Sonia, tell us how you came to head the gold and diamond jewellery division of the Joyalukkas group?
I’m a Dubai girl. I went to school here and only moved away for college – first to India and then to the UK to do an MBA in aviation management. My mother and elder sister both work in the aviation field, with Emirates, and I was keen to follow in their footsteps. After marrying John Paul, the executive director of the group, my father-in-law Joy Alukkas, who’s the chairman, encouraged me to get involved in the company.
Did aviation management come in handy in the jewellery business?
Well, I’m able to use some modules of my studies such as marketing, operations and strategy in the jewellery business. I still have an opportunity to use what I studied in aviation management in Joyalukkas’ aviation vertical, Joyjets, which offers private chartered flights. I am yet to tap into that.
My husband and father-in-law trained me in the basics – the jewellery, stones, metal. I met suppliers, learnt how they negotiate and what gold rates are based on... I started off in the gold and diamond department, went on to figure out finance operations, and worked my way towards marketing and strategies. Now I am looking after the marketing, branding and strategies of the business.
CSR is a big part of the group...
Yes, the CSR division was started by my mother-in-law Jolly Joy but Think Pink, our breast cancer initiative, is the brainchild of my husband. A lot of people in his family have suffered from the disease, and if cancer is detected in time many lives could be saved.
So John launched this campaign in October 2011 with the theme, Take a Pink Pledge and the motto Self Check Saves Lives. The campaign urges women to undertake regular self-examinations. It aims to educate and create awareness among women about breast cancer in the UAE.
When I joined the group in 2012, John asked me to take over as he felt women would be more inclined to listen to another woman talking about something so personal.
This year, we have tied up with Aster DM Healthcare hospitals and are going to schools, churches and communities to hold breast cancer awareness classes. We have gynaecologists to perform checks and teach how to do self-examinations. We also distribute free booklets containing information about breast cancer in all our jewellery shops in October. We are targeting men as well so that they can pass on the information to the women in the family. Most importantly, there is no commercial aspect to [this drive].
Is this campaign run in the UAE only?
Not really. The foundation also helps people in India in dire need to earn their living by helping them set up a small business, learn a trade or even get them an autorickshaw. We’re also building a fully fledged hospital in Thrissur in Kerala, south India, where treatment, including for breast cancer, will be provided free of cost for the patients [in need].
Our group also organises blood donation campaigns every three months as part of our CSR activities in the Middle East.
Does it faze you to deal in a volatile market such as gold?
Life itself is uncertain. What you have today you may not have tomorrow. There are problems and unrest happening everywhere in the world.
With regard to business and decision-making, I am not at the apex. Although I am one of the directors, I don’t make decisions without consulting the chairman or executive director. I am a person who believes in consensus, and I’m not arbitrary by nature. I like to be consultative, so whatever decision I make is well considered and certainly not impulsive.
What are your plans to take the family business forward?
When you’ve risen high enough, the only way to grow further is laterally – diversify. Gold is our main business. But we don’t want to put all our eggs into one basket, so we are diversifying. We already have many verticals, now we are concentrating on expanding them too. We started a textile division, Jolly Silks, some time back, and now we are expanding its presence in the Middle East market.
What are your plans for the future?
I have a sweet tooth and am fond of baking. I’ve always wanted to start a bakery of my own. So, that’s one on my wish list. The other is designing – I want to start my own line of designer dresses.
Your husband, John, has been ranked among Asia’s top 10 wealthiest men…
Wow! I don’t know... it’s so unreal. I just feel humble. It’s just a big responsibility on us to see that we try and help the underprivileged and not keep everything to ourselves. The other thing is to not let it go to your head. The sobering thought is that all of this wealth could go in no time. Just keep your feet firmly on the ground and be thankful for every day you have on this earth.