LADDER TO THE SKIES
Gulf Business|June 2021
It’s not just the view at the top that Bal Krishen, the CEO and chairman of UAE-based Century Financial enjoys, but also the journey of reaching there. In this exclusive interview, the enterprising executive reveals his stellar professional rise, where the investment market is headed, and what the future holds
AARTI NAGRAJ

It is not often you meet people who have started from extremely humble beginnings to reach dizzying heights. And yet as we walked into Bal Krishen’s elegant office, what was immediately clear was that the CEO and chairman of UAE-based financial services and investment firm Century Financial remains firmly grounded, despite his lofty achievements.

Greeting us personally, Krishen was exceptionally hospitable and warm, and quick to start a friendly – and erudite – conversation. “I have always believed that ‘It is not about what life has offered you, but what have you done with that offering’,” he explains.

Krishen exemplifies that narrative. Born in India as one of nine siblings in a modest family, he completed his basic education in a local school where his father was a teacher. “But I was more interested in acquiring practical knowledge. I started working at an early age by doing several odd jobs, which helped support my family and provided early learning experiences. My entrepreneurial instincts were shaped when I took a risk and started a small business venture in my native town. It paid off and encouraged me to explore better opportunities outside my hometown. When my father retired early, I decided to go to Dubai aspiring to find a good job that would provide a better livelihood for my family back home,” he says.

Arriving in the UAE in 1996, Krishen was determined not go back empty-handed and took the first job he could find – at a local hotel in Dubai. “I learned the fundamentals of people management and the importance of customer service. I started as a bell boy and quickly worked my way up into an admin job at the hotel,” he elaborates.

The magic happened when a client at the hotel, a senior banker, noticed Krishen’s exceptional mathematical skills. “The banker noticed my speed and consistency with numbers and encouraged me to consider a career in investments and finance. This interaction made me seriously consider a career in the financial investment industry.”

In 1999, he met Emirati entrepreneur and the then chairman of Century Financial, Sulaiman Baqer Mohebi, who agreed to give the tenacious young man an opportunity in his company as an office assistant. “During my initial days in Century, I closely observed the work done by the customer service and sales teams. I soon got an opportunity to work as a junior dealer, where I assisted in the supervision of transactions across major global exchanges. I worked 12 to 15 hours every day because I wanted to learn more and better understand the business. I believe it was my passion and persistence that led me to further growth within Century. It started with the position of trader and financial analyst, and eventually, I went on to become head of Investment trading. From there started the leadership roles with associate director, director, and ultimately, the CEO and chairman of the company.”

His dramatic rise in the last 20 years at the company is a well-known journey, and yet is an inspirational one which reflects the attitude with which Century has – and continues to – evolve. “My greatest life lessons have not come from any achievements I have attained, but rather from the process of attaining that success.”

Parallel growth

Krishen’s two-decade journey to the top has echoed the rise of the UAE’s growth as a regional economic hub – particularly in the financial and investment industry. The country’s GDP has grown in the last 10 years, while it has also seen a steady increase in foreign direct investment (FDI) inflows. In fact, FDI inflows grew 44.2 per cent year-on-year in 2020 to reach Dhs73bn ($19.88bn) despite the Covid-19 crisis, a report by the Ministry of Economy last month stated. The cumulative value of foreign direct investments inflows (including equity inflows, reinvested earnings and other capital) amounted to $174bn, a year-on-year growth of 12.9 per cent.

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