A strategic game changer

Ajay Bindroo, Chief Executive Officer and Managing Partner at Clasico Brands, shares his life’s experiences, challenges and inspirations, at the Emirates NBD Global Business Series.

Up-close and personal interactive session with Ajay BindrooAjay Bindroo shares his background with the audience.

AB: It was in 1994 when I landed in this country, oblivious to the fact that I would spend more than half of my life here. I’ve travelled to over 100 countries and am yet to come across a country like UAE, where an entrepreneur is provided a robust infrastructure to set up a SME and pursue entrepreneurship.

Throughout the course of my career journey, one of the lessons learnt is that if your business venture isn’t a success in the UAE, then aiming the global market is futile. I’m grateful to the ruling family for building a corroborative infrastructure that enables entrepreneurs, like me, to pursue their dream. The powerful leadership and diligent execution of an all-embracing vision by His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum is remarkable.

MC: From the land of solitude that is Kashmir, to the land of abounding opportunities Dubai, give us a rundown about your odyssey?

AB: Kashmir is till date known to be “the heaven on earth”. Having being born and brought up in the scenic Kashmir valley, life was definitely calm and slow paced. I grew up going to the market place with my father, trying to understand the trade as I was always fascinated with the number game. In my family, a child was expected to either pursue medicines or engineering.

In 1989 when I was in school, my family had to leave Kashmir due to severe turmoil in the region and life took a drastic turn. We then moved to Delhi and had to start our lives all over again. Destiny then landed me an opportunity with a family owned business from where I started my career and from thereon moved to Dubai.

Our ordeal in Kashmir turned out to be a blessing in disguise even though it scattered the community. But I pride in stating that a lot of us from the community have done well for ourselves and are able to accredit numerous achievements all over the world.

MC: From a peaceful environment you had to adapt to the bustling lifestyle of Delhi. Where did you find the determination to get accustomed to a fast-paced city life?

AB: My family owned Apple orchards, therefore we travelled back and forth between Kashmir and Delhi. The weather in Delhi was a far cry from Kashmir. After my graduation, I received INR 80,000 (AED 4,720) from my father to pursue engineering in Bangalore, India. Within a month I realized engineering was not my calling. I dropped out of college, requesting the Dean to reimburse the fees. He tried reasoning with me but I remained adamant.

Obviously, my parents were enraged, disappointed and more over worried about my future, when they were informed, so much so that they stopped talking to me for a while. It was a rather restless period of my life where all I wanted was a hand to guide me. In such a time of despair, I got my first break as a “Marketing Executive’ with Vidyut Metallics Pvt. Ltd., (Super-Max) a family owned business and the rest they say is history. I thank my previous employer for providing me a platform, which acted as a pedestal to my entrepreneurial venture.

MC: Share with us your definition of an entrepreneur. 

AB: In my personal experience an entrepreneur needs to be a dreamer. He has to dream big. Unless he doesn’t do so, the sense of achievement will never set in.

MC: There is an interesting story about you selling in Murshid Bazaar? Share that story with us?

AB: Well, Mr Hameed, who ran the trading business for the Khalid Al Attar family in Murshid bazaar was my first client. I remember, it was a tradition to drink ‘disco’ tea before we commenced the discussion on business. The discussion always followed some invaluable advice from him. Once he said that the key to success is providing supplies to a single distributor. As the brand establishes and amasses loyalty, success follows. At this moment, it dawned on me that a person is a student of life. Perfection is a misconception that is
nurtured by humans.

MC: We are all keen to know how a billionaire’s brain operates. How are you able to transcend from an average individual to a successful legend?

AB: Selling is secondary to a business venture. An entrepreneur needs to meticulously map every step and execute his plan with great caution. Every entrepreneur is born with ingrained curiosity that urges him to explore other ventures worldwide, so exploit it. After I decided to set up my own venture, I grappled with concepts like risk-taking and exploring opportunities elsewhere using the tried and tested formula in hand. An entrepreneur needs to remember that his calibre and limit cannot be influenced. Whether the vision involves global or regional expansion, it entirely depends on the entrepreneur.

MC: Entrepreneurial icons are a combination of operational prowess, marketing acumen and abounding creativity? How do you identify
with them?

AB: I’m not an avid reader but I admire the achievements of Steve Jobs and Richard Branson. It was a great idea that helped Steve Jobs attain success. He was criticized for his unconventional perspectives, until he perfected his idea and presented it to the world in a new light. On the other hand, Richard Branson is a risk-taker and is known to play his cards right. The process of assessing and calculating risk needs to be a part of the business framework. Uncalculated risks can lead to grave losses. Both, Steve Jobs and Richard Branson advocate the same doctrine – business is for the ambitious risk-taker who doesn’t hedge his bet.

MC: From being an employee to becoming an employer, what failures did you encounter?

AB: Failure to deliver is the biggest setback of being an employee. In such scenarios, the employee can be laid off without any intimation. On the contrary, the company ensures the employee is present for the long haul, if he delivers the desired output. The workforce is driven by monetary satisfaction. If the company fails to satisfy the monetary needs of employees, they will never go the extra mile. However, throughout my 22 years of employment, I never focussed on monetary gains, I merely concentrated on working hard and success followed.

MC: What drives someone to pursue an inspiring entrepreneurial vision?

AB: Most people want to become entrepreneurs because it sounds fancy and trendy. It is of great importance to deduce the essence of entrepreneurship and the nuances it entails. The strong desire and yearning to achieve something motivates an entrepreneur. In my own words: “any idea without the desire to make it happen would be futile”. It is the desire that compels you to take smart steps to translate your idea into action. Defining an idea and aligning it to the expertise is the first step to success as it aids in nurturing the ultimate vision. Subsequently, calculated risk and passion add value to the vision. The entrepreneur is entitled to set the rules of the game to bring his vision into fruition. The last characteristic to imbibe is a rebellious streak. Be persistent, if you fail shake the dust off your feet and head towards the goal with equal determination and precision.

MC: How did you make the jump to the first $100 million?

AB: Being an entrepreneur, the aspiration was to create a niche in the consumer business. Having started my career in the FMCG segment it was obvious for me to take up the challenge in the same segment.

When I started the new venture, I was aware of the fact that I did not have huge funds to invest hence it was imperative for me to devise a business model that is simple yet comprehensive.

Having travelled the globe in over 20 years, I had observed that there was abundant production capacity available worldwide therefore rather than focusing on setting up a manufacturing base, I thought it would wise to instead reach out to those untapped capacities and utilize my expertise in marketing, supply chain and distribution and offer consumers value for money products.

The next big challenge was a solid team that would drive the execution strategy. It is essential to get liked minded people on board who wanted to venture in an entrepreneurial business.  Here the goodwill earned in last two decades came to my aid and I brought together the top industry experts as my core team.

And this was a win-win mantra as I brought together all the expertise as partners to drive the business and provided a common platform for mutual success.  And in less than 18 months we were able to set a barrage of product portfolio with an innovation streak with the help of manufacturing excellence and put together a strong execution strategy in all 5 continents with my team so we can drive the volume from day one. And now we are at the helm of touching the first 100 million dollars in next 12 months to 18 months of the operations.

The inspiration was partly taken from a well-known FMCG company who are doing a business of over USD 15 billion i.e. Reckitt Benkiser – they have achieved this by introducing innovative products to consumers, excellent marketing tactics and strong supply chain network.

Once you have managed to bring together the core competences required to run a business, success is but obvious.

The moral of the story is that entrepreneurship isn’t about running a one-man show, instead it is envisioning the goal and empowering the right people to help build the business.

MC: What were the core competencies you depended on whilst designing the strategic plan for success?

AB: Every business model is driven by a vision. And the vision of Clasico Brands is to become the preferred choice of the value and quality seeking consumers globally.

We aim to do this by continuously developing innovative products and making them available to our consumers at competitive price points.

With this vision in mind, the next step was to understand how do we deliver innovation and competitive prices together?

This is the point where I had my Eureka moment! All I had to do was take the unutilized capacity already available on the supply side and utilize it to fulfil the most basic unfulfilled demand in today’s market place; a high quality product at a reasonable price point. The key was collaboration.

Collaboration with the owners of this unutilized capacity and technological competence to propel them onto the global landscape. Collaboration with motivated entrepreneurial professionals, giving them the perfect selling story along with the ideal product to sell in the market. Collaboration with the customer who wanted one sourcing point for all his FMCG product requirements. Collaboration with the end consumer who wants nothing but quality at value. The cycle was complete and at every stage, there was value being created for each person involved in the chain.

That’s why the corporate tagline “Value Creation through Collaboration”!

MC: What is your mantra of brand positioning?

AB: There is a ‘sweet spot’ in every industry, which consists of aspirational consumers willing to change their buying pattern.

IMG_3333In the lower segment, the cut-throat mark-up pricing makes it impossible to compete and there is a compromise on product or packaging quality to achieve that cut throat pricing. At the higher levels there are big players who have very deep pockets waiting to destroy any new brand that appears in the market place.

While these two segments host aggressive activity, the mid-level market remains inactive. This mid-market is what caters to the aspirational consumer who knows the difference between a cheap product and a value for money product and also knows that if he can get the same product benefits for less, there is no reason to pay more.

That is the brand positioning that Clasico Brands takes by asking the aspirational consumer one simple question: Why Pay More? And that is what our Brand Mantra is.

MC: Any advice you would give to the young entrepreneurs based on personal experiences?

AB: There are 4 pillars on which entrepreneurial ventures can thrive. Calculated Risk, Discipline, Legal Advice and Financial Acumen.

Top of the list is Calculated Risk and Discipline. Being your own boss is a big responsibility and if you are a strict one, you will be in a better position to elevate your idea to the next level.

Second in the list is Legal advice. Irrespective of the size or the scope of your business, it is important to have your due diligence and compliance in place. And just like medicine, even in matters of Law, Prevention is always better and economical than Cure.

Finally, financial acumen and precision. According to a US Bank study, 82% of small businesses fail because of mismanaged cash flow. Assess your opportunities and convert them to revenues with absolute precision and realism.

Lastly, be optimistic and have faith in your business. As Abraham Lincoln once said, “Always bear in mind that your own resolution to succeed is more important than any other one thing”.

MC: Imagine we are in the year 2050. What would be your achievements within a span of 40 years?

AB: Well, 10 years into the future I’d like to create a legacy for the people accompanying me on that journey. My life has been a typical tale of rags to riches, so my aim is to share my experiences and insights to benefit people. Also, I intend to enjoy my work and most importantly spend quality time with family. In contrast, my wife wants us to own a restaurant, wherein she will cook and I will serve. I pray her dream comes true. To conclude, I believe that even with little money in your pocket, a person tends to live a simple life. As for me, my ultimate goal
is to live life.

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