5 Minutes With…Ashish Panjabi, COO, Jacky’s Group

Ashish Panjabi from Jacky’s says that the company will refrain from over-diversifying and expand only in growth areas.

What did your company focus on this year?

2012 has been primarily about managing business growth whether in existing or new lines of business. We have identified a few new lines of business we want to grow in and a lot of the work is on behind the scenes to make this happen.

Are you concerned that the current volatile global economic climate will affect your strategy?

If there was a lesson learned during the period from 2009-2011, it was that you can’t put all your eggs in one basket but at the same time you can’t put your eggs in every basket.

There is risk in over-diversifying as you tend to lose focus on what is your core business but some diversity is required for any business to succeed in the long term.

Whatever we’re looking at as growth areas are businesses that we see as having a long-term future and a reasonable return. Lower profit businesses, loss making businesses, businesses that we didn’t fully understand ourselves or business where the outlook was bleak, we exited during the course of 2008-2011.

What are the growth areas currently for your industry?

For our retail business, it is getting higher revenues out of our existing revenues. We’ve managed to do this quite successfully in the current year by focusing on product groups that can generate higher returns and opportunities. As far as new retail locations go, there is nothing on the cards right now.
For other businesses within the group, we’re focusing on certain B2B segments that we see as growth areas going forward.

Geographically, we moved into East Africa over a decade ago and this has continued to be a focus area for us, whether it is in retailing or distribution.

What new products has your company launched this year?

As retailers, our business primarily depends on new launches that our suppliers have.

Will you be expanding into new territory?

There are no plans to further widen our geography. We’d rather do more and focus on where we are instead of entering new markets. .

What are the biggest challenges for UAE businesses in your sector?

The costs of doing business have always been a challenge and will continue to be so going forward. While rentals fell in most sectors during the recession, we’ve seen retail rentals continuously increase year on year while at the same time, we’ve seen more malls sprout up meaning that we’ve had to cover the period increase in our retail footprint faster than revenue growth.

A lot of consolidation has had to happen in the last few years to balance this out but the challenge still remains in managing costs as these are largely negotiations where, as tenants, we don’t have much control.

Are you hiring?

We’re primarily hiring replacements at the moment. There may be a few additional heads added for certain new areas of business that we may venture into but largely we’re trying to manage our headcount.

What’s your leadership style?

I like to see responsibility taken and managed down the line. I don’t like to see myself as an obstacle or roadblock to the business and if this becomes apparent, I need to find a way to see how this can be better managed. I like it when those who work with me grow by taking on responsibility. I will largely let them run their own show but that means I also have high expectations in terms of what they can deliver. I’m fair but firm.

What makes the perfect employee?

There is no perfect employee because every employee is different. We’re all from different backgrounds, have got different experiences and are driven by different ambitions. A good employee should be able to recognise this diversity and use it as a strength to learn and develop his or herself.

I’m a great proponent of peer to peer learning and this is what ultimately most business courses are about; learning from experiences, whether they be your own or those in a case study. Within every company, there are experiences from every facet of life that can be uncovered making us each a better person. The key is in knowing how do you uncover these experiences, share them and grow as a result of them.

Define success in five words…

Gaining trust and respect.

Three tips for becoming the boss…

a. Focusing on the road ahead by accepting the circumstances as they are and not distracting yourself by what could have been.
b. Learning from experiences from those around you, whether positive or negative, apply them to yourself where relevant.
c. Developing those around you as any good leader needs to show skills in growing not only himself but a team if he or she is to succeed.

12. When I’m not at work I like to…

Spend time with my family, read and listen to music.