My name is Mirwais and my father’s name is Abdul Aziz. But publicly and in many countries the people knew me by my family’s name, Azizi. I was born in 1962 in Kabul, Afghanistan where I started my education journey at the age of five until I finished my law studies.
After graduating from the law school, I began working at a law firm in Afghanistan from the mid-80s until 1988. During this year, the war in Afghanistan started and just like any father and family man, I was left with no option but to leave the country to protect the lives of my family.
Shortly afterwards I made the decision to move to Uzbekistan with my family leaving my home county with only USD 700 in my pocket. After arriving in Uzbekistan, I was left with USD 500, while I met with a friend – a fellow Afghani and businessman who I asked to lend me a USD 5,000 to help me to emigrate 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. I come from a well-educated family, however, no one in my family had entrepreneurial experience or had owned their own business.
I listened to my friend’s advice and I started my first business in textile manufacturing, within six months, I had 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 my earnings and give my accountant USD 200,000 and use the remaining USD 800,000 to set up a future for my family. But, my accountant recommended that I should stay in Uzbekistan until I had earned USD 5 million which I managed to do this within five months and then my accountant suggested we should move to Europe. At that time, I had already 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 time were many countries smoked Bulgarian made cigarettes, and soon afterwards I became an importer and an official cigarette dealer in the 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 in Uzbekistan to the capital Tashkent.
In 1994, one of my employees came to my office with a proposal to import two popular cigarette brands which were called Winston and Magna. At that time there was no internet or available market research upon which I could make an informed decision. I made a few phone calls to find out more about these two brands and their official dealer for our region. Soon I learned it was a UAE based company located in Sharjah under the name “Al Ofuq”.
After contacting the dealer in UAE, I decided to import two containers with the value of USD 150,000 which were sold for USD 300,000 on the same day the containers arrived in Tashkent and that made me very enthusiastic and so, ordered 50 containers. Gradually, our business relation grew with the UAE based dealer and the General Manager of that company came to Tashkent to meet with me. He learned more about our business and at the same time he invited me to visit their office in the UAE.
A week later I arrived in the UAE and saw Dubai and Sharjah for the first time, during this time my mind was opened to the possibilities that 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 setting up a home and sending my children to school.
In 1998, I exited the tobacco business and started trading in the oil industry were 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 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 so that I can help on creating more jobs for the nation and we managed to produce 5,000 new jobs within three months, while investing heavily in rebuilding the city through infrastructure and township projects. This led to the developments of 10,000 homes and new commercial areas.
Secondly I contributed to the developments 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 nonprofit higher education institution in Afghanistan. Today, thousands of students receive education through the university and join the work force in many different fields in Afghanistan.
Finally, was through the creation of Azizi Foundation, established with 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 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 I had to worry about my children being in UAE in 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 one client until today we were not able to reach. In 2013, we resumed the construction of existing projects and in doing so, we became very successful.
Today, we are working harder than ever 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 for the wise and visionary leadership of 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.