Jugal Malani is one of the most respected Indian American entrepreneurs who calls Houston, Texas, home. However, his journey to the US was not the usual one of landing there as a student and then launching a start-up company. He grew up in a traditional Marwari family in Bidar, Karnataka, and after an engineering degree from Karnataka University in Gulbarga, his first job was as a manager in an US based trading company, that was run by his brother-in-law. He then moved to Houston in 1981, to join the family business there. "That was the beginning of my American dream, when I left my young family behind to set up a foundation in the US, with my sister and her family providing me with a soft landing on my arrival. Later, after I received a green card, my wife and son joined me," Malani remembers.
While the business grew to a huge multi-million-dollar company, in 1997 he started his own independent entrepreneurial journey with Unique Industrial Product Company, a venture that he set up with business partner Pradeep Gupta.
"Initially we were the only two employees with a two-room office and did everything ourselves," Malani recollects. The focus was on importing best quality engineering products from overseas and distributing them to manufacturing companies in US.
"We were able to implement a business model that was new to industry by being liable for all the product carrying costs and supplying them just in time." The business model obviously worked, with big growth, and today there are several companies under the umbrella of the Unique Group in many different fields such as heating, ventilation and air-conditioning (HVAC), electrical, plumbing and oil field and fire protection. "We have over 150 employees and 275,000 office and warehouse facilities. We import from ten different countries, including India, and distribute all over the USA & Canada," says Malani proudly.
He visits India often and every trip is significant for him. When he left his brother-in-law's firm to strike out on his own, he made a trip to talk to his parents. "Their advice made me regain my determination, internal strength and confidence to embark on the new journey," Malani says. He adds that the simple yet strict upbringing, with emphasis on family values, has shaped him in a big way.
He feels that the second generation of Indian Americans in Texas has done well and diversified, not always following their parents' footsteps. While his son Pankaj has taken over the responsibility of the family business as CEO of the Unique Group; his daughter Nikita Shukla is a paediatric neurologist at the Texas Children's Hospital.
"We are very proud of them; most of them are well educated and have entered many different fields such as investment banking and software; some of them are CEOs of start-ups, many ae franchise owners and hotel and motel owners. Some are into music, stand-up comedy, acting, film direction and production and sports," says Malani. He also sees more and more members of the community getting involved in US politics. Malani was chairperson of Texas India Forum, the apex organisation behind the mega event in Houston, during Prime Minister Narendra Modi's visit there in 2019.
He is proud of being part of a vibrant 200,000 strong Indian American community in Houston. "It is the energy capital of the world and there are many engineering companies which have many Indian engineers including some in top leadership positions. Houston is also known for its medical facilities and many Indian doctors hold very prestigious posts in many of the famous hospitals such as the MD Anderson Cancer Center. There are many well-known Indian owned companies in many different fields such as imports and exports; manufacturing and services."
But it's not just businesses; Houston is also the place where many Indo-American charities have been born and flourished, says Malani. And though he has stepped back from the day-to-day affairs of the business and likes to spend time with his grandchildren and family, he is deeply involved in Ekal Vidhalaya, a charity which provides basic education to many children in rural India and also supports Magic Bus, Pratham, that is involved in charity work in India in promoting education for underprivileged children in urban areas. "I am a supporter of SEWA International, a well know charity that supports local causes here, as well as India during tough times. I am also involved in some of the temples and other social organisations which cater to our local needs."
Malani is also a trustee of India House, an organisation built by Indian Americans for catering to the needs of the community at large. "There are programmes after school for underprivileged kids, free medical services, free yoga classes and language classes. There are also a cricket and a soccer ground for our kids."