How I Built a Business in a Foreign Land

By Ishwar Chugani, an EO U.A.E. member and managing director of Giordano Middle East

In 1979, right after graduating from university, I left my home in the Philippines and moved to Dubai. It created quite a stir. My family had its own business, and I was expected to take the helm. But I wanted something different for myself. I joined a Dubai-based group of companies and was tasked to open and operate the first family entertainment center in Dubai.

Dubai provided great learning experiences and emboldened me to bring Giordano, a hit fashion trend in Hong Kong, to Dubai. Today, two decades after Giordano first opened its doors in Dubai, we’ve grown to 260 stores across the Middle East, India, Central Asia, Eastern Europe and Africa, and we’re looking to expand even more around the world, with Dubai as our base of operations.

Failure was not an option when I began my journey. I could not turn around and return home empty-handed. I simply had to succeed, and over the years—through patience and persistence—I learned how. If one day you find yourself in unfamiliar entrepreneurial waters, I hope the lessons I gleaned will prove to be as helpful to you as they were for me. Here are a few of my major take-aways:

1. Simplify your processes to create more value. Our strategy has been to simplify our product offerings so that customers find it easy to shop. Our supply chain process is straight forward and effective, which results in reducing lead time, as well as costs. This principle also applies to our direct line— people are able to talk to me directly and not go through a maze of staff. In my organization, any member of the staff can come and speak directly to me.

2. Empower your people. We work with people, not for people. This is all the more important in retail— people buy from the people they like! I have taught my employees the same mindset I had when I set foot in Dubai— come to work not because it’s your job, but because it’s your personal business. Employees should not look at work as a daily “eight-hour grind.” They need to look forward to being at work and contributing. Empowered staff feel a sense of ownership. As a result, they perform better and learn a lot about business operations. What’s more, when they’re empowered to make decisions, they’re more efficient.

3. Embrace the competition. Big competitors can be daunting, but if you are relatively “small,” you are also relatively more nimble, flexible and quick. I realized early on that my competitors are not just the opposing brands. In business, you’re never trying to beat the competition. You’re trying to give your customer what the competition doesn’t offer. It’s a waste of time and energy trying to beat the competition, because in reality, customers do not care about such rivalries.

4. Define success. You may be doing well and think you’re successful, but believe me, success is relative. So think long and hard about your own definition of success, and continue to reinvent yourself to stay in the game. When we entered the market 20 years ago, we were rather unknown. Now, we have built our reputation and image in Dubai, and make efforts to replicate this success in other markets that are unfamiliar with our brand.

Of all the lessons I learned throughout my journey, I value perseverance the most. It’s true: Good things come to those who believe, better things come to those who are patient, and the best things happen to those who don’t give up.

Ishwar Chugani is the managing director of Giordano Middle East (FZE), and is also an executive director of Giordano International, Hong Kong.

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