Which executives in the CE industry
do you admire most, and why?
I think the most influential person in our industry would be Steve Jobs. Even though you could say that I’m in the appliance industry, I think what he really taught us was to think, and how to think outside the box. And he was the most customer-centric person in trying to understand what customers thought, and trying to understand what customers would want, even before they would want it, or even know that it existed.
In our current day, it would be Elon Musk, who is, again, not directly in our industry, but he’s talking about artificial intelligence, and implanting chips in the brain, and I think we’re going in that direction. He’s showing us now, in our generation, how to do the same thing.
What’s the best business advice you ever received, and how did it help you?
The best advice I think I’ve received is, keep your eyes open, and your ears to the ground. And that was said in my previous job, before I started Equator, so it was 30 years ago and I was very young. I was working with a company in England, and the chairman of the company said that. And I didn’t understand it at that time, but now I see that’s key.
Every day, things are happening in your industry or your environment that affect us, and we are all living in this thing, and you’ve got to know what’s happening, or else you can miss something.
Whether you’re keeping an eye on your competitors, or the exchange rates, or the government, or the regulations, or what’s happening in China, you’ve just got to keep an eye out and look for things. And if you miss something, it’s a problem; you cannot allow that to happen.
Tell us a little bit about your personal
life past and present.
I grew up in India, I went to a military boarding school, my father was a Naval officer, and a war veteran, fought in the Korean War, in the British Navy – he was in the Indian Navy, part of the British Navy at the time; it was part of the Commonwealth forces. Because he was moving around, I was a Navy brat and was sent to boarding school, a military boarding school with long traditions. So I grew up with a lot of order and structure and things being organized, and I think I reflect that in the company that I run, that things should be very organized.
So, I did all my education in India. I did my Masters degree, and then I got a job opportunity in England, actually, with this company that was looking for someone with my experience. I had a Masters in business and [the equivalent of] a CPA degree. And so they had projects in Africa and other countries, and I was in the field in many different countries. And I worked for the company for seven or eight years.
And meanwhile, I met my wife; she’s from New York, and she worked in the World Trade Center. And so we dated, and then — she worked for the Attorney General’s office at the time, and worked on some big projects… so she moved to Africa, and then we got married, and we were there for a few years. Then the company had some financial trouble, and I decided to leave [when] my daughter was being born. [My wife] came here and got a job, and I decided to become an entrepreneur and started Equator, and that was in 1991.
I entered, and I couldn’t get a job. It was the middle of the [Gulf War] and there was a recession at the time as well. So when I came, it was a difficult time, and I needed to start something. So I started Equator, and just grew it from there. And we’ve grown now, we’re an international company, we have operations in Canada, and in India, and a few other countries.
What will be the future of our business,
and of retailing, in two years and five years?
On the product side, particularly the major appliances that we deal with, we’re seeing that more and more everything’s going to be connected with Wi-Fi. But I’m still concerned with machines being hacked, and so on, and people accessing information through your computers… we’re still a little bit concerned with those things in fully automated homes.
We have different kinds of customers. We make compact appliances that are mainly used by Millennials and seniors. And the seniors don’t want anything to do with this, they’re happy turning knobs and having straightforward functions. But it’s the [Millennials] that are demanding these kinds of features, and we’re trying to figure out which ones will be safe and so on.
Apart from that, we know that e-commerce is growing, and so we have to anticipate that people have less and less patience. They say if you have a product, it must work. You go online, and you pick a button, they expect it to be delivered next day, in good condition, and with no damage, and you open the box, you plug it in, nobody wants to read any owner’s manuals anymore. And you should know how to operate it.
So it is the responsibility of our side – the manufacturers – but how do we jump through these hoops? We’re a company that makes products, but how do we manage the logistics, and make sure products don’t get damaged, and improve the packing, and make them easier to carry? So we actually have changed the design – in the old days, we used to tell customers to read the manual. That doesn’t work anymore.
So we’ve redesigned our products on the assumption that nobody reads manuals. They [expect] to open it and plug and plug, which is quite difficult to do. I go back to Steve Jobs, and how he made an iPhone that has no owner’s manual to it, and it’s intuitive for what you have to do. So we have to think in those terms, in product design, and go through all those hoops to make a customer happy. Because if there’s any reason to return the product, they will do it.