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Re-skilling manpower, AI and a people first attitude to redefine retail sector

Re-skilling manpower, AI and a people first attitude to redefine retail sector, experts say at RetailME ‘THINK! I CAN!’ Forum

RetailME ICONS of Retail Awards Gala featured top achievers in the industry with a special remembrance to the retail legend the late Micky Jagtiani

Date: Dubai, UAE; June 19, 2023

What the famous Abdullah brothers developed in 40 years with their previous business, they re-created a better one in just eight years through Jawhara Jewellery.

“When we planned to set up the new business eight years ago, we wanted to build it based on our 40- year experience in the shortest possible time and we achieved the same feat in just eight years,” Tawhid Abdullah, Chief Executive Officer of Jawhara Jewellery told retail leaders at the RetailME THINK! I CAN! conference while speaking about how his family re-created a regional jewellery brand.

“The question is how did we do that? In order to achieve this, we decided to create partners in the business, making our accountants, sales professionals, marketing officials – all partners in the company – so that they feel a sense of ownership in our success.

“Yes, they receive a basic salary package, but they benefit from the growth and success of the company. Now, we have more than 1,000 partners – not employees – who run the business and we work as a team. This is how we have created a bigger company in eight years, compared to what we had built in 40 years!”

He said, empowerment of team members to take ownership of the projects, works and business activities

– is crucial. “Empowerment through partnership is a very crucial part of the success of our company. The partners are the reason why we are now so successful.”

It all boils down to people empowerment through partnership. Perhaps this is called learning from experience.

Tapan Vaidya, CEO of PJP Investments – franchisee of Papa Johns, said, “Every investment needs to give you return, sometimes you need AI, but it might be difficult and not fruitful. Let me quote Bill Gates’ business rule Number One: Automation applied to an efficient operation will magnify efficiency. Rule Number Two: Automation applied to an inefficient operation will magnify the inefficiency.

“So, it is very important to make sure your system and operations are healthy but also sensible and logical for technology to come and help you. Use technology that adds value to your business.”

Dharmin Ved, CEO of 6th, said, the introduction of ChatGPT and Generative Artificial Intelligence (AI) has put forward AI to the frontline of the retail sector – that will transform retail and other industries.

“In our customer happiness team, we have seen a four-fold increase in productivity, since the influx of ChatGPT and other Generative AI products that has changed our work,” he said.

Top experts in the Middle East’s retail industry engaged in some thought-provoking discussions at RetailME THINK! I CAN! conference, followed by the ICONS of Retail Gala Awards ceremony, that focused on transformation of the Gulf region’s US$296.8 billion (Dh1.09 trillion) retail industry – at the Address Marina Hotel, on June 14, 2023.

RetailME THINK! I CAN! symposium and ICONS of Retail Gala Awards brought together the region’s top leaders in retail under one roof who spoke about their transformational journeys – both challenges and opportunities – that provided great insights to others who are yet to start their journey.

Justina Eitzinger, Chief Operating Officer of Images RetailME, started the conference paying a rich tribute to the legendary retail leader Micky Jagtiani, Founder of Landmark Group, one of the largest retail conglomerates in the GCC region, who recently passed away.

“Let me take a few minutes to remember a true legend, a visionary and a great mentor. He is our very own Micky Jagtiani. Micky laid the foundation of an inspiring culture of entrepreneurship and integrity throughout the Landmark Group and is looked upon as a visionary leader in the MENA retail industry. He had influenced many through his life’s journey and he is fondly remembered. Micky will truly be missed by us and the entire retail fraternity.”

The retail sector in the UAE has come a long way in the last three decades, from window-shopping to mobile shopping.

Laila Mohammed Suhail, CEO, Strategic Alliances and Partnerships Sector, DET and Entities, Dubai’s Department of Economy and Tourism and Board Member, Dubai Gold and Jewellery Group,

said, “The retail sector in the UAE has come a long way in evolving from brick-and-mortar to a completely different level with e-commerce at the driving seat now.

“The retail sector is growing and will continue to grow. It has been the biggest pillar in our country’s economy and will play even a bigger role in the coming years.”

The UAE’s retail industry is full of great stories and there are great learning tips from every leader driving the industry forward – conversations that captivated the audience.

Colm McLoughlin, Executive Vice Chairman and CEO of Dubai Duty Free, shared his story with the delegates on how he and his team had set up Dubai Duty Free in 1983 that became one of the world’s largest travel retailers in less than 40 years!

“When Dubai Civil Aviation officials invited Aer Rianta International – a company that set up the world’s first travel retail facility at Shannon Airport in Ireland, where I come from – to explore the possibility of setting up a duty-free operation in Dubai International Airport, I was one of the team members selected to visit Dubai – way back in 1983

“In a few months’ time, we established it. On December 20, 1983, Dubai Duty Free was born. In its first year of operation, our sales hit US$20 million at the end of 1984. That’s how it began. We set it up and was ready to return to Ireland. However, I was given an opportunity to meet His Highness Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Vice President and Prime Minister of the UAE and Ruler of Dubai.

“Dubai Civil Aviation requested me to join Dubai Duty Free and I accepted. The rest is history. In the later years, we transformed the travel retail industry by creating not only the largest duty free in the world, but the most efficient one, so much so, that by 2019, our revenue exceeded US$2 billion.

“Dubai city and Dubai International Airport underwent a lot of changes, from 250,000 residents and 4 million annual passenger traffic in 1983, it changed to a city of 3.5 million residents with airport handling 89 million passengers in 2019.

“From a few dollars spent per passenger, it rose to US$40 per passenger and we expanded our team to 5,100 professionals representing 51 nationalities!”

He said, the success of Dubai Duty Free didn’t just happen.

“It is due to our wonderful team and staff members who made it happen, of course, we grew with the growth of Dubai and Dubai International Airport,” he said. “We give certain members of the team a certain level of freedom to make decisions on a day-to-day basis and we reward them. It is due to them that we are so successful.”

Abdulla Ajmal, CEO of Ajmal Perfumes and the third-generation family member of the business founded by Haji Ajmal Ali also shared a compelling story.

“My grandfather was from a farming background, and it was the way everyone around him was supposed to live. He challenged that way of living and escaped from Assam, India to start his own business because his father was against the idea of business as he thought business involves cheating while farming was a clean way of earning. But my grandfather had a vision of a much better life and sustainability, so he thought out of the box.

“He heard about the oud trade and how the Arabs love oud which captured his thoughts and how it could be a handsome source of income for families in his hometown. He decided to change his fate with the forest, and this decision laid the foundation of Ajmal Perfumes. When he reached the UAE for the first time, he landed at the Sharjah International Airport because Dubai didn’t have an airport at that time.

“Now the story of our family business is a brand that wins hearts and customers wherever it reaches. It is a story of a transformational farmer turned into a perfume maker and I am the third generation of this business.”

Mohammad Alawi, Board Member and CEO, Red Sea Markets Company, said “Leadership is a very different approach, and every leader brings to the front varied approaches to tackle the requirements of the customer, business and their own organisational setup. These approaches are for us to decode, understand and get aligned with. These approaches make us gain more insights into a leader’s mind and therefore improve our learning curve. It was a commendable job done by the RetailME team in bringing together the ICONS of Retail through a reverberating event.”

Hozefa Saylawala, Regional Sales Director – MESTA, Zebra Technologies, said, “The THINK! I CAN! symposium was a unique initiative launched to bring all retail leaders together under one roof. The successful execution of the event – both the conference as well as the gala event – is testimony to the confidence and respect RetailME has earned within the regional industry. It was very encouraging to see the who’s who of retail coming together to talk innovation, growth plans, strategies and much more in an open way. This was a great platform for industry interaction and learning.”

Amardeep Devadasan, Senior Vice-President and Head of Global Brand Solutions, RRD GO Creative APAC, said, “The fact that Leaders, whether brands or individuals, do things differently was something that emerged very clearly during the Think! I CAN! event. We explored the thought process of industry leaders and got to decode their strategies.

“It was an amazing get-together for the entire industry and we got a chance to talk about the wonderfully exciting times we live in and what lies ahead for the region. From the morning symposium to the gala in the evening, the flow was smooth and every discussion and keynote was curated perfectly – to drive the right conversations.”

Kalandoor of Kalandoor Building Contracting LLC, says “The high point for me was understanding how each leader of retail has sailed through adversities by turning their failures into big wins. It is never a day’s task but always about keeping on track with a consistent approach. Sitting through the sessions of the Think! I CAN! conference I was again and again reminded of the little ways in which we can change our outlook to life, look for the right opportunities and gain a lot of success by being simplistic in our approach. It was overall a very nice experience to meet the retail heroes all at one place.”

Spotlight on Sustainability

Sustainability is the new trend in the retail sector, in line with the UAE’s decision to observe the year 2023 as the Year of Sustainability. In November the country will host the global environment summit – COP28.

Rajiv Warrier, CEO GCC, at Choithrams, said, “Sustainability practices are getting better drastically after the UAE government started taking different measures including ‘REDUCING USE OF PLASTIC’. The decision to charge for plastic bags at grocery stores and supermarkets has reduced the consumption of plastic to a large extent. Plastic consumption in Dubai has reduced to 50 percent and 85 percent in Abu Dhabi.

“On our part, we have our largest solar panel in Al Quoz and we align our KPIs with sustainability goals. What we have learnt is companies will work on sustainable practices if it is profitable too.”

Organised by Images RetailME, a two-decade-old retail intelligence media brand with a strong print and digital readership of over 50,000 across the MENA region, the flagship THINK! I CAN! Conference and the ICONS of Retail Awards Gala celebrated the success of an industry that serves 411 million people across22 countries in the MENA region.

ICONS of Retail Awards Gala

The conference was followed by the ICONS of Retail Awards Gala where the top 100 retail ICONS from the region were honoured for their achievements and contributions to the industry. The IMAGES RetailME editorial team, along with a jury comprising of government entities, tech giants, and game changers from the service industry put together a power list of top retail leaders who have successfully built retail conglomerates and overseen the transformation and digitisation journeys within their organisations.

Commenting on the awards gala, Kabir Lumba, CEO of Landmark Retail, said, “As we celebrate the remarkable achievements of our talented team and industry visionaries, I am humbled by the immense passion and dedication that propel Landmark Group forward. Together, we have transformed the retail landscape, and these awards serve as a testament to our unwavering commitment to excellence.

“I would also like to pay tribute to the extraordinary legacy of our Founder Chairman, the late Mr. Mukesh “Micky” Jagtiani, a visionary leader whose entrepreneurial spirit and remarkable contributions continue to inspire us all. His indomitable drive and unwavering belief have left an indelible mark on our industry and our hearts. He will forever be remembered as a true icon in this sector and beyond.”

Fahed Ghanim, CEO Of Majid Al Futtaim Lifestyle, said, “Honoured to have received the RetailME ICONS of Retail Award and humbled to be listed among 100 influential leaders in MENA retail. This award is a testament to the hard work, dedication and unwavering commitment of the entire Majid Al Futtaim Lifestyle team. It is their tireless efforts over the past five years that have driven the transformation and success of our company. Thank you to RetailME for recognising the efforts and contributions of all the outstanding leaders in MENA retail. Together, we will continue to push boundaries, inspire innovation and create a vibrant future for the industry.”

CategoryRetail ICONS
In MemoriamMicky Jagtiani
Legacy MakersFawaz Abdelaziz Al Hokair
Legacy MakersIsobel Abulhoul
Legacy MakersKutayba Yusuf Alghanim
Legacy MakersMohamed Alabbar
Legacy MakersPatrick Chalhoub
Legacy MakersRenuka Jagtiani
Legacy MakersYusuffali MA
VisionariesAbdul Aziz Abdulla Al Ghurair
VisionariesAhmad AR BinDawood
VisionariesAli Bin Saeed Al Shamsi
VisionariesAli Kamal Daud
VisionariesAli Morad Behbehani
VisionariesAli Saeed Juma Albwardy
VisionariesAmin Magrabi
VisionariesAshraf Ali M.A.
VisionariesAzza Fahmy
VisionariesBader Al-Darwish
VisionariesColm McLoughlin
VisionariesFaisal Jawad
VisionariesGhassan Aboud
VisionariesHani Weiss
VisionariesHussein Adam Ali
VisionariesIlyas and Mustafa Galadari
VisionariesIngie Chalhoub
VisionariesJacky Panjabi
VisionariesJayant Ganwani
VisionariesJoy Alukkas
VisionariesKamal Osman Jamjoom
VisionariesKhurshid Vakil
VisionariesMohamed Galal
VisionariesMohammad A. Baker
VisionariesMohammad Al Madani
VisionariesMohammed Abdulmagied Seddiqi
VisionariesMohi Din BinHendi
VisionariesNaim Maadad
VisionariesNajla Maatouk
VisionariesNaresh K Bhawnani
VisionariesNeeraj Teckchandani
VisionariesRam Buxani
VisionariesRamesh Prabhakar
VisionariesRami & Ihsan Abu Ghazaleh
VisionariesShamlal Ahamed
VisionariesSharafuddin Sharaf
VisionariesSima Ganwani Ved
VisionariesTawhid Abdullah
VisionariesThomas Lundgren
VisionariesTony Jashanmal
VisionariesTony Salamé
VisionariesToufic Kreidieh
VisionariesVidya M Chhabria
VisionariesWalid Hajj
VisionariesWassim Ghaleb Daher
VisionariesWissam Al Mana
TrailblazersAbdulla Ajmal
TrailblazersAdel Sajan
TrailblazersAhmed Ragab
TrailblazersAlisha Moopen
TrailblazersAmit Dhamani
TrailblazersAshish Panjabi
TrailblazersDr Ata Atmar
TrailblazersDr Bander Talaat Hamooh
TrailblazersFahed Ghanim
TrailblazersFiroz Merchant
TrailblazersImad Bukhari
TrailblazersIshwar Chugani
TrailblazersJohn Hadden
TrailblazersKabir Lumba
TrailblazersKamal Vachani
TrailblazersKanan Khimji
TrailblazersLT Pagarani
TrailblazersLuc Perramond
TrailblazersMajid Hamad Rahma Al Shamsi
TrailblazersManu Jeswani
TrailblazersMark Tesseyman
TrailblazersMikdad Babhrawala
TrailblazersMishal Abdulmohsen Al Hokair
TrailblazersMohamad Mourad
TrailblazersMohammad Badri
TrailblazersMuna Easa Al Gurg
TrailblazersOussama Choucair
TrailblazersRajkumar Vasudeo Shroff
TrailblazersRaza Beig
TrailblazersRita Khoury Mathieu
TrailblazersSaid Daher
TrailblazersSaifee Rupawala
TrailblazersShehbaz Shaikh
TrailblazersSunil Kumar
TrailblazersTapan Vaidya
TrailblazersYunib Siddiqui
TrailblazersZaid S. Al Khayyat
DisruptorsDharmin Ved
DisruptorsFaraz Khalid
DisruptorsHalima Jumani
DisruptorsHuda Kattan
DisruptorsKunal Kapoor
DisruptorsLeena Khalil
DisruptorsMajed M AlTahan
DisruptorsMalik Al-Shehab
DisruptorsMona Ataya
DisruptorsRonaldo Mouchawar

About RetailME Tech and Marcom Summit

The RetailME Tech and Marcom Summit is a one-of-a-kind forum, that commemorates the brightest, most enterprising and innovative minds that have transformed the industry over the course of the last decade.

A congregation of CIOs, Tech, Digitisation and E-commerce Heads, the summit, titled The Big Retail (R)evolution will feature panel discussions, key notes and knowledge-sharing in the format of a full-day forum. The coveted participants of the forum will share their success mantras, predict trends, exchange thoughts on the winning and losing technologies in retail, and discuss actionable strategies during the event.

The forum will be followed by an awards gala like the Retails ME ICONS last year, where the RetailME Tech and Marcom ICONS from the region will be felicitated for their achievements and contributions to the industry.

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