To fathom the incredibility of Dr. Ram Buxani’s life story one must be aware of the history of ITL Cosmos Group.

There are few parallels to the awe-inspiring story of the Group and the individuals who have steered the company’s growth over six epochal decades.

A diversified business conglomerate headquartered in the vibrant city of Dubai, United Arab Emirates, ITL Cosmos Group’s narrative is integrally linked to the history of two lands and two communities that are separated by the vastness of the Arabian Sea.

If the story of the Group were to unravel as a film, the opening credits would commence in a place called Sindh in undivided India.

At one point in time, Sindh had around 5,000 spindles (used in fabric weaving) and 400 schools as Mr. Maghanmal Pancholia – one of Dubai’s oldest expatriates and prominent Indian entrepreneur observes in his memoir.

As enterprising traders, they practically managed the Indian Silk Route to Cathay and operated in nearly all areas of human settlement. In fact, they blazed the trail for traders and merchants including to and from the Arab world.

The Ruler of Dubai at the time - Sheikh Maktoum Bin Hasher Al Maktoum invited these Indian traders to set up operations in Dubai. In lieu, he offered free land, abolition of export and import duties and personal protection.

The incentives worked.

The Indian merchants who visited Dubai on trade were predominantly from Sindh. They invested significantly in boosting the pearl trade and did not come as settlers but as ‘seasonal investors.’

They also invested in food grain imports and textiles whereas moneylenders from India who also set up base in Dubai played a key role as lenders of resort.

In this burgeoning centre of trade and commerce with the added promise of oil discovery, International Traders (East Africa) Limited (a subsidiary of its Kenyan outfit) first commenced operationsin Dubai in 1953.

The inception of ITL Cosmos Group in Dubai is part of a true saga of sheer entrepreneurship. The canvas of this story is not set in India but Indonesia.

K.A.J Chotirmall & Company was a family of five brothers, all of whom were engaged in business. In 1951, Mr. M. Udharam was appointed as Chairman of the Board.

While Chotirmall’s commercial interest was largely confined to Southeast Asia and Japan, Mr. Udharam saw opportunities growing leaps and bounds in the west.

In 1952, the proprietors led by Mr. Doulatram Assomull Chotirmall, accepted his suggestion that the company’s directors be allowed a share in the capital of all new concerns to be established in the west.

Mr. Doulatram approved the idea on condition that new firms in which the directors had a share would not operate under the name K.A.J. Chotirmall & Company in the Far East and Southeast Asia.

A new associated company was formed under INTRA Group.

At the same time K.A.J Chotirmall & Company, Singapore faced a crisis of sorts. They had an excess inventory and wanted to liquidate it. They contacted their setup in Accra, Ghana and asked the representative to proceed to Bahrain to sell off the stock.

By a twist of fate, the representative Satramdas Bhagia reached Bahrain but was unable to offload the stocks there. He then decided to offload the goods in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

Mr. Murij Manghnani (who until mid-2014 was chairman of the ITL Cosmos Group) had then proceeded from Bombay towards Muscat but much to his chagrin the company he was representing was all set to close down. He came to Dubai to try his luck.

Consequently, Mr. Manghnani took up the offer by Mr. Bhagia and collected the dues. Mr. Khubchand Daswani, a director of INTRA-Chotirmall Combined Group visited Dubai and instructed Mr. Manghnani to close down operations.

Mr. Manghnani however, suggested to his new boss that they continue the Dubai operations. He even volunteered not to charge a salary if the company did not cover the expenses.

Mr. Daswani decided to go by a young Manghnani’s instinct.

In 1953, International Traders (East Africa) Limited as a subsidiary of its Kenyan outfit commenced its operations in Dubai as a one-man office with Mr. Manghnani doing virtually everything that a business demanded – from typing letters to collecting dues and performing all the sundry tasks.

But the directors wanted the Dubai operations to be managed independently. The local management was asked to establish the company with a limited liability status to safeguard the Group’s larger interests and to prevent the local management from resorting to speculative practices that could lead to losses.

Mr. Manghnani expressed his interest to regularize business to His Excellency Easa Saleh Al Gurg, who was then a commercial manager with the British Bank of the Middle East. Mr. Al Gurg took him to meet the then Ruler of Dubai, the late Sheikh Rashid Bin Saeed Al Maktoum who instantly agreed to accord a decree to the company.

International Traders (Middle East) Limited thus became the first company in Dubai to receive a Decree of incorporation from Sheikh Rashid in 1958, who personally signed the document.

In 1959, another young man who always dreamt of moving to new shores, saw an ad by the Chotirmall Group seeking an office assistant in Dubai. He was none other than Dr. Ram Buxani.

As the group moved into its second decade of operations in Dubai, the organization forged ahead with a clear vision that was aligned with Dubai’s ambitious goals to emerge as a world-renowned metropolis.

While it started as an indenting house, ITL Group’s leadership soon realized the value of diversification – a trend in the late fifties.

In 1960, ITL Group established its flagship Cosmos chain of department stores – a familiar landmark over the years that soon became a geographical landmark for Dubai’s residents. It operated from a humble premises but the dedication, sincerity and quality of products soon made Cosmos a must-see place in the evolving city.

For residents in Dubai, Cosmos was a novelty store – one that understood their needs and catered to their requirements.

By 1962, Cosmos was ready to move to larger premises while a second department store opened in Murshid Bazaar, Deira (now popularly referred to as old Dubai).

It was in 1969 that ITL Cosmos Group went into wholesaling of textiles under the name - Universal Corporation. This also reinforced the trust of dealers as indenting introduced a professional work-ethic to the textile business. Trading with the industry export giants in the industry, such as Indonesia, Thailand, China and India in addition to Korean mills enabled the Group to develop close ties with the regional industry leaders thanks to the proficient dynamism of its sales team.

The 70s was an era that defined entrepreneurship and set the stage for several precedents that would see the transition from a ‘manual’ era to one of ‘technology’.

It was in this context that Japan began to be considered as a technology and electronics giant and ITL Cosmos Group’s corporate honeymoon with this nation continued to wax strong.

The founding chairman, Mr. Udharam was a big fan of Sharp Electronics and the group has been its distributor for the past 55 years.

In the early 50s and 60s, Dubai wasn’t even mentioned on the world atlas with only Sharjah and Saudi Arabia mapped. So to a Japanese salesman, Dr. Buxani had to initially explain where Dubai was located.

A case study is often quoted of just one Sharp VCR being shipped to Dubai from Japan in a container. ITL was instructed not to open the container but return it intact to Sharp, Japan. The reason – to check the weather and atmospheric conditions on the product as the Japanese knew that Dubai was located in a desert.

Another anecdote: Dr. Buxani travelled to Japan on one of his regular business trips when the Sharp salesman there asked him if he would like to buy a 12” B & W television. Dubai wasn’t introduced to this medium of entertainment at the time, still Dr. Buxani decided to purchase three units!

To which the salesman responded, “Why?”

Dr. Buxani sensing that the quantity was too low felt embarrassed, so he increased the number to five. Once again, the salesman asked “Why”? Consequently, Dr. Buxani doubled the number to 10. The salesman’s reaction was “Why?”

It was then that Dr. Buxani realized that the salesman was trying to assess the reason as to why Dr. Buxani wanted 10 sets considering the residents in Dubai had never seen a TV till then! Dr. Buxani explains that it was this very logic behind every sale that ensured Japan became such a global corporate force to reckon with.

The anecdote ends with Dr. Buxani dubbing the salesman Mr Y!

It was in this scenario that ITL thrived. Distributors flourished in the region and the company turned itself into a brand.

The seventies was also one of diversification as ITL Cosmos Group invested heavily in the hospitality sector by acquiring a majority shareholding of Dubai’s first hotel in 1970 - the Ambassador and the Astoria Hotel in 1977 and the food business by entering into a joint venture with Pure Ice Cream Co Ltd., India, to manufacture Kwality Ice Cream in Sharjah.

The ITL Cosmos Group celebrated its 25th anniversary in 1978 and readied itself to step into the eighties, an era that saw the IT industry bloom and flourish. The end of the 70s decade saw the beginning of rapid development in the UAE corporate sector, consequently the group witnessed a boom in its electronics division opening branches of Cosmos across the UAE and invested in the foreign exchange business with the inauguration of the Al Razouki International Exchange Co (ARIECO) managed by the fifth largest bank then in India – the Canara Bank.

While Cosmos stayed true to its Japanese principals in Sharp, Minolta, Rhythm, Remington and TDK its loyalty to these brands earned the firm pronounced respect in the regional business sector, as these Japanese MNCs introduced globally a new means of mass production and international quality.

The Dubai Shopping Festival (DSF), an initiative by the Government of Dubai to promote shopping in Dubai was an initiative that also took counsel from the ITL Cosmos Group as the first official letter from the DSF authorities was addressed to the Group seeking its support and encouragement for its retail thrust that saw Dubai becoming a focal point for avid shoppers globally.

ITL Cosmos Group has been a support sponsor of DSF ever since.

At the turn of the century, the Group began to tread a diverse path as local business practices evolved to suit the demands of the new era. Unprecedented focus on its IT infrastructure also saw it take on the distributorship of Fujitsu-Siemens Computers through its retail arm Cosmos Micro Computercentre which resulted in another successful investment in its already diversified portfolio.

As ITL Cosmos Group’s principals set up their offices in the Middle East, more specifically in Dubai, the growth of power retailers changed the face of the retail business in the region.

The Group rose to the challenge by deciding to stay out of the rat-race, consolidating its overall business through its single-brand approach.

As multiple stores began to open up in monolithic air-conditioned shopping malls, the Group has remained loyal to its brands, choosing not to acquire new ones.

It strengthened the UAE’s and wider GCC’s power-retailing business through its rich heritage and eminent manner of conducting business in the UAE.

As the growth of power retailers diminished street retailers, the Group revamped its business model.

While it sustained its incredible growth, it also displayed a rare and gritty determination to flourish where others failed.

While this reduced the visibility of Cosmos amongst consumers, especially the younger generation, ITL streamlined its operations across its hospitality, IT, indenting and textiles division, consolidating its business across all revenue streams.

The Group has now entered its seventh decade with an open mind. “It is time for consolidation and sustaining the heights achieved”, says Dr. Buxani. We have now entered into real estate as well as financial activities.

Drawing from Dubai’s example which has been its ‘partner in progress’, Dr. Ram Buxani states, “Dubai was in the 19th century when the world was in the 20th century and when the world was still in the 20th century, Dubai began to leap and bound into the 21st century.”