ADI International currently occupies 50,000 square feet in Jebel Ali Free Zone, Dubai. ADI International, which celebrated 20 successful years of growth and development in 2016, has become firmly established as the UAE’s leading exporter of decorated apparel to the US, Japan, Europe and the Middle East. The Group has also diversified into the real estate sector in Dubai, Africa and the UK, and also has investments in the healthcare sector in the United States.
Marshalling the business with pride is its Founder and CEO, Mr. Azad Virji. The young entrepreneur holds a BSBA (Bachelor of Science in Business Administration) degree in finance from Georgetown University and a Diploma in Economics and a General Course Degree from the London School of Economics.
Q. ADI International has remained in the news without making too many splashes. Does this fit into the group’s philosophy of being quietly successful?
A. ADI runs as the fast fashion “back engine” to some global brands. We can only succeed when our customers succeed. We much prefer to stay in the background and support the supply chain of our customers.
As far as our own brand is concerned, we have developed a strong reputation for very rapid shipments of high-quality t-shirts and other knitted apparel.
Q. Very little is known about the man behind ADI International. We want to know from the man himself about his and his family’s journey from the start to date? In other words – what’s your story?
A. I arrived in Dubai in 1996 after completing my higher studies. I distinctly remember being told that I was “late” in coming to Jebel Ali and to Dubai in general. The Dubai naysayers told me that the city’s growth and business development had already been completed and only scraps would be left for future investors. I am very glad that I did not listen to them!
During the mid to late ‘90s, ADI International gradually grew its customer base and we quickly realized that we needed to specialize to survive. We developed expertise in high end screen printing which we have subsequently nurtured over many years. Today, we are a collection of artists and artisans who focus on bringing t-shirts and apparel to life through creativity and colour. Our employees have remained a talented and dedicated group of people to whom I am grateful.
We have worked to diversify our holdings over the years. Real estate has been an anchor of that strategy. Another critical component has been our investment in bariatric (preventative) medicine in the US. (https://bodytogs.com).
Q. There is an interesting quote that says ‘Success usually comes to those who are too busy to be looking for it’! Since this seems to apply to your group, what are the principles that have worked and still underpin the work ethic behind your group’s sustained success over the years?
A. I prefer the quote “The doors to success are marked push!” I believe that there are three critical components of success: 1) Creative thinking, 2) analytical reasoning, and 3) intellectual honesty. The first two components are largely cultivated during schooling and university years. The third component, intellectual honesty, is the most important one. It is very important for an individual to be open to, and even receptive to, the fact that he or she is wrong. The world is a very complex place, and it is almost impossible to be right most of the time. Taking inputs from many different sources (even unlikely sources) is very important to building a holistic picture for decision making. Over the years, most of our successful decisions were due to the lessons learnt from enduring failure. It is critical to recognize where mistakes are made and quickly course correct. You can only do that if you are willing to accept your own shortcomings.
Q. Experience, Consistency in Quality, Innovation or Customer Service. Which of these is most important in your line of business?
A. All the factors you mention are very important. The most important factor depends on what a particular customer wants. Some customers prefer one factor more than the other. Hence, we try to build a corporate culture centered around the demands of our customer. We try to find out what is important to our customer and then build our services around it.
Q. In the apparel world, screen printing and digital printing have to be cutting edge areas to ensure success. Have you innovated in this area or stuck to tried and tested basics?
A. Screen printing technology has evolved enormously over the years. We work with ink manufacturers, mesh makers, as well as equipment producers to stay at the cutting edge. It is all about getting the work of the artist expressed onto the garment in a beautiful and authentic way.
Many times, our special effects applications are used to enhance the output. For example, we are now working on some advanced ink systems imported from Italy which really give us some special effects that we could not do before.
Q. How do the current economic challenges and the World Expo 2020 influence the future of your Group and its business?
A. The current difficult economic climate is palpable and is generally an emerging market story. I believe that as the economic cycle gradually improves, Dubai will outperform. EXPO 2020 is synonymous to the pro-growth and globalization story of the UAE. As the UAE marches forward, many other traditional, pro-globalization countries in the world are re-trenching. Trade wars are just one symptom of this retrenchment. In the medium and long term, I am convinced that the open economic policy of the UAE will lead to continued and sustained growth. Having said that, I think that the only way to efficiently reap these benefits is to have a long-term investment horizon.
Q. What do you foresee as the way forward for your Group in particular and your industry in general?
A. Our group continues to diversify and to maintain a conservative balance sheet. Within each of our chosen industries (textiles, real estate, and health care), we try to further specialize our capabilities.
Q. Any parting words of wisdom for start-ups or budding entrepreneurs who want to make their mark in this region?
A. Your choice of industry is critical. Choose a pond that has a lot of fish. The GCC continues to move at a fast pace. I believe exciting times are ahead. As I mentioned earlier, when I first got to Dubai, I was made to feel by some that I was “too late.” As I think about the approach of 2020, I wonder if this is still just the beginning?