper and distributing them to grocery stores in the vicinity of his home. He would then encourage them to use his bags instead of the plastic ones for packing groceries and the like.

‘After the article on me appeared in Friday magazine, various schools and corporate organisations across the UAE invited me to talk about the environment. The article helped me create more awareness about recycling in the society,’ says Abdul.

Soon he was offering lessons to his schoolmates and friends on how to make paper bags ‘and the campaign spread across the country,’ he says.

Over the years, Abdul has received many awards and certificates that celebrate his dedication to the cause of recycling, including Kids are heroes humanitarian award in USA, Times Now NRI of the year award in 2013 and Princess Diana award signed by then UK Prime Minister David Cameron.

So, what has been his biggest achievement?

‘I believe my biggest achievement has been the fact that I’ve been able to create awareness about the ill-effects of plastic bags on our environment and in the seven years since I started, many countries, schools and organisations have banned use of plastic bags.

‘In fact after my visit to Varanasi, a town in north Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, the local railway station banned plastic bags,’ he says with pride.

Not one to rest on his laurels, Abdul plans to set up conservation clubs involving schoolkids.

Keen to pursue a career in the automotive industry, he says: ‘I would like to become an automobile engineer and make eco-friendly cars that have zero carbon emission.’

Dave Crane

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Dave Crane’s list of qualifications has been growing constantly and how. Arriving in Dubai in September 1994 in search of some sunshine and to work as an entertainment manager in a bar, a stint that lasted a short while, he quickly landed a job as an RJ at 104.8 Channel 4 FM.

‘That was when the fun began,’ he recalls. Fun that was clearly visible in the pictures that accompanied the August 1, 1997 article featuring Dave and his colleagues. ‘The article brings back some amazing memories. In fact I’m still friends with all those guys as we shared a real close bond when we worked together. And I was way thinner at the time,’ he says.

Dave used to host a show called Mission Impossible that was immensely popular as Dave’s sense of humour had many fans. ‘It was a magical time. Dubai was still unheard of globally so our job was to make the growing emirate into a destination. It was very exciting. Expats played a huge part in the growth and instinctively UAE became the home we’d all been looking for,’ he adds.

But success and recognition clearly did not make Dave happy. After a few years in broadcasting, Dave decided to move to self-development. A big leap of faith, considering mentoring was not really Dave’s forte, entertaining was. ‘I think I needed a new challenge. I’d grown to be a station manager at Channel 4FM, but I felt I had to evolve to stay relevant,’ he says.

And it was this new found purpose to be at the top of his game that has kept Dave motivated. ‘Also the fact that I was growing old and felt the need for a new challenge,’ he says.

But why self-development? ‘During my years in broadcasting, I realised I enjoyed helping people so decided why not make a career out of what I enjoy doing most.’

A decision that has paid off in many ways as Dave is now one of the most recognised motivational speakers in the UAE. ‘In fact I just won the Al Arouwad MTV Award as the region’s best motivational speaker,’ he adds. Apart from self-development, Dave has authored five books, has hosted hypnosis shows from Dubai to Las Vegas that have been sold out, hosted Emirates Airline Dubai Rugby Sevens for 17 years (including a World Cup) and has hypnotised Bollywood actor Hrithik Roshan as well.

Dave clearly is constantly setting new goals for himself and relishes the sense of satisfaction when he achieves them, almost like the millennial clients he has? ‘People, especially millennials, want more from their lives nowadays. I believe people are taking their destiny into their own hands and creating their own work-life balance. It is probably this demand that is making the role of life coaches, healers, therapists and gurus more important,’ Dave feels.

So is he happy with his life or are their times when he feels the need to seek the help of a life coach?

‘I’ve been married to my wife, photographer Azizah, for 10 years and have a gorgeous daughter, Maya, who is 6. Plus we have two dogs Ash and Snow. There are days when I feel the need for more family time, but the big difference is every day I get up at 4am and smile because I have designed my perfect life and wouldn’t swap a thing in it.’

Rana El Eid

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It was in 1996 that Rana El Eid started a branding and corporate identity company called RED Design. Six years later, in 2002, she set up Café Céramique, a sophisticated cafe where guests could either stop by and enjoy a coffee in the comfortable environs or those with a creative bent of mind could design, paint or create ceramic works of art. Prior art training was not mandatory.

By the time Friday featured her in the September 16, 2009 issue, she was a successful enterepreneur. ‘It’s important to dream big,’ she said at the time. And Rana did.

Six years later, she sold majority stake in Cafe Cermaique and after taking a short break, set up Azur Spa - which also turned out to be a huge success.

‘I sold my shares to the investors a couple of years ago and now am at a sort of crossroad in life,’ she says.

‘My extended family will be leaving Dubai this year [for Canada] and my daughters are pursuing their education abroad as well.’

Ever the entrepreneur, she is exploring markets overseas for her next venture.

A manager who is known to work closely with her team, Rana believes part of the secret of success is ‘about choosing the right people for the right positions, then leading them in a democratic or participative style.

‘I value the input of my employees and I value their contribution to the decision-making process. It is wonderful to watch them grow, get more involved and dedicated in raking-in the results. They become self-motivated to perform and improve constantly. I believe each member of the team has skills and ideas that can benefit the company.’

She sees her role in a company as a ‘conductor is in an orchestra. Once we get the rhythm then things flow beautifully and from there on it is only about improving and tweaking and practicing.’

While success drives her, Rana also makes it clear that its important to maintain a work-life balance. ‘Over the years, I learned to relax a lot more and set my priorities. There is always something that needs to be taken care of and if we don’t step back and relax then we end up messing everything up.’

A woman who believes in constant self-development and growth as opposed to instant total transformation, she says ‘if our intentions about being better than the day before are clear; then the change will happen seamlessly.’

Was it easy to juggle her personal and professional life?

‘To maintain a good balance between family and career, it is important to have your priorities straight and although you might get personal gratification and praise for being a superwoman and wanting to do everything I don’t believe that this is a sound or sustainable strategy,’ she says. She suggests delegating as many “secondary” tasks as possible at home or at work in order to stay healthy and focused.

Rana, who has written a book Think like a Woman, Act like an Entrepreneur, after ‘a lot of women were asking me for advice and guidance’ says that she was a tad surprised by the kind of questions she received.

‘Most questions were not about the actual nuts and bolts of a business but more about confidence, how to deal with naysayers, how to overcome society’s pre-conceived ideas etc… So I thought it would be a good idea to share my story and find a way to empower women who are looking to start a business or who just want to forge a path of their own making.’

She says that while we all go through ups and downs, it’s important to face our fears. ‘The experiences we go through do not define us and they should not hold us prisoners,’ she says.

Chef Uwe Micheel

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When Chef Uwe Micheel landed in the UAE on January 15, 1993 with his wife Annette and sons Paul and Max, the country was far from the culinary outpost it now is.

There weren’t many top notch restaurants, and sourcing good-quality ingredients was a challenge.

But Chef Uwe, who took the reins of InterContinental Hotel – now called Radisson Blu Dubai Deira Creek – as its executive chef, was determined to change that perception.

Over the years this stickler for perfection (‘blame it on my German genes’, he says) has ensured the fine dining industry has stayed up to date as far as adopting new world class cooking techniques are concerned and the hundreds of young chefs across the region have the requisite training to make the most of what’s available to them.

Twenty-four years since he first arrived here, Chef Uwe, 58, is today director of kitchen, the same one where he started out, president of the Emirates Culinary Guild, an organisation that nurtures the UAE’s culinary talent, and was recently voted Assistant Vice President in the Presidium of the World Chef’s Association (WACS).

‘It has been an amazing journey and Friday has been an integral part of it,’ he says.

The association started in 1998 and since then he has been in the magazine on several occasions.

From contributing recipes to the cookery section of the magazine to judging annual cooking competitions organised by the magazine, he and his team of chefs have etched their names in the hearts of Friday’s readers with their simple, fuss-free approach to cooking.

‘I still come across people who tell me they’ve saved some of my recipes that have appeared in the magazine over the years. Only recently I was judging a biryani competition for women and talk veered to Friday recipes and the cooking competitions conducted in the past,’ he says.

‘In fact I too have a fairly large collection of recipes that have been published in the magazine.’

Not one to live on past glories, Chef Uwe is focused on everything new. ‘It somehow has a positive impact on us as it gives us a fresh perspective on the present and offers scope for improvement,’ he says.

But does that mean everything new is good too?

‘No not really. We’ve had many great, good and average trends and concepts over the years.

‘But my favourite is back to basics where the focus is on good quality ingredients and simple but tasty dishes, not decoration,’ he says.

Is there any trend or concept that he’s not happy with?

‘Fusion,’ says the award-winning chef. ‘I call it confusion.’

Dr Pankaj Shrivastav

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It was easily one of the most embarassing questions he has ever been asked. ‘I was on a flight a few days after Friday had featured me [in the July 12 1998 issue] when the woman sitting next to me asked ‘Are you the doctor who gets girls pregnant?’,’ says Dr Pankaj Shrivastav. The article was on infertility and the doctor spoke about how he’s using new technology to help couples become parents.

However embarrassing the question was, Dr Shrivastav says, the article helped spread the word about the work he and his team were doing. ‘I remember there was a time when we were inundated with phone calls and enquiries from across the Middle East after the article was published,’ he recalls.

More than the boost in business, Dr Shrivastav feels the article went a long way in reducing the stigma attached to infertility and was successful in educating people about the widespread problem.

‘When I came to UAE in 1991, I joined the newly-opened Dubai Gynaecology and Fertility Centre in Rashid Hospital. Until then there were hardly any fertility centres in the country and the number of specialist doctors was miniscule,’ he says.

Since it was pre internet days, it was extremely difficult for Dr Shrivastav and his team to educate people of the treatment courses available. But over the years, there has been a considerable paradigm shift not only in public’s perception of the issue but in the technological development as well. ‘I can proudly claim that my team and I have been involved in several path-breaking research projects that have been acknowledged by international journals.

‘We have also been at the forefront of some technological breakthroughs that have been adopted worldwide in the field of infertility treatments,’ says the doctor.

Dr Shrivastav set up his clinic in Sharjah called Conceive in 2004 and since then there has been no looking back.

‘At that time I could not set up a clinic in Dubai as private fertility clinics were not allowed at the time. But that has now changed. There are several fertility clinics across the emirate offering a valuable service. I have now opened a branch in JLT, keeping in mind the growing demand,’ he says.

His team now includes his elder daughter Daamini, who looks after the media, marketing and communication aspect of the business. ‘I have another daughter Aashini who’s studying Law and two more members in the family – seven-year-old Labrador called Coco Chanel and 8-year-old Havanese terrier Elvis Presley.

So how many ‘girls has he helped get pregnant over the years?’

‘I think I’ve been involved in the birth of about 8,000 babies if not more,’ he replies with a hint of laughter.

Colm Mcloughlin

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Colm McLoughlin was part of a group of 10 from Aer Rianta, the Irish Airport Authority, who were contracted by the Dubai Government in 1983 to set up and run a duty free operation at Dubai international Airport.

‘At that time, there were around 200,000 people living in Dubai and the airport had around 3 million passengers,’ he says.

‘Our job was to set up the operation in a space of around 6 months and then leave, but I was asked to stay on by then Director General of Dubai Civil Aviation Authority, Mohi-Din Binhendi,’ says Colm.

The challenges were enormous at the time - from sourcing products to setting up a supplier chain amongst local traders (the brief was to buy from local distributors wherever possible) to training staff, many of whom never worked in retail before.

‘But everyone pulled together and the Dubai Duty Free was ready for the big day on December 20th,’ he says.

‘Today, it is one of the largest airport retailers in the world with a turnover of $1.85 billion last year.

Although his mother’s wish was to see him as a dentist, Colm, after a few jobs, entered the retail sector and joined Woolworths in Acton, London. ‘I started at the bottom, moving boxes and cleaning floors and worked my way up to become manager,’ he says.

Colm, who was first featured in Friday in 1998 and then in 2005, believes that the reason he was able to move up the ladder ‘was because I was willing to work my way up and learn at each step of the way. And I certainly appreciate seeing such qualities in our employees.

‘The fact that we have an internal recruitment policy means that a career progression is encouraged at Dubai Duty Free and all of our supervisors and many of our managers started out working at the shopfloor.’

Colm is proud that the Dubai Duty Free is a recipient of over 550 awards. ‘I was also very honoured in 2004 when I became only the second person after Dr. Brendan O’Regan, the founder of airport duty free, to receive a Lifetime Achievement Award. That was very special to me.’

Colm, who enjoys golf and has a handicap of 13.4, travels extensively and although in his 70s is bristling with energy.

‘I and my wife Breeda enjoy meeting new people and hearing about their work and lives, I enjoy attending events and I enjoy being active and cycling around my house in Garhoud,’ he says, revealing the secrets of his energy levels.

‘Similarly I enjoy time spend with my friends and family in Dubai, my son Niall lives here with his wife Sherly.’

How does he balance work and life?

‘The secret,’ he says, ‘is learning to enjoy your job. My job entails a lot of socializing and travelling, but to me that is part of the enjoyment of what I do and I don’t see that as a chore.’

Text by Mrinal Shekar

Text by Mrinal Shekar

Photos by Stefan Lindeque, Anas Thacharapadikal and Aiza Castillo-Domingo