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Winning against all odds: Kulwant Singh

Turning difficulties into opportunities is what best describes Kulwant Singh, founder and managing director of Lama Group L.L.C. In a candid discussion with TBMEs Charmaine Fernz, he reminisces his successes, life’s journey and what lies ahead….

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A famous quote ‘Failure is simply an opportunity to begin again, this time more intelligently’ by Henry Ford is what best describes Kulwant Singh, founder and managing director of Lama Group L.L.C. He has climbed the ladder of success by making the most of every opportunity presented to him in life.

Down Memory Lane

Singh’s parents came to Dubai in 1966. His father was a successful contractor based in Al Ain. He has during his time built some of the biggest palaces in the emirate. Kulwant studied in Indian School Al Ain and was a well-rounder – a good student in both studies and sports. “I represented the Gulf for India and have won quite a few Gold and Silver medals in athletics. Post my schooling in 1996, being 18 years, I became illegal in the UAE as I was left with no visa or sponsor. My parents had migrated to the United States, post the Gulf War – Dad left UAE in 1993; followed by my mom in 1996.”

The lack of a visa or sponsor made Kulwant look for a job. The search was endless with rejections. The light however at the end of the tunnel was the company from where he sent out his CVs. “The manager one day informed me that his tour guide was unwell, so why don’t I take the tourist around Dubai on a city tour. I took up the opportunity and got my first tip of AED20, which I duly gave to my manager. He asked me to keep it and I kept doing odd jobs in the company. In due course of time, the manager employed me on a salary of AED500 as a tour guide.”

Post two months on the job, Kulwant received a increment in salary to AED 1,500. Having put in all the hard work day and night, Kulwant left no stone unturned to understand the working of the business. “The hard work came at a price when I was not paid for five months. I look back at this incident as an opportunity because if he had paid me, I may have never left that job to pursue anything else,” says Singh.

Birth of an Idea 

The lack of a good opportunity made Kulwant want to pursue something on his own. “This incident pushed me to start my own business, though small. I started Lama Tours in 1997 and then there was no looking back.”

Reminiscing the incident involving the company’s name, Kulwant says, ”When we had gone to register the company, I did not have a particular name in mind. All I asked the registrar was for a desert animal. He proposed a Llama, which is a South American animal. The name went down well considering that my parents had moved to the US so if I wanted to expand my business, it would work for me. Nonetheless, while fixing the logo the double ‘L’ looked odd so we removed one ‘L’ and this was the birth of Lama Tours.

The Journey

Kulwant comes across very content. He says, “I have had everything I wanted in life. Now, I am happy to sit back and relax. I am happy to write a book which can actually benefit a lot of people.”

He looks back in time and says, “I have seen the best and worst. The rich getting richer; the poor getting rich. The poor being happy people while the rich most unsatisfied and sad people. It is very difficult to explain but there was time in my life when I thought, I should wind up and go back.”

A series of unfortunate events came about in Singh’s life when he invested in the hospitality industry. This was in 2007-08 when he lost almost everything. “I invested in a property in Al Barsha. This project got delayed as I had faced several issues with the contractors despite being a contractor’s son. When I took up the project, I thought it would be a piece of cake to understand the business but it was right the opposite. There was a lot of money invested in this project, I could safely say my life’s earning. With the delay of two and half years, I lost about AED20 million in this venture.”

Life has not been easy for Kulwant. Another setback was the global economic recession which hit Singh’s business in a bad way. “I had bought a lot of land in Ajman. We had started the development of villas, however, when they were about to mature, the market crashed. I had to sell those villas paying the money out of my pocket. We paid for around 40 villas so the money spent was enormous.”

Despite, these setbacks Kulwant is positive about God’s grace. As he puts it, “God has been kind to me. I had some of the best contracts in the world and made a lot of money from them too. Putting my failures behind me, I am optimistic and the business has been doing well since the last couple of years. We have also been reinvesting.”

Kulwant with his family

On a personal note…

Kulwant smirkingly says, “I met a girl in 2004, she was flying for Gulf Air. We met on a casual level, least realising that she would turn out to be my wife. We got married in 2005. This has been the best decision and the biggest blessing in my life.”

He is all praise for his wife in terms of her understanding and support. “She is my biggest mentor after my parents. We have three lovely kids – one boy and two girls,” he says in all smiles.

The driving factor

Kulwant is of the opinion that one needs a perfect balance between family and work. “Keeping my family happy is important. This ensures that they are happy to send me to work. This also keeps a good working ambience in the office, which helps me make some good money too,” he says.

The Persona

Kulwant certainly considers himself to be a task master. As he puts it, “I do like to take risks. I like to take on new tasks and challenges. I have never failed if I have pursued something with my positive energy, I have always stood to gain and got it right; It may have been difficult in the beginning but eventually it all works out fine.”

Motivating factors

Analysing himself and his areas of growth career wise, he says: “I think where I go wrong is between instinct and strategy. In some cases, an idea was put forward as a strategy but my instinct took over. On another occasion, I went against my instinct and went with strategy. I just believe that one way it could go right and one way it could go wrong. Where I had to go wrong, I went right and where I had to go right, I went wrong.”

Self-introspection

Kulwant describes himself as a father, husband and son with every role demanding in its own way. He says, “As a father, my children’s smile is everything for me, yet, it cannot be at a cost or for anything materialistic. For me, anything they require is an understanding between my children and myself. This would be for anything, they would like to buy due to peer pressure or a gift I would like to give them. They have to accept it. One may feel this is harsh or diplomatic but I was bought up with the understanding that every money my parents earned was with a lot of hard work. I would also like my children to have the same understanding. To get more time with them, I try to spend an hour everyday with one of my children in any way possible. I also take the trouble to speak with them on a regular basis and make them understand the value of money in today’s day.”

As a husband, Kulwant is of the opinion that he has no issues with accepting mistakes. “Whatever were my setbacks, my partner was well aware of it all. In many cases when things are not right either a husband or wife can guide the other. I certainly consider my wife to be my partner who understands me in both my difficult time and smiles during the good. This is a compromise that every couple in a relationship makes and things cannot go wrong,” he says.

Kulwant certainly is a proud son who feels it is his responsibility to thank his parents’ every day. My family comprises of three brothers including myself and a sister. He adds, “Each one of us do our duty as children. My parents are very proud of me but I have yet to do my best. It was the happiest moment in my life when I bought my parents a house. At regular intervals, I also send them surprise tickets to be with us and their grandchildren.”

Travelling  

Being in the travel industry, Kulwant’s all-time favourite destination is none other than London. He reminiscently says, “I feel the walls in London talk to me. I can do endless walking on the streets and it gives me a good aura. I would also be biased if I don’t say Dubai. I just love the place.”

Hobbies

Kulwant loves playing Golf and Football is a passion too. He played for the Iranian Club in Dubai for a few years. Music is another favourite with a preference for the 90s in Hindi and retro music in English. He loves movies too but anything that gives a message. His all-time favourites are Guru, A Few Good Men, Munnabhai MBBS and 3 Idiots to name a few.

Personal opinion

A   personal opinion of Kulwant is pretty interesting. He says, “A lot of people feel that I am a very serious person who is very difficult to come across or even get a smile on my face. Generally, I have this tag of ‘Touch me not’ cause maybe it is just the way I am. The perception gives people the vibes of being very reserved and conservative. It could also be maybe because of my religion. However, this is not true cause when I laugh no one can beat me to it.

Food

Kulwant is a foodie. His favourite cuisine is Italian. He also love any well-cooked Mutton or crab dish. Funnily enough he says, “I was a vegetarian before but have now become a non-vegetarian after marriage.”

Five Principles for Life 

  • Be hardworking and a visionary in whatever you pursue
  • Be honest
  • Be polite and humble; Give back to society as much as you can….you get what you give
  • Trust, love and relationships are very important. Build them
  • Be happy and content