INTRODUCTION & ICE BREAKER
Who you are and what is your business?
I am Nilesh Ved; the Chairman of Apparel Group – a global fashion and lifestyle retail conglomerate based in Dubai.
From one store in 1999 to the opening 1750+ stores this year, Apparel has amassed its resources to become a successful retail company in the GCC Region. We operate brands from around the world such as Tommy Hilfiger, Juicy Couture, Nautica, Aldo, Nine West, Aeropostale Tim Hortons, Cold Stone Creamery, Inglot, to name a few and other key brands include.
Today, the Group caters to thousands of eager shoppers, employing 12,000 multicultural staff covering four continents. We have craved a strong presence not only in the GCC, but have opened thriving gateways to market in India, South Africa, Poland, Singapore, Jordan, Indonesia, Thailand and Malaysia etc.
Your fondest memory of you education
INSPIRATION & FUNDING
What inspired you to start a business or join an entrepreneurial organization?
The seeds of entrepreneurship are deep routed in my family. I believe there are two paths in life – the easy way and hard way. And I always chose the hard way, knowing that it is the right way.
I graduated from Boston University with a Bachelor’s degree in Science Business Administration and having grown up in a family of successful entrepreneurs and businessmen, starting my own business just seemed right. I had a dream of bringing in trendy fashion brands of the West to the Middle East, which seemed to be a promising market for retail. It was from there on; I envisioned Apparel Group and aimed to provide the Middle Eastern customers a global fashion retail experience.
What has been the main route that you have raised your capital to develop your business and what were the hurdles you faced?
I strongly believe in investing well in my greatest asset – my team at the Apparel Group. It’s simple; Entrepreneurship and Management are both leadership roles. It is my job to create entrepreneurs and cultivate an entrepreneurial mindset for all the people who work at Apparel. And this has been one of the secrets to our success.
At Apparel we groom our people for leadership by providing them with opportunities and education – because it’s our human capital that has played a vital role in enriching the brand and taking it from strength to strength. Commitment and Passion should be the key aspirations for any entrepreneur, this will inevitably add on to the upward mobility of the society.
If your leadership does not include followers then what kind of leader are you? If you aren’t able to convert followers into leaders by helping them drive themselves and their teams, you cannot be a successful entrepreneur! Entrepreneurship is a team sport and as long as you take care of your team, they will take care of your profits!
We are now at 1750+ stores as a company and our continuous endeavor is to keep this culture of entrepreneurship alive. A culture where each one of our 1000+ store managers is a shop keeper who feels like the owner of his or her shop. We do this in 3 ways:
- No door policy: We do not have cabins for anyone at Apparel. Everyone sits together and works together. It’s a clear message that at Apparel, we get our hands dirty and are involved with every small detail about the shop floor, no matter the designation. I think the Japanese call this GEMBA but for us it’s just dhanda
- Limitless Rewards: Our incentive structures are limitless. People regularly take home 4-5 times their fixed salary. We believe in rewarding people who reward the organization
- Innovation: We are constantly changing and pushing the envelope at every step. Be it our cardless loyalty program – Club Apparel or our free home delivery of products, we keep asking ourselves – what’s next?
Dubai has clearly proven to be the entrepreneurship hub of the Middle East. How did this favorable environment help you shape your business? Is it still as fertile as it use to be?
H.H Sheikh Mohammed, the prime minister of UAE and ruler of Dubai said – “Most people talk; we do things. They plan; we achieve. They hesitate; we move ahead. We are living proof that when human beings have the courage and commitment to transform a dream into reality, there is nothing that can stop them.”
I can’t help but compare Dubai & Apparel Group. My company and this city have the same visionary aspirations to be the best at what we do. Years ago nobody would have imagined that business leaders would choose Dubai, which was primarily a dessert back then, as the host city for their business.
Dubai has achieved a status of being a platform for establishing projects & businesses on a regional & international level. This city has come a long way in proving that it takes the vision of man, and impeccable execution by many to become world class. Likewise at Apparel, we believe that our strive for speed and perfection in the industry keeps us on top of our game. We have always aimed to become the number one retail group by inculcating values of being industrious, innovative and resourceful, thus making Dubai proud.
Given that you all comes from different backgrounds, is there one key characteristic that you feel is in every single entrepreneur? If so, what is it and can schools and parents nurture it from a young age?
One of the most important traits of entrepreneurs is audacity. The audacity to dream big; the audacity to do it better or faster than your competition. And at Apparel, our mantra is “Where dreams come alive”. As Chairman of the group, my job is to dream BIG and dare people to dream bigger.
The success of a company really is a sum total of the mindset of its people. If the people in the company have an employee/ rational mindset, you’ll know it by how they treat the company’s resources. They fly first class, spend more than they would have had it been their own money, they analyze oil prices, observe real estate crashes and regional tension and very rationally decide how much they can grow or how they can avoid degrowth in the next year.
On the other hand, if your people have an entrepreneur/ audacious mindset, they negotiate with vendors, spend money for the right reasons, think of weekends as ‘prime time for business’ as opposed to holidays and most importantly think of the bottom line as much as they think of their own bonuses because they get the connection and look for opportunities to double growth.
For example, when the team at Microsoft develops a new product; their focus is not how much the product sales will be able to contribute to the Gates charity foundation. Their focus is to build the best product they can and exceed the customer’s expectation. If they are successful in doing that, everything else follows.
How about if a person does not have these characteristics, can we teach them and develop them in anyone? (David to speak a little about Entrepreneur in residence program at Arcadia)
Yes with the right amount of training and nurturing we can inculcate and develop entrepreneurial mind-set in people.
If you were to go back to school or childhood, and have to do it all over again, would you do anything differently?
Every journey has to start somewhere; any kind of investment in philanthropy needs to have sustainability which is also linked to international development, as development is the only sustainable tool for an entrepreneur to thrive on.
So one just has to be passionate about what you do and you’ll be able to do more good than if you just sit there worrying about how much good you can do.