August 23, 2013 1 Comment
The story of Guddubhai, aka Muhammad Rafiq Theim (44), is a textbook case of ‘barefoot capitalism’. The youngest of five sons of a small Bikaner oil miller, the man known as the King of the Guar Trade and synonymous with daily average trade of 8,700 tonnes of guar seed and 1,800 tonnes of guar gum”, didn’t attend college, barely speaks English and started his business career with a tea stall. He failed, started an auto rickshaw repair shop, failed again. Getting into commodity trading in mid-1990s was a desperate career switch.
Guar was perhaps a natural first choice as a trader. Rajasthan, India’s biggest guar-producing state, has a long history of guar business. Guddubhai was good at understanding market moods.
Guddubhai’s big break came when NCDEX launched futures trading in guar in 2004, and the global demand for guar, especially from the hydrocarbon business, exploded. By 2007, a close circle of people knowledgeable in commodity trades had christened him, ‘The King of Guar’.
In 2011-12, guar prices soared and by May this year, there was a partial but sharp price correction. Taking big positions on price swings and getting them right is what makes a trader special. In Bikaner’s trading hub, Anaj Mandi, many traders will tell you Guddubhai is “very special”.
Guddubhai says he doesn’t know much about oil exploration or about fracking (a key process in the shale gas business and one that uses guar gum). “I just keep my ear to the ground…talk to other traders…it’s a simple business.” Certainly, in appearance, Guddhubhai’s trading centre is all simplicity — a small room, two computers, two cell phones, a muted TV he never seems to look at and no newspapers…visitors get water served in lotas and are offered beetle buts and chewing tobacco.
Guddubhai’s recorded guar trading in NCDEX, via his company ND Commodities, is worth . 3,200 crore annually. The adjective ‘recorded’ is important. Unrecorded trade is not uncommon among India’s canniest traders. But Guddubhai, who considers parting with almost any information a bad strategy, is insistent he’s just a small player from Bikaner. He isn’t. But how did he become so big? Guddhubhai is a classic example of someone who knows the pulse of a market.They are born with it.They have guts and they prefer to remain low profile.
In Bikaner, people don’t flaunt money. You see a man driving a scooter with a plastic bag-…that bag may contain 4-5 crores…but the man won’t look like he has money…anyways not to people like us. By those parameters, Guddubhai, whose trades amount to thousands of crores, doesn’t look wealthy either. He lives in a quarter unfashionable even for decidedly unfashionable Bikaner, in a modest house standing on a pitted road, He eschews making statements to the press.And unsurprisingly, therefore, given this culture of making serious money very quietly, he’s already on to the next big thing — real estate in Bikaner. Thanks to solar power projects, land value in this Rajasthan city is going up. Guddubhai, who is also president of Bikaner Property Association, has been buying land. He says he diversified into real estate because he follows the Islamic precepts on not investing in any form that earns an interest. So, how big is his real estate business? Guddubhai prefers not to answer.