Bavaguthu Raghuram Shetty popularly known as BR Shetty is the Abu Dhabi-based Indian billionaire-founder of NMC Health. NMC is the biggest private healthcare company in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). According to the Economic Times, Shetty who hails from coastal Karnataka arrived in the oil-rich West Asian deserts in the early 1970s with $8 in his pocket and went on to create a personal fortune estimated by Forbes to be $4.2 billion in 2018.
Commitment to charity
Shetty accomplished fabulous success. He had signed up to be part of the Giving Pledge committing to donate to charity at least half of his personal fortune. The Giving Pledge is a campaign launched by business tycoons Bill Gates and Warren Buffett.
Crashing down of empire
Not even in his wildest dreams would Shetty have suspected that his empire could come crashing down. Shetty’s troubles began when Block’s Muddy Waters Capital issued a report in December last year, criticising NMC’s accounts and disclosing a short position, sending shares down. Since Muddy Waters released the report on December 17, it set off a chain of events that had stunned UAE.
While Shetty’s NMC Health stands accused of falsifying accounts and faces charges of fraud, his financial services firm Finablr, an LSE-listed enterprise that owns the remittance firm UAE Exchange, has discovered that $100 million worth of cheques were issued from the company without the board’s knowledge. Top executives at both firms have either resigned or been sacked. Shetty himself stepped down as director and joint non-executive chairman of NMC Health in February and is now facing criminal charges in Abu Dhabi allegedly for fraud and forgery. Finding himself grappling with problems, 77-year-old, Shetty flew to India in February.
Role in politics
Shetty belongs to the Tulu-speaking Bunt community of coastal Karnataka. He grew up in a modest but well-respected farming family in Kapu in Udupi district, alongside three brothers and three sisters. Shetty successfully contested elections to the Udupi Municipal Council in his 20s, on a ticket from the Jan Sangh, the predecessor of the Bharatiya Janata Party. Former prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee had contested for him. However, his father was a Congressman and freedom fighter. When Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited Abu Dhabi, Shetty was one of the main organisers of the event.
Shetty, who had qualified as a pharmacist, had become a distributor for a Pune-based pharmaceutical company in Udupi Back in the 1970s. Shetty has earned much goodwill in the area by recruiting many of its youngsters to his various companies.
Shetty owns a fleet of Rolls-Royces, a private jet and two whole floors in the Burj Khalifa. TP Seetharam, India’s ambassador to the UAE has met Shetty on several occasions between 2013 and 2016.
Beginning as medical representative
According to Shetty, he landed in Abu Dhabi in 1973, with $8 (Rs 56 then) and a bag, which got stolen. However, he could not find a government job as he did not speak Arabic. He decided to earn living by selling medicines. He calls himself the country’s first outdoor medical representative. He said he would wash the shirt he was wearing, returning from a hot, hard day’s work, he would dry it overnight and then wear it again the next day, when he set out with a Samsonite bag full of medicines. he still keeps the bag as a reminder of difficult times.
Foundation of NMC
In 1975, Shetty decided to open a private clinic, calling it New Medical Centre (NMC). His wife, Chandrakumari Shetty was the first doctor of NMC which has gone on to become a healthcare giant, employing over 2,000 doctors across 45 hospitals.
Launching of money remittance firm
In 1980, Shetty launched money remittance firm UAE Exchange for migrant workers, which charged less than banks at that time and grew to become a market leader, eventually expanding to 850 direct branches in 31 countries.
Setting up of Neopharma
Then Shetty set up Neopharma, a pioneering pharmaceutical manufacturing venture, in 2003, with a state-of-the-art plant in Abu Dhabi.
As Shetty’s businesses expanded in the Gulf, his stock rose considerably in the Indian community and among the Emirati rulers. Abu Dhabi government awarded him the Order of Abu Dhabi in 2005. Indian government awarded him a Padma Shri in 2009. Shetty increased his business interests in India by acquiring 180-year-old Assam Company, Mumbai’s Seven Hills Hospital, which was facing insolvency proceedings, and hospitals in Kerala and Odisha.
According to former ambassador Seetharam, Shetty was one of the people Indian expatriates turned to for help. Shetty did not hesitate to accept invitations to events though he knew many of these would translate into requests for help.
Shetty had recently announced that he would spend Rs 1,000 crore on a film based on an interpretation of the Mahabharata by writer MT Vasudevan Nair. Unfortunately, it never took off.
Bonding with Malayalis
Over 70% of Shetty’s employees were Malayalis. People like MK Abdullah, uncle of LuLu Group founder MA Yusuff Ali had supported him during his early days.
What lies ahead?
Following the 2019 Muddy Waters report Events have unfolded rapidly at Shetty’s companies. Efforts are underway in the emirate to salvage NMC. Shetty said in a statement previously that he would return to Abu Dhabi once flight restrictions were lifted.