A Quarterly Newsletter from the UAE and Oman member firms of the PKF International Ltd.

VOL 18, Issue 1 January 2016

Interview

Mr. Suresh Bhatia, Chairman, The House of S T Bhatia, is a distinguished name in the Middle East trading industry. He established ‘The House of ST Bhatia’ in 1969 and the journey of success speaks for itself as the Group has contributed whole-heartedly to the growth of the country over the past four decades.

With a strong, focused approach in the Retail, Logistics and Hospitality Sectors, Mr. Bhatia has successfully pioneered Duty Free Shops, Seamen’s Clubs and Bonded Warehouses at all major seaports in all of the northern emirates.

Mr. Bhatia is well-known for his philanthropic activities, and he holds a wider interest in humanities. He is an avid reader of contemporary literature and an associate of several literary associations and community service organisations. He is a strong believer in the strength of his people and in working together as a big family, and even after these years he diligently wears the cap of heading the group with his trusted board members and employees.

Q. The name Bhatia Traders is synonymous with Suresh Bhatia. Your group’s growth story in this region is the stuff of legend. We want to know from the man himself about his journey through the years to where he and the group are today?

A. My association with the UAE started over four decades back. In fact, the next year I will be completing 50 years of my stay in the UAE. Entrepreneurship drive has always kept my spirits alive and agile. “Failure is an Option, Fear is not”, is what I keep telling my fellow entrepreneurs. Over the last four decades, we have seen multiple business cycles but our unwavering commitment to our business model and a focused approach enabled us to reach the billion dirham club. I am the face of the group as you say, but there are other important parts of the body that have to function well so that the face can be ever fresh. I owe my success to my wonderful team.

Q.In a group of the size of Bhatia Traders it is difficult to identify the success factors or key people behind the growth. Who would you credit with the success of your Group?

A.Individuals can win standalone matches, but the team alone can win the championships. Our success lies in our team, each member having an excellent track record behind them. We work in an environment, that is collaborative and not combative, internal dissents are not viewed as disloyalties, diversity is not mistake as disunity and disagreements are not viewed as disassociations. Motivated dissent is always encouraged as a healthy practice in our Group management. Since we believe in the team concept, I would not spell out individual names – at best I owe my success to my great team. I am blessed with a wonderful team, but for them I would not have come this far.

Q.What is the mantra behind the consistent growth of this silent yet constantly evolving Group. What are the principles behind the continued success and formidable reputation of your brand?

A. The key factor contributing to the success of our Group is our core philosophy viz., aligning the interests of all stakeholders. We always look for mutually beneficial deals as we have to follow the philosophy “shaking hands with a smile” at both the end as well as the beginning of the deal with our stakeholders.

Q.What motivates Suresh Bhatia?

A. The mantra “Be a Value Addition Agent and not just a Validation Agent” has inspired me since my younger days. This mantra always motivates me to constantly look for new avenues for value addition in anything we do.

Q. Duty Free Shops were unheard of in this region until you took it upon yourself to not only introduce but completely revolutionize this sector in the region. Talk us through the process

A. In the duty free segment – we offer variety and value for money. Over the years, we started off creating the base competence, then moved on to distinctive competence and then to core competence. Today, we have the competitive supremacy. The display, the decor, service ambience are all standardized across all our shops. We have ISO 9001:2008 certification for all our duty free operations. My son, Rajeev Bhatia, took on the task of streamlining the Duty Free operations ten years back and gave the technology touch to all our Duty Free Shops.

Q. Surely it could not have only been all rosy all these years. What challenges have the Group and the people behind the Group faced, and how have they coped with these hurdles?

A. We had to be lean enough to outsmart the competitors, adaptable enough to meet changing market cycles, flexible enough to keep the products technologically fresh. We underwent this journey over the last four decades. The tidal waves can take you to the top but a sudden turn of the wave may pull us down. We need to be momentum leaders to not only ride on the waves but also to build the waves from time to time..

Q. How do the current economic challenges and the World Expo 2020 influence the future of Bhatia Traders?

A. The next two years ahead pose challenges of our lifetime. We are living in troubled times – ever declining commodity price regime, vanishing liquidity from the financial markets, the declining GDP growth rates of emerging markets coupled with political uncertainties surround us. We need to be vigilant, adopt the philosophy of growth with caution and innovative enough to find creative value-for-money solutions. Of course, World Expo 2020 will be the new economic driver that can pull us out of the jaws of pessimism currently pervading the economic environment.

Q.It is easy to mistake your Group as your only passion. What are your interests outside of expanding your already impressive business empire?

A. Apart from my entrepreneurship passion on the business front, my other areas of interest include international travel to get new takeaways from new countries visited and cricket. One day I visualize our group owning a cricket team, “NRI Warriors”, in the Indian Premier League.

Q.What words of wisdom does Mr. Suresh Bhatia the entrepreneur have for new businessmen in the region?

A. I can share a few thoughts for my fellow entrepreneurs and businessmen:

  • “Failure is an option, fear is not.”
  • “Success is you friend, but failure is your teacher.”
  • “Success seduces smart people to think that they will never go wrong.”
  • “The champions are not made in the gym but are made in the inner walls of the chambers of your soul. You are fighting the greatest wars in the silent chambers of your soul. Fight it out. Life may crown you or crucify you on a cross. Chase your passion but learn to face the outcome of whatever nature. Focus on the roots and not on fruits. Failure will teach you great lessons. Don’t shy away from failures in your entrepreneurial role. Never give up – stay hungry, stay positive, grow your risk appetite. Convert your inner sparks of potential into flames of achievement. Continue to build entrepreneurial sprits into the societal DNA.”