A Trailblazer's Story

Jitubhai Shah, Founder, JB & Brothers
A Trailblazer's Story

He is passionate, zealous and enjoys the smallest joys of life. He is a visionary who left no stone untrurned to make his business an exemplary one. He is Jitubhai Shah, Founder, JB & Brothers. It is no easy feat to hail from a small village with no electricity yet establishing a globally recognized business but Jitubhai makes it look effortless. He is a traveller, a movie buff and a fashion lover. He is a dreamer and a man with the reigns of his destiny in his own hand, he is everything dynamic. Priyanka Desai meets with this bigwig to know more of his journey, learning, inspirations and more.

The aforementioned quote is one of my personal favorites but it is only recently that I came across a man for whom this quote is truly befitting. That man is Jitubhai Shah, Founder of JB & Brothers. Anyone who is someone in the diamond industry has heard of JB & Brothers but there are very few that know the man who sowed the seed of this huge, diamond-bearing tree. Jitubhai is everything but conventional. He is zealous, polite yet commands respect with his striking demenour. He is a fashion-forward man who can rock a pair of kurta pajama or a pair of designer, coloured trousers with equal panache. He is a traveller and a dreamer. But, a dreamer with a plan to achieve everything he wills.

Jitubhai was born in a small village called Vithoda near Palanpur in Gujarat in the year of 1955. Born in a family of meager means, he knew his responsibility at a very young age. Eldest of the six siblings in a family of a hapless clothes tradesman, Jitubhai was far away from the world of diamonds. “I used to watch the struggle of my father who worked extremely hard for our survival. I used to see my mother walk miles to fetch a bucket of water. There was no electricity in our village at that time therefore we used to study with the help of oil lamps. I used to help my father in his clothes shop whenever I had a chance and since then I was very inquisitive about business. I knew I had to do something to get my family out of poverty at that very time and their haplessness is what inspired me to leave my village and come to Surat to find a way to earn a living,” he states.

In the year 1970, a 15-year old boy came to Surat with nothing but big hopes and strong determination. He knocked on a distant relative’s door and that door opened many others for that boy. “I had heard that the diamond-cutting and polishing workers used to make INR 400/- to 500/- and at that time that was a lot of money. Another plus point was that the diamond business did not need higher education and it perfectly suited a SSC pass like myself. I started working at Sumtibhai’s office in Surat. He was my first ever mentor in the diamond business. It may seem unbelievable to you but I had not seen a diamond for the first six to eight months of my tenure there. Along with making tea in the office, I used to do some household chores for Sumtibhai. I was the only one who would go for vegetable shopping for his family. Today, I can proudly say that all these things have shaped me into what I am today cause these little things taught me the basics of business,” he shares with a smile. This determination and the thirst to learn more from every little thing has been the cornerstone of JB & Brothers’ success and remains to this day.

After acquiring the business knowledge for two years. Jitubhai took the plunge in the diamond business in the year 1972. With a small workspace on a rent of INR 50/-, he started with his diamond business. Jitubhai is a very intuitive man and even today depends on his inner calling when it comes to a diamond. “One needs to love the business of diamonds and believe in it. A machine cannot really tell the sentimental value of a diamond but a feeling can,” says he. He was extremely passionate about his business since the start and had complete faith in it. The faith can also be the reason why his business took flight and started reaching the stars. He started sending some money home and invested in educating his siblings in the same year.

Jitubhai’s life took one more positive turn in the year of 1975. He had an arranged marriage with Ritaben and she became his biggest support, facilitating him to dream big and achieve big. But, when asked about his luckiest year, he has a huge smile on his face. “It definitely has to be the year 1977. All the good things came to me in that year. My first son, Miten was born in 1977, I also bought my first house and first car in the same year. To top it all, I visited Belgium for the very first time in 1977, which exposed me to a bigger way of business,” he expresses while walking down the memory lane.

Life is like a business cycle, after every crest there is a trough and Jitubhai too went through this cycle. After seeiing the best year in 1977, the worst market crisis hit in 1978. He lost a lot of money in this crisis but he continued to learn and be determined. “During the 1978 crisis, I learned the planning of a business and how to avert uncalculated risks. That period taught me so much and I am happy for it as that is what made my business more streamlined,” he informs earnestly. Jitubhai was the first one to start the cleving process in Surat and had the first cleving department in the city. He would work the entire day and then train his staff till 3 AM everyday. All this hard work paid off and Jitubhai launched his first Mumbai office in 1984 and indulged in exports in the same year.

When asked about his family and their role in his life, pat comes the reply, “My family has been my biggest support system and it is because of their support, I could achieve everthing. My parents inspired me to grow and my wife Rita helped me in all our steps of life. My brothers are all educated and joined my business in the year 1984 and 1985. In fact, one of my brother is a doctor but he still joined this business and is very happy. My eldest son Miten was born in 1977, he is also a part of the business and is settled in Belgium. My daughter Payal was born in 1980 and is happily married and is settled in Mumbai. My youngest son Premal was born in 1982, is involved in business too and is settled in Israel. My daughters-in-law are an integral part of our family. They are my daughters and not daughters-in law. I have six grandchildren who are my happiness. Rita and I stay in Belgium and Israel for two months each and also visit Mumbai often to enjoy the company of all our children and grandchildren. We are a very close-knit family and all my brothers, their families, my family— we all come together and spend four days of Diwali togther every year, no matter what.”

Talking more about his children, he states, “In the earlier years, I needed more manpower and I asked my sons to join the business. But, I never curbed their aspirations. I had given them an option that they can test the waters for two years and if they did not like the business then they could pursue anything else they wanted. But, both of them fell in love with the diamond business and achieved great heights. In fact, I was quite against Premal going to Israel but he had a vision to strengthenthe rough procurement. For two years, he survived in Israel without any of my help or support but he proved himself and now is very settled.”

After Jitubhai’s business achievements and family closeness, the next thing that strikes you is his unconventional and contemporary fashion statement. He is also open about it and talks about it frankly. “I have always been attracted towards fashion and love wearing nice clothes. I love bright colours and I can carry off any colour. I also love jackets and scraves. I enjoy shopping in Dubai.” Apart from shopping, his other hobbies are travelling and dancing. “I love travelling and have been to many countries. I have stayed in the Amazon forest for a few weeks, which was a great experience. I also love Switzerland. I am more of a beach person and I love beaches of Spain. They are extremely beautiful and serene. But, most of all I love visiting our farmhouse in our village, which gives me peace and calm.” After talking about the beaches and shopping trips, he hands me over his iPhone to watch a video and for a few minutes it is unbelievable for me to fathom that the dancers in the video are Jitubhai and his wife Ritaben. While the gorgeous couple is grooving to a Rajesh Khanna song and are having a gala time in the video, it is hard to miss the similarity between Rajesh Khanna’s and Jitubhai’s dancing steps. “I love Rajesh Khanna and I love dancing. My wife loves it too. We both perform together in all the family funtions,” he says with a beaming smile. To see the innocense and the joy was an immense pleasure for me.

Talking more about movies, he states, “I am a complete movie buff and I do not miss a single motion picture that releases. When I am in India, I watch Bollywood movies and when I am abroad I watch international cinema. I recently watched the movie ‘Queen’ and I thoroughly enjoyed it.” When quizzed about the food choices, he states, “I like Gujarati thali the best. I also enjoy Italian and Mexican food. In addition to these, I like Japanese food too as it is light on the stomach and easy to digest. Talking about homemade food, I love the avocado dip with corn chips that my wife makes for me.” Jitubhai is also involved in a lot of philanthropic work for his village Vithoda. He has launched schools, colleges and hospitals in his village and visits it two to three times a year. “I do not want my village members to go through the same hardships as my family and I went through. I want them to have the basic necessities near them so that they don’t have to travel to other towns to study or to get medical help,” he states. When asked how does he make time for such activities, he states, “My parents have always taught me humanity and being a good human being and their wish is my religion. I will always do what they have taught me and have wished for me.”

When asked what he would like to do if he was given a day with no worries of business, he instantly replies, “I will take a space tour and visit the world that I have not seen yet. Due to my business and my passion for travel I have already seen most of this world but I am really eager to know what the space holds for humanity,” he happily concludes the conversation.

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