A Quarterly Newsletter from UAE and Oman

VOL 21 ISSUE 2 April 2019


Mr. Michael Mascarenhas is the CEO at Desert Group. He is an FCA, MBA, CIA, and an alumnus of the Saïd Business School and a Certified Member at Hawkamah (The Institute for Corporate Governance). Desert Group, under his leadership, has transformed from a traditional landscaping company to one of the world’s most innovative and knowledge driven companies centered around living green and water conservation, moving towards biophilic.

With more than 30 years of accomplishments in national, cross-national and multi-sectoral environments, his core capability lies in transforming organizations into dynamic centers of creative energy where the center is the team, giving them the necessary independence to create, build and sustain, thus creating value all round. A strong ambassador of CSR, Desert Group has one of the most vibrant CSR programs focused on Special Needs and Cognitive Disabilities in the region, recently winning the regions Taa’theer CSR MENA award.

Michael firmly believes that the purpose of successful organizations is to have a positive impact on society and that one should lead with universal human values.

Q. What is your story? Talk us through your journey from Ajmer (India) to Dubai.
A. A good question indeed! It’s a story of ambition, relationships, community,  respect, trust, integrity, life-skills, gratitude and an aspirational restlessness. That is the common thread.

Q. The buzz around you is that you have built a career around revitalizing  businesses! Can you shed some light on this?
A. I thrive on that part of my life where I revitalize, bring to life, build and grow businesses. Where consultants and experts would find it difficult, I step in and deliver superior results and value. I bring strategic and operational skills from a multi-sector multi-business background with hands on experience. It’s about  making a difference through intuition, experiential judgement, and the  fundamentals. It’s also about entrepreneurship and responsibility. I drive an agenda with total ownership, identifying unique capabilities in teams and fuse them to create something new in the market place. What is needed is a focus on what matters, resilience, persistence and unflagging energy to stay the course. Then the results come. Not easy and it’s tough but a great source of satisfaction! I have done that for 20 years of my life and each moment has been just fantastic.

Q. From being an auditor to being part of ADIA to helming the Desert Group, there is now a body of work that is the envy of many. What are the principles that have worked and still sustain your enthusiasm to keep pushing forward? What can you describe as your driving force for achieving what you have so far and what continues to motivate you further?
A. The purpose of business is to enhance people’s lives. I believe if I could build, grow and breathe new life into businesses, a positive impact would be  created on the lives of people associated with the business. It’s the impacting and enhancing lives in a positive way that keeps me going. It’s a joy unsurpassed and I revel in it. Successful.

Q. Experience, consistency in quality, innovation or customer service – which of these (or any other factors) are the most important factors for a successful turnaround specialist?
A. The customer is at the centre of all that we do. It’s their known and  unknown needs that we are called to serve. The rest is a given and a medium to the end. A laser like focus on the “customer” and their “needs” is what creates success. Teams that do not understand that, quite plainly fail.

Q. How is the Desert Group harnessing your skill sets? How are you using your diverse experience to drive the group?
A. I have honed my skills in varied sectors including aerospace, private equity,  construction, distribution, retail, investments, financial services and manufacturing. A unique run with some learnings that has created unique capabilities that include adaptability, flexibility, multi-business exposure, culture management, determination, management of change and how to drive businesses. Desert Group in turn has sectors that include retail, construction & maintenance, manufacturing and biological plant growth. Do you see the commonality? And why it’s such a perfect fit and why I thrive? It’s painting a spinning plate – and I enjoy it.

Q. The Desert group is touted to be responsible for a significant portion of Dubai’s public landscaping! It must be quite a task living up to public and government expectations. How do you manage to juggle all these responsibilities and expectations?
A. My team is extremely good at what they do – knowledgeable, client focused, with the ability to get the job done, go that extra mile and do things with a heart. Our customers love us exactly for that and their feedback confirms the story. Desert Group is known for its reliability, value add and eye for detail.

We continuously upgrade our capability and learning through travel, training  and exploring new possibilities. This brings a unique workforce that can  manage customer expectations and at the same time be consciously responsible of their duties. Leading such a powerful team is a great motivation for me and makes my task that much easier to focus on the critical aspects of the business.

Q. Will the current economic challenges and World Expo 2020 influence the future of the Desert Group?
A. Desert Group has been nimble, flexible and constantly seeking opportunities in an everchanging economic environment. It’s quite possible  that organizations get caught up with their present success and forget these, which could lead to quick distress and demise. Our future is influenced by our own thinking and hence it’s important to create a culture of being  uncomfortable whilst being positive. Then we turn innovators from being  curators. The future beckons!

Q. What is the way forward for the Group in particular and industry in general?
A. There are two pillars that we will focus on – sustainability and food security.  There are challenges but we will create and seize opportunities that create the next successful business eco systems.

Q. Any parting words for budding CEOs who want to succeed in the UAE?
A. “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I took the one less traveled by and that has made all the difference.” (Robert Frost). Accept challenges boldly, seize  opportunities, build teams and, oh yes enjoy the journey – as we all are on one