Ask the CEO of Home Centre what is his greatest achievement to date and he will tell you it’s the fact that he manages to be happy most days, both personally and professionally, and that he is able to spread some cheer and happiness around.
Sameer Jain can be proud that he has done a lot more.
Arriving in Dubai in 2005 after a stint at McKinsey, working in research and consulting projects in the US, Europe, Japan and Southeast Asia, Sameer joined Kearney, a global management consulting firm, just as they were setting up their Middle East office in the UAE. "I was their first consultant in the Dubai office," he recalls.
The job, which included working in the telecom and technology sectors, meant he was quite literally living out of his suitcase as he was taking more than 100 flights a year. After close to eight years as a jet-setting executive, he decided "not to pursue the pot of gold at the end of a consulting career’s rainbow. I wanted to have breakfast and dinners with my family, pillow-fight with my kids, teach them swimming and cycling instead of being a weekend father and a weekend husband," says the father of two.
Switching sectors, he joined the Landmark Group in 2014, a family-owned retail giant in the region that was undergoing a massive transformation under Renuka Jagtiani. "She coached me for three-and-a-half years before I took on the role of CEO at Home Centre," he says. "My most recent mentor is Aarti Jagtiani, who may be younger to me but is deeply knowledgeable and passionate about home business; she has helped me learn and grow a lot during the last three years. She is an exceptional business and people leader."
Hailing from a middle-class family from Delhi – Sameer’s father worked with the Ministry of Defence while his mother was a schoolteacher – Sameer grew up in a joint family with some eight uncles and aunts and 10 cousins. "My family came from pre-partition Sialkot (now in Pakistan), so we understood the life and struggles of refugees, listening to the experiences my parents and grandparents shared with us – a riches to rags to an attempt-to-rebuild-a-life kind of story," he says. Those early life experiences and stories shaped his personality, making him "a very driven yet very grounded person by nature". He credits his strong family and personal values for shaping him and his outlook on life.
"As for my support system throughout my personal and professional life, that has to be my wife Rhitu," he says. Quitting her career in the social development sector to raise her family that includes two children – Ayaan, 12, and Nayra, 9 – Rhitu, says Sameer, "is a friend, confidante, my most honest critic and my anchor when the weather gets rough. She is a life partner in a true sense."
During his undergrad days, Sameer wanted to be a stockbroker and investor but after a couple of years in the venture realised that a large capital was crucial to succeeding in that line. "So I returned to studies and completed my post-graduation before going on to pursue my career," he says.
What are some of the best lessons he has learnt during the current pandemic situation?
"The biggest positive I have personally seen is the adaptability and resilience of human race," says Sameer. "I admire the courage shown by our employees and our suppliers to enable us to serve our customers in the face of an unknown adversity. While prioritising their health and safety, everyone has continued to work above and beyond to pull through this crisis. Our staff are the true stars of our success."
The corporate head also underscores the changes some organisations underwent to stay above the pandemic. "A major lesson has been recognising the agility and flexibility that an organisation requires to navigate through such uncertain times. The business dynamics are changing and even the best statisticians are unable to predict the trends, the category-specific opportunities and the risks we all carry. In such a scenario, being a lean and agile organisation is the best bet," he emphasises.
While Sameer has been able to steer Home Centre through these tough times, he is also proud of some major changes that he brought about in the company over the years. "Going back to the roots or the core DNA with which Micky and Jon Jagtiani set out to build this home brand that they wanted every customer to love," says Sameer. "Listen to the customers, adapt quickly and always deliver exceptional value to them. That has to be the first."
The second feather in his cap that he wears with pride is "truly delivering on our brand promise of ‘Aspirational designs at affordable prices’ for our customers".
The third, he says, is building a team of talented and driven individuals who understand the value of teamwork and "One Home Centre" always thinking and acting with an ownership mindset. "The end result is a transformed culture and a business that is thriving with happy customers."
Idea of success
When it comes to career, Sameer feels one cannot – or should not – believe one has achieved the pinnacle at any time. "Life and times could go either way," he says.
So, what his definition of success?
"Success is being happy and everyone defines their happiness in their own way," he says. "My dad’s happiness was defined as getting his kids a good education, ensuring his siblings were well settled and having two square meals a day cooked by my mom. He has been a happy camper.
"I try hard to be happy but I must admit I am not as good as him in finding that contentment and maybe that is what keeps me energised everyday – to learn more and to do more.
"Our kids decided not to ask for any birthday party and instead used that money to either teach underprivileged kids or feed the hungry. Seeing them learn the value of being a good human being is success to my wife and me."
A sport lover whose idea of relaxation includes listening to music – "anything from old Hindi movie songs and Pakistani ghazals to pop, rock and contemporary" – and reading – ‘I’ve just finished Made in America by Sam Walton; it’s a must read for any retail professional" – Sameer admits that he tries hard to maintain a work-life balance. A keen badminton player who spends at least two hours on the court on weekend mornings, he also enjoys a game of cricket with the office friends during cooler months. "Even in most stressful and challenging times, we should be able to share a joke and laugh to keep the environment light."
What is the one thing he missed the most during this stay-at-home period?
"The ability to live life normally, interact with friends and teams in person, and play sport," he says.
Sameer’s leadership principles
• Always aim and strive hard to deliver above stakeholder expectations (stakeholders being customers/ clients, shareholders and employees). Be demanding from yourself to be able to lead by example.
• Teams should learn and grow. Growth in learning should open doors to new challenges and opportunities. Successful delivery of results should drive career and remuneration growth both for individuals and teams.
• We should have fun. Office culture should be positive, non-political and non-hierarchical as ideas can come from anywhere. People should feel empowered and free to speak and act in the best interests of our stakeholders.
• The only time when all these principles become second priority is personal situations– family and health is always top priority.