For most people who know him — Vijay Eswaran, Executive Chairman of the QI Group of Companies — is not just a successful entrepreneur, but also wears several feathers in his cap, as he is also a best-selling author, a philanthropist and a popular speaker at international forums.
Eswaran himself is a multi-faceted personality equally at ease, with people who approach him. The QI Group is headquartered in Hong Kong with a diverse range of business interests spread across the world, along with regional offices in Singapore, Malaysia and a presence in nearly 30 countries through a wide range of subsidiary companies, including the UAE.
In a candid interview with
William Fariafrom The Gulf Today at the Yas Islands in Abu Dhabi recently,Vijay Eswaranalso announced a new partnership between his flagship subsidiary QNet and Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Racing F1 Team for the upcoming Formula 1 season in 2011. He also explains about the economic downturn, mentioning that it is an opportune moment to begin building upon for the next ten years.
The group anticipates to further investing over Dhs100 million in the UAE, by setting up, resorts, hotel apartments and towers, both in Dubai and Abu Dhabi respectively, through the Group’s vacation club subsidiary, QVI Club.
Here is the full interview:
Q. Can you briefly explain about QNet and its operations? A. QNet is the flagship subsidiary of the QI Group of Companies. The Group has five main business lines diversified into telecommunications, lifestyle & leisure, luxury & collectables, training and conference management, and a global retail & direct sales business. In essence, we are an e-commerce based conglomerate that encompasses all aspects of business, using the Internet as our modality.
Since 1998, QNet has been one of the foremost pioneers of the direct selling profession throughout Asia, distributing an innovative range of lifestyle products to millions of customers around the world through its cutting-edge e-commerce platform. In its second decade, the company is fast emerging as a global direct selling brand with major operations in Hong Kong, Malaysia and Singapore, and a worldwide presence in almost 30 different countries through representative offices and agency partnerships.
In addition to its strong portfolio of exclusive wellness brands – including nutrition, energy, personal care, home care and other lifestyle product categories – QNet also offers a proven business opportunity to promote the company’s products, representing the potential for an entrepreneurial business venture through network marketing.
Q. Which are the other lines of products that you intend to set up in the UAE? A. QNet offers a wide range of products and services to a global customer base. Certain products do well in certain regions. We have found that vacation packages are very popular with our customers in the Middle East. We also have a unique range of products under our wellness portfolio that is fast emerging as a best seller with customers in the UAE.
The QI Group owns an 86-year old watch manufacturing company in Switzerland that produces 3 brands of watches in different price range. The mid-level range marketed under the brand name ‘Bernhard H.Mayer’ is sold through our e-commerce platform. We plan to launch an exclusive range of the Bernhard H. Mayer watches for our customers in the UAE soon.
Q. You recently signed a partnership with Virgin Racing F1 Team at the Yas Island in Abu Dhabi, what does this mean to your company? A. We believe in being the best in everything we do. It is rare to find a man of Richard Branson’s calibre as a partner, and we are honoured and proud of this partnership.
I see this as the beginning of a journey between the QI Group and the Virgin Group with QNet and the Virgin Racing F1 Team kicking off the journey. On a personal note, it is rare for me to come across another individual, especially one of Richard’s statures, who has the same viewpoint on life as I do.
We have been involved with motorsports for some time now with our sponsorship of teams in the Formula BMW, Formula V6 and the GP2 Asia series from 2004 to earlier this year. So, this move to Formula 1 is a natural progression, ensuring exposure for the QNet brand on a global stage, in the highest of sporting arenas.
Q. How important is the UAE to your global business and how much do you intend to invest here in the next 5 years? A. Well, it is not only the UAE, in fact the entire Middle East region is very important for us. Some of our subsidiaries have been doing business in the UAE, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and Oman for the several years now.
In the UAE, we have had offices in Dubai, Al Ain and now in Abu Dhabi.
We see good value in the real estate market in the UAE, and Dubai especially offers a lot of investment opportunities. Through our vacation club subsidiary, QVI Club’s customers, we have a substantial demand for accommodation nights in the UAE. To meet this growing demand, we plan to set up resorts in both Dubai and Abu Dhabi. We are also exploring opportunities for acquisition of an existing property or something partially completed which allows us a faster turnaround time to meet the demand. We are also planning to set up our own hotel apartments and towers, either at Dubai Marina or Jumeirah Lakes.
We will probably be looking at investing anything close to Dhs100 million. We foresee huge interest in the UAE, and definitely Dubai and Abu Dhabi will be part of the expansion agenda.
Q. Can you explain your interest in expanding business in the UAE, and why this market is important to QI Group? A. As mentioned to you earlier, the QI Group is primarily based in Asia, and Malaysia is our operational headquarters and that’s where all our backroom operations are centralised. While we have a strong Asian heritage, our business is global. Especially, QNet, which operates on an e-commerce platform, but of course, is not limited by any geographical boundaries. And with QNet’s business doing very well in the Middle East, UAE is a natural choice to set up our regional hub. We believe the UAE is in a central position to allow us to expand our business in the Middle East. Also, Malaysia and UAE have traditionally shared strong trade and government relations and both are members of the OIC further fostering a common socio-economic interest. So, there is no comparison per se, since our operations are distinct in both regions.
Q. You have authored several books, can you tell us which is the latest and when was it released? A. The first book that I penned, which is highly acclaimed worldwide, is titled In the Sphere of Silence, that encapsulates the core of the philosophy that I live my life by.
This book on life management stands for what as an author, I passionately believe in and promote. In the Sphere of Silence has also been translated into German, Dutch, Arabic, Bahasa Indonesia, Chinese and Farsi.
My second book, In The Thinking Zone is a collection of my thoughts and reflections through a series of quotations aimed at helping readers adopt a healthy attitude in dealing with the day-to-day situations in life. A third book 18 ‘Stepping Stones’ was released just mid this year.
Q. What about your Philanthropic activities? A. In addition to building a multinational corporation, I established the RYTHM Foundation, which is the Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) arm of the QI Group that is involved in philanthropic activities around the world. In Malaysia, I have established the Vijayaratnam Foundation in honour of my father and the organisation works jointly with local NGOs and other charitable organizations on various CSR initiatives.
Q. What are the accolades that you have achieved? A. Well, there are many and the lists may be endless, but just for your information, I’d like to single out that in late 2006, I was conferred with the honorary title ‘Dato’ by His Royal Highness, The Sultan of Pahang, Malaysia in recognition of my contribution to the economic growth of the State of Pahang. In Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia, I am normally referred to as Dato’ Vijay Eswaran.
Q. You have been globetrotting and delivering motivational lectures, can you explain on this? A. Yes, I travel around the world to lecture on a variety of subjects ranging from spirituality to business. I have also spoken at leading universities, management and business leadership forums. Some key highlights have been as a speaker at the Commonwealth Business Forum of the CHOGM in 2007 and 2009 in Uganda and Trinidad & Tobago respectively. I was also among the panelist at the 6th Pravasi Bharatiya Divas, the global Indian Diaspora meet in January 2008, at the invitation of the government of India and a panelist at the East Asia Summit of the WEF in Vietnam in June 2010.
Q. What do you think of the global economic slowdown and how is it affecting prospects in your economic area? A. Historically, each period of crisis has precipitated a period of great economic growth. The crash of 1929 for instance, was in a sense a balancing that was long overdue. Primarily, because it was in the tail end of what was known as the Roaring Twenties. A decade where the world economies spun out of control resulting in a need for balance and the crash of ‘29 was about reversing the equilibrium; arguably thereby, initiating massive growth in its wake. The 1930s then saw the awakening of several economic powerhouses.
However, one cannot see too much of a parallel in this today, because there were many other forces at play. Conceptually however, the ebb and flow of the economic tide is just a natural adjustment. This crisis is perhaps one that is long overdue. Economic pundits have been predicting it from the late 1990s onwards.
For the man on the street, the basic issue of providing food, shelter and warmth for his family remains the same. The fundamental asset of economic growth is, and always will be the human capital.
It is people that continue to make success out of nothing at all and it is people that are going to emerge from the crisis either as lions or sheep. If you choose to step back and let the economic tide carry you, then it is going to unceremoniously dump you high and dry on some barren outcropping. On the other hand if you choose to be a lion, then this crisis is the best possible time.
Q. Do you think that this is the right time to invest, while companies are still recovering from the downturn? A. Good question! It is the time to avail of all the skill sets, of the infrastructure, of all the technology, of the real estate that you could not or would not have dared to venture into 6 months ago because of cost or availability. This is the time to begin building upon for the next ten years. People are still your primary assets and they have never been more accessible than in this period.
For us, with e-commerce as our modality, this has in fact turned out to be a period of growth. While the world adjusts to its new economic climate, people still need the basic goods and services, and what better way to get it across to them than via the internet, considering its borderless reach.
Also, the direct selling business historically has been considered recession proof. When most other main stream income opportunities dry up in the face of an economic crisis, people are looking for alternate options for sustenance. And that’s when more people turn to direct selling for supplemental income or replacement of a lost job.
As a Group, financially we have very low borrowings or debt levels and hence are not exposed to the risk of the credit crunch.
Q. As an entrepreneur, what do you think about the economic recovery in the UAE and the Asian sub-continent as a whole? A. A fundamental transformation has taken place in the structure of the world economy. The dominant feature of this transformation is the emergence of Asian economies.
Up to now the first world countries have had a disproportionate effect on the flow of human capital through the world. But this economic depression is a sign of a major shift in the global power politics. South-South cooperation is far more significant today than it has ever been. Ultimately the midterm solution is to recognise that we need the South-South Cooperation to survive the future.
In the 18th century; Germany, France and England shaped the world. America wasn’t even on the scene. France had colonies that stretched halfway across the world. UK was the global super power and Europeans were the major world players.
The shift of power changed in the mid 20th century and the US emerged as the new economic superpower, especially so after the fall of the Soviet Union. Today with current economic crunch and with realignment of the axis of power, the third world is coming on its own.
There is a major shift of power that we are in the midst of and one needs to recognise that. Regional cooperation provides most developing countries with a platform to seek regional solutions for the challenges of globalisation.
Q. Finally, do you think the economic downturn was a good wake-up call for entrepreneurs? A. Well, I must mention that this is not just for entrepreneurs but also government as well as statutory bodies such as the IMF and various Central Banks that are supposed to keep certain parameters under control. It woke them up to the fact that they are not infallible.
For entrepreneurs in particular it was not so much a wake-up call as it was an opportunity. True entrepreneurs thrive on the fact that opportunities are found in every crisis.
It is only in times like these that entrepreneurs have an advantage over others because opportunities are a matter of attitude and perspective as opposed to luck or coincidence. What appears to be a problem to others is a chance for an entrepreneur to try something new.
Sometimes, entrepreneurs also find themselves in a comfort zone. It is only in the face of an economic crunch that real entrepreneurs change their approach, restructure their models, look for new products and services, re-engineer their business model, adapted to different marketing approach and test new markets. In that sense, it certainly works as a wake-up call.