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Young leaders: Adel Sajan, 30, director of Danube Home

Young leaders: Adel Sajan, 30, director of Danube Home

Sajan explains what it was like being introduced to the family business as a teenager, and how he made an impact on the company

Being born into a business family, at what age did you start learning the ropes?

When it came to work, my dad [Danube Group founder and chairman Rizwan Sajan] was very tough with me from a very young age. When I was 13 years old I worked at our shop in Deira. That was my first official job, in the warehouse, and my dad told my manager ‘be very strict with him – don’t treat him like my son, and make sure he comes on time’. That’s how my journey began.

At 17 I would go with the outdoors sales staff to the Al Quoz warehouses, and when I was 18 I went to Dubai Media City where we were making our Danube catalogue. When I was 19 I got my first real job in our new retail business. My dad came up to me and said ‘I want you to handle the chandelier department’. He sent me to China and told me to start from there.

Just before I graduated from university I spent the summer in my dad’s cabin learning how he operates the company and how he would deal with people. So by the time I graduated I had experience in warehousing, sales, marketing, and management, and that gave me a very strong foundation.

How important was it to prove yourself from a young age? What were the biggest challenges you faced as you established yourself in the business?

When you are Rizwan Sajan’s son there’s a lot of pressure. A lot of times when I go to events or any business event, people recognise me as Rizwan’s son. There’s nothing wrong with that at all, but one day not far from now I want people to recognise him as Adel’s father. That’s one of my ambitions.

After I graduated my dad gave me the responsibility of taking care of the entire retail division. A lot of older managers who had been there a long time were a little skeptical, saying ‘oh he’s the chairman’s son, does he even know how to run a business?’ That was one of the biggest challenges – overcoming that title of chairman’s son and showing people you’re on the same page as them.

Do you believe businesses can survive if young people aren’t elevated to leadership positions?

Especially in today’s rapidly changing environment, where technology is developing at such a fast rate, you need young blood that knows what’s happening in your business. Companies that fail to adapt or react to market conditions or technological change will fall behind.

When I came in we made a lot of enhancements, such as e-learning, and e-commerce. I also brought a fun side to the company where, along with my team, we started creating these trips for employees to Bali or Australia if they had achieved their target. And I think that brought huge bonding to the team.

What do you believe are your biggest achievements to date, and what ambitions do you have for the years ahead?

After we launched our retail, in the first one or two years we were losing money. I took up the challenge to revive the brand and make it profitable. I remember in 2014 I told my dad that by 2020 I want to grow the business by 10 times. We’ve been growing every year for the last four years by 50 per cent. From a business that was in the red it’s become a business that’s in the green.

For the future I want Danube Home to be a global brand. We are in the GCC, with one branch in India, and we’ve just started a franchise division, so we’ve opened in Tanzania, Uganda, and the Seychelles, with plans to open in Lebanon, Nepal and Sri Lanka. But my ambition is to make Danube Home a global brand where we’re present in at least 80 per cent of countries worldwide.

What advice would you give to young people looking to succeed in business?

One thing I learnt from my dad is that as a young person entering business, you are full of ideas. There’s nothing wrong with that, but the biggest lack I see in young people is the speed of implementing the idea. An important part of a successful business is having a sense of urgency, which means effectively implementing an idea and on time. So my advice to young people is have a lot of ideas, but think about how you’re going to implement them, and when. That’s key for business and in life – implement today, don’t implement tomorrow. Follow that and I think you’ll go far.

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