My name is Mirwais and my father’s name is Abdul Aziz. But publicly and in many countries, people know me by my family name, Azizi. I was born in 1962 in Kabul, Afghanistan where I started my education journey at the age of five and went on to study law.
After graduating from law school, I began working at a law firm in Afghanistan from the mid-80s until 1988. During this time, awar in Afghanistan was happening and just like any father and family man, I made a decision to leave the country to protect the lives of my family.
I made the decision to move to Uzbekistan with my family, leaving my home country with only USD 700 in my pocket. After arriving in Uzbekistan with only USD 500 remaining, I met with a friend, a fellow Afghan and businessman who I asked to lend me USD 5,000 in order to immigrate to Europe with my family.
My friend was willing to give me this money and even more, but he advised me to stay in Uzbekistan and start my own business. While I come from a well-educated family, no one in my family had entrepreneurial experience or had owned their own business.
I listened to my friend’s advice and started my first business in textile manufacturing.Within six months, I’d earned my first USD 1 million. At that point, I had only two employees – a driver named Sergei, and an accountant named Baser. With this money, I planned to start a business in Europe and buy a house and relocate my family there. I offered to share USD 200,000 of my earnings with my accountant and use the remaining amount to set up a future for my family. But my accountant recommended that I stay in Uzbekistan until I’d earned USD 5 million, which I managed to do within five months.At this point,my accountant suggested we move to Europe. However, by this timeI had developed a good understanding of the business environment and market in Uzbekistan,so I made a decision to stay.
As a young ambitious entrepreneur and businessman, I was always looking for new opportunities, and so I ventured into the tobacco business in Bulgaria. It was the first of its kind in the country during the Soviet Union – a time when many countries smoked Bulgarian-made cigarettes, and soon afterward I became an importer and an official cigarette dealer forthe Russian Commonwealth countries. At that time, I had multiple offices in more than 20 countries including Russia, Ukraine, Bulgaria, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, and Poland. As my business grew, I relocated my family to Uzbekistan’s capital, Tashkent.
In 1994, one of my employees came to my office with a proposal to import two popular cigarette brands called “Winston” and “Magna”. At that time there was no internet or available market research upon which I could make an informed decision, so I made a few phone calls to find out more about these two brands and who the official dealer was. I soon learned it was a UAE-based company located in Sharjah under the name “Al Ofuq”.
After contacting the dealer, I decided to import two containers worth USD 150,000 whichIsoldfor USD 300,000on the same day the containers arrived in Tashkent. Of course, this made me very enthusiastic and so I ordered 50 containers. Gradually, my business relations grew with the UAE-based dealer and the general manager came to Tashkent to meet with me. He learned more about mybusiness and he also invited me to visit hisoffices in the UAE.
One week later I arrived in the UAE and saw Dubai and Sharjah for the first time.It was during this trip that my mind was opened upto the possibilities the UAE presented, including a good education system, healthcare, and security. This led to my decision to relocate my business and my family to the UAE and set up a home and send my children to school here.
In 1998, I exited the tobacco business and started trading in the oil industry where I had my own product and label which was exported to many countries. In 2002 after 14 years, I returned to my homeland, Afghanistan. What I saw there were people and a country ruined. I noticed a huge difference in the people. Initially, I thought the change was in me because I had been living abroad for quite some time. But then I realised it was the effect of the war. So, I decided to help the people in the following three ways.
Firstly, I invested in the country by starting a business in the petroleum sector that helpedto produce 5,000 new jobs within three months, while also investing heavily in rebuilding the city through infrastructure and township projects. This led to the development of 10,000 homes and new commercial areas.
Secondly, I contributed to the development of the education sector. I wanted to establish an international education system so I opened the American University of Afghanistan in Kabul and arranged the first board meeting in Dubai. The university is the first non-profit higher education institution in Afghanistan. Today, thousands of students receive education through the university and join the workforce in many different fields in Afghanistan.
Finally, I established the Azizi Foundationwith the objective of helping underprivileged people and families to live better lives. The foundation has sponsored the education of many students.
In 2006, Azizi Bank was established. The bank is now the largest and strongest commercial financial institution in Afghanistan. Following this, Azizi Group acquired Al Bakhtar Bank which has become one of the fastest growing banks in Afghanistan.
In 2007, Azizi Developments was established in Dubai when I purchased our first land in the city. My motivation was to make something in a city that had given so much to my family and I. During the years I have been running my businesses, I was travelling frequently and couldn’t always be with my children, but not once did I feel a need to worry about my children being in the UAE on their own. Dubai has given my family a peaceful life and I wanted to make something for this city that my children and grandchildren would be proud of.
In 2008, we started selling off-plan properties in Dubai. Once we had sold around AED 1 billion, the global financial crisis started. The majority of buyers could not continue payments and all of them were handed back their deposits except for one client who until today we have not been able to reach. In 2013, we resumed the construction of existing projects and in doing sohave become very successful.
Today, we are working harder than ever before and developing properties in many locations across Dubai, a place that unites all people. Those who live here feel safe, and this is an organic result of the wise and visionary leadership of the UAE which Azizi Developments will always remain committed to by supporting its leader’s vision to put the city in the league of the best in the world.