|Amir Ali Rupani: Seizing the dream|
|Written by Administrator|
|Tuesday, 21 June 2011 18:45|
For self-made Pakistani-American businessman Amir Ali Rupani, the hustle and bustle of upper Harry Hines Boulevard is the best view in the world.
For the uninitiated, a drive along upper Harry Hines Boulevard on a Saturday morning is a revelation. Groups of shoppers dart from one side of the road to the other like colorful schools of ﬁsh. Cars jockey for position in parking lots that are already packed, and police ofﬁcers struggle to keep it all untangled and ﬂuid.
Signs on the buildings promote wholesale, retail and import merchandise in a babble of languages — Korean, Chinese, Vietnamese, Spanish, even English. This is not the promised American melting pot. This is the rich, savory American stew of entrepreneurship, a thriving zone of commerce that has come together practically overnight.
When Amir Ali Rupaniarrived in Dallas from Houston in 1987, upper Harry Hines was a bland mixture of industrial warehousing, air conditioning and plumbing shops, RV sales lots and adult bookstores. He opened his ﬁrst wholesale shop here just north of Walnut Hill.He was one of the ﬁrst, he says proudly. Now he’s the biggest. His is the classic immigrant’s tale. He was born in Karachi, Pakistan, the ﬁfth of six children. As a boy he worked in his father’s sawmill and furniture business. But all the time, he says, “I was planning to have my own business.”
In hopes of an education and a better chance, he landed in Houston in 1982 with $500 in his pocket. He soon learned that was not nearly enough for a formal education. But for someone willing to work hard and learn, it was a start.In the small but tightly knit Pakistani community of Houston, everybody knew everybody. “I found a person I could work with, and I got a job in a combination gas station-convenience store,” he says.
It was the kind of work America relegates to newcomers: multi-ple shifts behind the counter, catching a little sleep on the ﬂoor in back when he could, his head pillowed on the Greater Houston Yellow Pages directory. He stocked shelves and rang up purchases and cleaned the restrooms. In cold weather, he’d go out and hose down the driveway. Soon he was the store’s manager.“Within two years,” he says, “I had my own store.” One by one, he started bringing his family over, older brothers ﬁrst, then his mother and father, ﬁnally his younger brother and two sisters. As they arrived, they, too, got involved in the conve-nience store. Soon it was a thriving family enterprise.In the meantime, he had met Parveen Rajani at the Pakistani community center. Her father also owned a convenience store. She had been to school for a year but had dropped out to help in the store. She was intelligent, Mr. Ru-pani noticed, and she had a good head for business.It was a traditional courtship, he says, with much discussion family-to-family. They were mar-ried in April 1985. He also had become involved in the community, volunteering his time for various civic projects.Newcomers to the America of the 1980s, he says, Pakistanis pre-ferred to focus on their own fami-lies, their own businesses, their own community. “It took us a little time to get involved,” he says. “It’s not in our ethnic background. Peo-ple didn’t like to get involved in themainstream.”
“To build a bridge and to give us apolitical voice,” he joined the Republican Party.
In 1985, he opened a business with his father-in-law: Jasmine Wholesalers on Houston’s Harwin Drive. Managing the convenience store, he had watched the sales-men who came in to sell him snack foods, household items, toys and novelties. After they left, he says, he would study the labels. Where were they getting these things? How much was the store buying? What were the costs? As Houston’s Asian population grew, other convenience stores and dollar stores were opening up. He asked himself: What if the salesmen didn’t have to travel all the way to wholesalers in Los An-geles and New York? What if there were a wholesaler in Houston? “I started making the trek to New York and Los Angeles my-self,” he says. Soon he and his fa-ther-in-law were in business.
Jasmine Wholesalers was “a miracle for me,” he says. “It was a success right away.The ﬁrst year … after Christmas,the shop was already empty. We went on vacation for the month of January. We did that for three years. Then we had to stay open full-time.”
He began to notice something else: “Jobbers from Dallas were coming to Houston to buy from us.” He made seven or eight trips to Dallas to check out the scene.Then in 1987 he opened his ﬁrst Dallas venture, A to Z Wholesalers on Harry Hines. Almost immedi-ately, it became the largest South Asian-owned wholesaler and dis-tributor of convenience-store items in Dallas, he says. Once again he had a business of his own. He left the Houston business to his father-in-law — an amicable separation, he says — and moved to Dallas.
Within a year, other area wholesalers and importers began transferring their operations to upper Harry Hines. If Mr. Rupani was not the ﬁrst, he was certainly one of the founding fathers of the district. And he remains an elder statesman. In 1989, he and his wife opened a new, bigger business. They named it King Import Warehouse, because, he says, “king” means the best. A big golden crown hangs on the front of the building and adorns his business cards. Upper Harry Hines, says Sud- hir Parikh, past president of the Greater Dallas Asian American Chamber of Commerce, “is one of the success stories of how you can turn a depressed area into one ofthe most booming in the city” And Mr. Rupani, he says, has been a key to that success.
“His business sense is amazing,” says Mr. Parikh. “And on top of that, when he gets involved in community service, he puts hisheart into it. Many times we’ve asked him for something and his ﬁrst question is, ‘What can I do?’ ”
AMIR ALI RUPANI
Date and place of birth:
|Last Updated on Tuesday, 21 June 2011 18:55|