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Citywealth uhnw profile: Dinesh Dhamija of ebookers entrepreneurial fame

Date: 07 Mar 2011

Citywealth

Dinesh Dhamija and his wife Tani were the founders of ebookers, an internet based travel agency that leveraged technology early and sold for some two hundred and forty seven million in 2005. Dhamija who went to Cambridge and lives in Virginia Water is a well documented entrepreneurial success story banking some hundred million or so from the sale. In an ongoing series on wealthy British Asians, Citywealth caught up with Dhamija to ask him what he has up to since the sale and for his outlook on investing in places like India.

“It took a couple of years to work out my tax planning when we sold ebookers.” says Dhamija whose father in law was the chief of the Indian army. “As part of the sale I have a ten year non compete arrangement so can’t do anything in the travel business. As well as being involved as an advisor on private equity boards, my main job after the sale was to try and spend time with my sons who are in their thirties because we had been busy with the business for many years. My wife is keen to have them both married off but they are in no hurry.” Explains Dhamija laughing. “Hunting and golf is also a big deal for me. I think you have to have fun in life.”

Investing in property development in Romania

“I waited for a year before investing even though I had more than forty banks knocking at my door with ideas,” Says Dhamija. ” Through my brother in law who was the Indian ambassador in Romania I started to look at what investment potential there was there. I have invested in property development in Romania because they are in the EU and support from Brussels is good in the region. Their population is almost double of any neighbouring country with only two percent of the country having mortgages. They have lots of old housing and property and land is set to have an up cycle. Whilst investing I have also been involved in a private financial deal that involved a hotel called Delta Resort which has thirty villas in the Danube delta and I now own that property. I’ve renovated it and upgraded it is and it is a five star hotel opening in April next year.”

Investing in India

“I am also investing in India and my general advice for those looking to do the same is to invest through well established funds like Fidelity. The Sensex thirty is an equivalent to the FTSE 100 and has grown about twenty five percent on average in profits. I am also looking to invest in the Nifty Fifty which is like the FTSE 250 and is the leading index for large companies on the National Stock Exchange of India. Gujarat, one of the states in India’s GDP has grown about twenty percent alone. I think property yields are going to be tremendous in the region.”

Treading carefully in India

“Many people are looking at India to invest in but India is not equal across the states – it’s a bit like the USA you have different laws and cultures by state. It’s homogeneous not heterogeneous – people are very different state by state. I recently had a Delhi lawyer do a property deal in between Goa and Bombay for me and it didn’t work out because they didn’t know the law properly – the language of documents were all different . I would advise people to be careful in India there is more complexity than it at first seems. There is a marked difference in the population across the states and how they do business. You can’t say one Indian from one state is like another or will think like them. There are also booms and busts in different states. Although India’s GDP is going up by nine percent across the board, it could be zero percent in some places and twenty percent in others. There are rules governing individuals like land ceiling. Also others laws governing external parties.

The Indian upside

“I heard of a property in Delhi bought in 1969 for ¬£1000 which is now worth $40million. Although it took a long time to increase in value like many markets most of the increase came in the last three years. Three years ago the property was valued at $20million and in the last year it made pretty much all of the rest of the $20million. It’s not too late to invest in property.”

Educational philanthropy

I am very interested in educational philanthropy and am working a lot in this area. I signed an MOU with Marlborough School and am helping them set up a thousand person boarding school in India. I have also financed charities in India giving free education to four hundred and fifty kids and free medicine to fifty thousand people a year. I’ve sent $250,000 dollars to each which they sit on and let the interest pay for everything they need.”

The WTO say there are six hundred million Indians under the age of thirty and we know they are interested in spending on education and health. I wanted to start with a top educational institution and trickle their processes and values down to the charity sector. I am interested in education at all levels particularly in the “last mile” between degree and getting a job. We are buying a plot 1,500 acres on the beach in Goa and plan to put eight to ten institutions there which will include a teacher training college, R&D, schools and “last mile” educational help . I have lots of CEO’s interested in helping.
BRICS countries?

“I am not sure I can do business with Brazil, Russia and China because of the language difficulties but I know I can with India. I haven’t heard from my peers that much money is being made in Russia or China apart from companies like GM cars. Warts and all I can cope with India even if it proves difficult now and again.”

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