Scion who found success on his terms

Scion who found success on his terms

Entrepreneur Asad Jumabhoy was gleaming with the joy of triumph as he rode his horse back to his tent after leading his team to an 8-4 victory in the Thai Polo Open under Thailand's blazing sunshine.

It was not just the pride of La Sarita - his 35-horse polo team - clinching the trophy that brought such satisfaction to the 56-year-old businessman, but also the methodical way the players built up to the match-winning moment.

"That is why polo is such an interesting sport. To win, everything has to come together. You will need the preparation, the hard work, the right teammates and a cool head. Exactly like doing business," Mr Jumabhoy told The Straits Times after the match in January at the Thai Polo Club in Pattaya.

Mr Jumabhoy, who won a polo silver medal for Singapore at the South-east Asian Games in 2007, knows what it takes to be a winner, both in sports and in dealmaking.

And while his name may evoke memories of the once-powerful Jumabhoy clan behind Scotts Holdings - one of Singapore's early property giants with assets that included a shopping centre and serviced residence - he has been very much his own man for the past 20 years as he hunted his own success.

That journey hit another milestone last November, when the Scotts Group, an investment and holding firm founded and managed by Mr Jumabhoy, sold its minority stake in Fintrax Group, alongside majority owner Exponent Private Equity, for €585 million (S$896 million).

Mr Jumabhoy had been Fintrax's vice-chairman since September 2013 after Exponent partnered him to acquire the firm, which is headquartered in Ireland and provides travellers with value-added tax refund services.

He relished seeing Fintrax grow its company value by 250 per cent in two years to become a leading player, with operations in 30 countries and an annual revenue growth of 20 per cent. But, like in polo, building a successful business is never a one-man show, he stresses.

"I was fortunate to be part of a team that helped build the finance, the marketing and the management structure of a raw asset, so that it could grow further as a global business. If there is one thing I brought, it was the experience in knowing what strategies make such a business tick and how to execute them."

He has that experience in ample supply. After leaving the family business Scotts Holdings in 1996, Mr Jumabhoy founded Asia Tax Free Shopping, a fledgling goods and services tax refund platform, as he detected the emergence of digitisation in the transaction process.

The venture also took him back to his interest in technology, despite his focus on property development during his stint at Scotts Holdings.

"I have always loved tinkering with technology. When I was in college, I spent my summer break installing computers in offices. I can even write a (computer) programme," said Mr Jumabhoy, who has a degree in mathematics.

Asia Tax Free Shopping quickly grew and drew the interest of Apax Partners in Britain. A €150 million merger soon followed, creating Global Refund in 1999.

One of his key projects was the creation of Global Refund's dynamic currency-conversion system, which allows consumers to pay in their home currency with credit cards when abroad.

In 2007, Barclays Private Equity acquired Global Refund for €350 million and renamed it Global Blue in 2010. Mr Jumabhoy stayed with Global Blue as its non-executive director until 2012, when private equity firm Silver Lake bought it for around €1 billion.

Add in the Fintrax transactions and he has had his hands on deals amounting to around €2.3 billion.

His achievements in building cross-border financial and technology services did not go unnoticed, despite his habit of keeping a low profile. In 2012, he was named the chairman of IDA International, an Infocomm Development Authority subsidiary that promotes Singapore companies eyeing overseas growth in the infocomm industry.

In the coming weeks, Mr Jumabhoy will announce his next big fintech venture. Details are still under wraps, but it will retain a focus on merchants using payment cards.

As he embarks on the next stage of his career, Mr Jumabhoy keeps the focus of his life on his wife and four children.

"When I left Scotts Holdings, I did not have a dime with me, and I would not be here without my wife, who lent me $250,000 to start from scratch. That is why, at the end of the day, my family remains the most important thing in my life."

But the Jumabhoy family also has a very different meaning to Singaporeans. Years of family feuds - including the much-publicised conflict between Mr Jumabhoy's brothers, Iqbal and Rafiq, over business control - had greatly weakened Scotts Holdings by the late 1990s, allowing CapitaLand to take over the group that included serviced residence pioneer Ascott International.

The fall of the Jumabhoys is now ingrained in Singapore's business lore and continues to draw public attention that the family actively shun.

Mr Jumabhoy, who worked for Scotts Holdings for 10 years but was not openly involved in any of the drama, refused to share details on the matter.

Moreover, he noted, the Jumabhoys have moved on. "In January, my father held his 90th birthday dinner, and all of us - including Iqbal and Rafiq - were there. Of course, we are still on speaking terms. If we keep looking back, we will only trip and fall."

That his family members all went their own ways to seek their fortune may be for the best, he added.

"I don't feel sorry or regret for the Jumabhoy family. Just as I left to create my own business, who is to say our children cannot go out, make their own mark, amass an even bigger fortune and, more importantly, have a meaningful life?"

This article was first published on March 14, 2016.
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