Start with a dream
”I’d advise all budding entrepreneurs to start with your heart,” says Shivam.
He did and today, at 39, he’s spearheading SportsOne, his second start-up for the Landmark Group. “You should have a dream, or you’ll never get anywhere. Of course, everyone has a dream. But to be an entrepreneur you need to have a realistic dream.”
When Shivam mentors an entrepreneur he looks for a blueprint or a business plan drawn up “with the conviction to be successful”. He adds, “It should be a tangible project report that can be executed.”
Shivam had a dream, too, when he was a student in Ajmer in the western Indian state of Rajasthan in the early 1990s – and that was to make his mark on the world as an entrepreneur.
“I was not a very bright student,” he confesses. “In India, typically, parents prefer their children to be academically inclined. That becomes the criterion for determining how good the child is..., which is unfortunate as there are many children who may not be good in academics but may still go on to make their mark on the world.
“My parents – Sushma and Manmohan Goyal – were successful doctors and wanted me to excel as a student. But when my father realised that I would never be top of my class, he gave me a piece of advice that has remained with me. He said, ‘Don’t shy away from doing your job and remember all jobs have dignity. If you become a janitor, make sure that no one wipes the floor better than you do. Be the best in your chosen field.’
I always put my best foot forward and make sure I’m doing a better job than everybody else.”
Shivam learnt this lesson early. “I was and am practical-minded,” he says. “While at school, I would stay back after classes and ask the teachers which the important lessons to concentrate on were. This helped a great deal because I could use their tips to prepare better for exams. I also used to be very friendly with the seniors who’d help me if I had any doubts in lessons. The point I’d like to stress is that it’s more important to work smart than to work hard.”
There were other lessons from outside the classroom: “I grew up in Beawar, a small town near Ajmer,” says Shivam. “Because there were no proper schools there, my parents enrolled me in one that was about 70km away. I had to get up at 5am to take the bus to school and would spend four hours on the road every day because transportation and roads were bad.” On these road trips he learnt about life. “The experiences of interacting with a variety of people who were travelling on the bus helped me learn a lot about life. I picked up what was happening around me, how people reacted to situations.”
Those early experiences, he says, taught him to be self-confident and a go-getter, with the result that he was popular at school and college, and a star cricketer as well.
Even before he received his masters degree in Business Administration from Jaipur University, Shivam bagged a job offer at a campus interview. He declined, determined to make his fortune in Dubai, a place that had caught his fancy when, at the age of 11, he’d holidayed with his family.
Arriving in Dubai in 1997, he quickly landed a job. “In fact, I got four job offers within 20 days of my arrival,” says Shivam. After weighing his options he decided to get into electronics because “that appeared to be the way the world was moving. People were beginning to depend on electronics for their everyday chores, and that dependence was only going to increase, spelling a boom for the sector,” he says.
Shivam joined Jacky’s Electronics as a management trainee and gradually moved up the ladder over the next seven years. “I had never worked in retail sales before, but I took that opportunity as a challenge.”
Work on your fundamentals
Shivam is a stickler for getting the basics right. “Right from my childhood, I cultivated a habit of starting from scratch. I’d work on the fundamentals and make them sound before moving on,” he says. In his student days, for instance, he worked doubly hard mastering the basics by opting for extra classes in some subjects.
He then applied the same approach to his professional life. “When I started at Jacky’s, I knew retail required a lot of focus. The retailer had made a name for itself, but was being threatened by new entrants. My objective was to get the basics right and carve a niche for Jacky’s once again and take the brand through.”
Shivam made it a point to meet each person in the 110-member team and get to know them on a first-name basis.
“The idea was to know our strengths and weaknesses, and where we had to improve, before putting plans into place,” he says. “I am proud to say that after three years there I managed to get the market share that Jacky’s wanted.”
His success at Jacky’s paid dividends: Landmark boss Mickey Jagtiani cherry-picked him to launch an electronics division for his group.
Teamwork is vital
“The dream might be yours, but you need a team to deliver it, and you have to build a team good enough to do that along with you,” says Shivam. “I see my job as building the right team, and translating my dream to them.”
Recruitment and selection of the team is something Shivam does not delegate to others. “I recruit my team, whether it is the floor staff or office staff,” he says. “I work hard to develop them. I have a strong human resources department that helps me with that. At the end of the day, even if you have the best concept, if you don’t have the right people, it won’t succeed.”
Shivam says he learnt an important lesson from his Landmark boss Mickey: It is not enough just to dream, you have to dream big to score big. “Mickey had a very different vision of Emax [the brand Shivam was to work on],” he recalls. “One of the first things Mickey told me after taking me on was that he wanted me to develop a retail concept that would be the largest in this part of the world. I was thinking a 25,000 sq ft store. ‘Oh no,’ he said. ‘I’m thinking a 150,000 sq ft store’.”
Initially, Shivam didn’t think it would be possible. “I said I doubted if it’d pay off in this market. But Mickey just smiled and sent me to Saudi Arabia where Landmark Group has a big presence. He wanted me to study some of the retail stores there and I was surprised to see how big they were. Next he sent me to Germany to study the market. There, too, I was amazed by some of the retail electronic stores, which were around 100,000 sq ft over seven levels, all categories represented – the biggest range of all top brands under one roof! And I found the customers were shopping like crazy. So I learnt to think big.”
…and lay the right foundations
But the last lesson was not just about setting up a 150,000 sq ft store for Emax.
“We had to create the infrastructure to support it so the store would live up to its size,” says Shivam.
“I worked on the plan for two years, before we were ready to launch with the store on King Faisal Street in Sharjah. And it was so successful there’s been no looking back for Emax. It is still one of the best-performing electronic stores in the UAE.”
Once Emax was up and running, Shivam was off too – this time for a short stint of one-and-a-half years with sports retailer Sun and Sand Sports as its general manager, before returning to Emax. So when the Landmark Group wanted to launch a sporting goods line two years later, they had their man.
“Mickey selected me to work on the SportsOne concept,” he says. So it was back to basics again for Shivam. A lot of research went into the project.
“We found that sporting goods retailing is an industry that was under-represented in this region,” he says.
“At Landmark, when we are developing a new business we do not look at just Dubai or the UAE as a market, we look at the entire region. The biggest market we study is Saudi Arabia because a lot of Landmark’s growth has come out of that country.”
Another demographic segment Landmark takes care to focus on is women. “All said and done, a lot of purchasing decisions are driven by women, if not taken by them. Women are one of the dominating forces where our market strategy is concerned and we base many of our studies on women customers as well. That’s why all our stores have a very big section for women and kids.
“At SportsOne, too, we have focused on women. There’s a perception that sports is a very male-oriented sector. A lot of sporting goods retailers in the region have ignored women and children. But it is a big market. Fifty per cent of the market is women and children. So, we’ve focused a lot on women, and we seem to have done the right thing, as we are doing very well.”
SportsOne was launched in December 2012 with two stores, one in Riyadh and the other in Dammam, Saudi Arabia. The UAE presence came later with two stores in Abu Dhabi and one in Dubai. “We plan to open around 40 stores in the next two years,” he says. Shivam also researched the location before setting up shop at the Al Ghurair Centre in Deira. “Deira attracts a lot of good shopping crowds and Al Ghurair Centre gets a lot of footfall from Emiratis,” he says. “This store has been set up keeping them in mind, and it has done very well.”
He sees a huge explosion of interest in golf in the region and that, too, is part of the reason for the location of the store. “There are a lot of Japanese and Korean residents in Al Ghurair, who play a lot of golf,” he adds.
From his experience as a successful entrepreneur, Shivam has this insight to share with prospective businesspeople: “Whatever you do, do it with integrity.” He adds, “Don’t do things just to earn brownie points for yourself. What you do has to benefit not only for yourself, but also the people who depend on you – whether it is the employer, your staff, shareholders and investors. You have to lavish the same love and care on your project as you would on your child.
“Honesty is very important. You may make mistakes, and you need to accept them and make amends. Don’t feel shy to raise your hand and admit to your team that you made a mistake. That’s the true hallmark of a leader.”
Shivam admits that he’s made his share of mistakes. “But I make a conscious effort not to repeat them – whether it’s my own mistakes or the ones I’ve observed others make.”
“To be successful you have to be a good listener,” says Shivam. “Have an open-ear policy. Sometimes the best suggestions can come from the rookie on the team. Be open to feedback.” And it’s not just staff he listens to – to Shivam the customer is king. “They can give you the most valuable feedback. Listen to them as well,” he advises.
He’s not shy of approaching his seniors for advice. “The Landmark Group is filled with veteran retailers,” he says. “If I go to them for a piece of advice, they’ll give me 10 vital pieces.”
Shivam also always keeps an eye open for movement in the market.
“The world is always evolving. In my field, every month something new comes up, whether it’s a new brand or new technology or a new innovation in retail. You have to keep injecting newness into your business. Innovation is the key to success.”
For Shivam, it’s not a numbers game at the end of the day. “It’s about delivering the right model to the customers,” he says. “I am not aiming for a number one or number two spot. My objective is to serve the maximum number of customers in the region. If I am able to achieve that, the numbers will automatically follow.”
Look out for your team
For Shivam, it is important to be selfless where business is concerned. “I’ve delivered this SportsOne concept for the Landmark Group and for my staff. It is my responsibility to give them a good career, and to carve a career for them. I have communicated to them that I would work on the concept for five years, and I will be committed to that. I owe it to my team as much as I owe it to the bosses.”
Shivam thinks this rule is really important. “At the end of five years at SportsOne I will go to Mickey and ask for a new assignment,” he says. “I’ll groom someone to take over from me, and it will be solely on merit. I’ll be very happy if I can groom a woman to take my position. We need to give more opportunities to women.”
So, what does he want to do next? “I want to develop five businesses for Landmark, that’s my career aspiration,” he says. “There is no retirement for me, I am too driven for that. Maybe after 20 years I may want to develop new leaders rather than new businesses.
I want to make sure that at every stage there are the right people for the job at hand. People who can take the group to even greater heights.”