Five Minutes With…Mark Pilkington, CEO, Kamal Osman Jamjoom Group

Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Qatar are the fastest growing markets with their continued investment in building mega malls, says Pilkington.

What is your company focusing on this year?

In 2015, the KOJ group is focused on growing and cementing our brands’ positions as market leaders in their respective segments in the Middle East.

For example, The Body Shop has become the market leader in its region, and is one of the biggest markets for the brand internationally. Our private label lingerie brand, Nayomi, is the largest and leading lingerie retailer in the Middle East. We do not take these achievements for granted, and KOJ will continue to work to maintain these positions.

What are the growth areas currently for your industry?

The retail industry in the region is growing rapidly, having recovered well from the global recession. The fastest growing markets are in regions where there is significant investment in new malls and infrastructure such as Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Qatar.

Are you launching any new brands to the region this year?

We are launching, or have recently launched a large number of new brands – for example Mihyar was launched recently, offering a great range of modern Arabic menswear in a sophisticated retail environment at great prices – it is trading extremely well, and we are opening new stores at a rapid rate, aiming to become market leader within the next three to five years.

Will you be expanding into new territory in 2015 or have you expanded in 2014?

KOJ has recently launched The Body Shop brand in Morocco with resounding success. We have also obtained the rights to expand ELC into Kuwait and Bahrain and aim to have 20 stores in those regions before the end of 2015.

What are the biggest challenges for retail/franchise businesses in the UAE?

The rapid growth of the retail business in the region offers many challenges – simply staying on top of all the opportunities which present themselves on a daily basis requires a lot of focus and commitment. However these are the “good” problems to have in a business – at KOJ we prefer to see them as opportunities.

Which is your biggest growth market in the region? Which are the most promising growth markets for retailers in the Gulf?

Saudi Arabia remains a key market for us and our established presence in the country has provided a substantial competitive edge for the group. Other markets that are growing fast for us include the UAE, Oman, Qatar and of course Morocco, where we have just launched.

Do you think Dubai’s retail market is saturated or do you feel there is room for more brands in the region?

With Dubai’s reputation as the retail capital of the region, possibly even of the world, and the substantial efforts by the tourism authorities to promote the city as a retail playground, it creates the opportunity for vast diversification and growth in the retail sector. We do not believe that it is in any way saturated.

Will you be hiring this year?

One of our core ethics at KOJ is ‘Good people first’. KOJ is a company where it is not at all unusual for an individual to have been employed by us for 20 or 25 years, having worked their way up to senior management positions. We occasionally hire from outside, if we need specific skills which we do not have.

What’s your leadership style?

I had my own business before, so I have done almost every job in the organisation from doing bar codes, to packing in the warehouse to writing grand brand strategies. I like working with very smart, passionate people and teaching them the nuts and bolts of the business from the ground up.

My greatest pleasure is to see them growing into something more than they thought they could become. To me this is the secret of happiness in life – we all have hidden depths of potential and just need the right psychological “technologies” to activate them.

What makes the perfect employee?

The perfect team member is someone who feels a sense of ownership towards the business and understands how their role contributes and enhances the business. The dedication, commitment and loyalty you receive from such a person cannot be bought – it lies deep within them, and only needs encouraging, bringing it to the fore.

Define success in five words…

1. Never stopping learning – realizing that failure can be the best lesson
2. Figuring out how to out-smart your competitors
3. Building a shared passion for growth and excellence in the team
4. Going beyond what you think is possible
5. Success is not just about business success – the same philosophy needs to be everywhere in one’s life – relationship, children, friends, health, leisure…

Three tips for becoming the boss…

1. Always go to the heart of the matter – never say “that’s not my job”
2. Do things that scare you – if you don’t have any fear then you are not learning
3. Stay fit – you get better as you get older, but untended, you also lose your vigor

When I’m not at work I like to…

Be with my family
Study Arabic – I want to understand this great civilization, and language is the key to culture
Go running – I run a marathon every year, which keeps me fit
Play music – I used to play drums with different bands, but now I am learning piano with my daughter