Born: Rajkot, India
Worked in: India, Oman, United Arab Emirates. Currently manages teams that come from over 36 countries.
Avishesha “Avi” Bhojani never seems to tire. Perhaps it’s because he was an avid runner during his school days. Or perhaps it’s his unflagging passion for building businesses and building ideas. Nonetheless, the highly-motivated CEO has been transforming his agency and his clients since his arrival in Dubai in 1991. He is fond of advocating the need to find a different and smarter way of doing things, every day.
Name an innovative idea or business solution for which you are most proud. I am particularly proud of two business ideas that have transformed the city in which we are headquartered (Dubai) and the firm that I head (BPG Group- www.batespangulf.com)
Building Dubai as a tourism destination: In the mid 1990’s Dubai could at best be described as a regional trade and transportation hub. Ten years later it had become a major tourism destination as well, one that had captured the imagination of the world. Two destination brands played a big part in this transformation – Dubai Shopping Festival and Dubai Summer Surprises. I had a key role in conceptualizing, launching and developing these two brands, as well an initiating a variety of business-focused ecosystems for Dubai.
Dubai Shopping Festival (DSF) leveraged two Dubai strengths; a well-developed retailing environment and high quality hotel and hospitality infrastructure. A citywide festival also required collaboration between business groups (retailers and shopping malls) that normally compete with each other; to enable this collaboration industry associations were formed, the Shopping Malls Group and the Gold and Jewelry Group. Two additional ingredients were added to the brand concept-- the chance to win big prizes and world-class entertainment. It all came together from the year of launch in 1996 and 15 years later the Dubai Shopping Festival remains a major tourism driver for Dubai.
Dubai Summer Surprises (DSS) was an extremely ambitious attempt to attract tourists in the summer months, when temperatures routinely cross 40 Celsius. The Dubai Summer Surprises brand targeted middle class GCC families for whom an extended European or Asian holiday was not financially viable. Children were placed at the heart of the festival and the venue for all child-focused entertainment was the shopping malls. Every day there was a plethora of entertainment at all the major malls. Attractive shopping bargains added to the appeal. The Dubai Summer Surprises has over the years become a hugely successful event and continues to attract children and families from across the GCC. One clear indicator of DSS’s success is that prior to DSS, the average occupancy in starred hotels in Dubai in the summer months was under 40%, and 5 years into DSS, the average occupancy increased to 80%+.
Industry focused business ecosystems: I also played a central role in conceptualizing ‘industry focused clustering’ as an economic driver for Dubai. The idea itself was simple; attract companies from specific industries to relocate in specific destinations where they could enjoy superb infrastructure and enabling policies. The first two industries to be targeted were IT and media, and thus were Dubai Internet City (2000) and Dubai Media City (2001) launched. These two were eventually bundled into the TECOM brand that now also includes educational institutions. The unprecedented success of these two initiatives led to a host of other clusters within Dubai – healthcare, maritime, and commodities to name a few. All these initiatives have been important in making Dubai the premier business hub in the MENA (Middle East North Africa) region.
Why do people see you as an innovator? My business associates and my colleagues will testify to the fact that ideas engage and excite me. Almost invariably, I will start a conversation with “What’s new and exciting”? If there is a different way to solve a problem or tap an opportunity, I will go for it. I see myself as an ideas person, and I see ideas as the primary reason for my success and my firm’s success. Constantly ideating and pushing people to ideate results in bringing new ideas to market.
It is worth mentioning that for every idea that came to life, a number of others did not for a variety of reasons. And that I believe is the fundamental nature of innovation; for every home run, there are many that do not fly.
What role does innovation play in your marketing strategy today? Innovation and ideas are central to the success of our company. When we start with ideas like the Dubai Shopping Festival, we attract new clients who becoming long-term partners that play a big part in our success. With the downturn in Dubai’s fortunes, many of our traditional sources of business have dried up. Yet, we have successfully retooled our company to offer genuinely integrated and medium-agnostic marketing communications solutions to clients. Nearly half our income as a firm now comes from clients who have responded to the promise and delivery of integrated solutions.
And, for the third year in a row, we were the most profitable business in the WPP stable.
What is the biggest challenge you face in applying innovative thinking to international projects? The biggest challenge is aligning people to the vision of the business or brand. It’s tough enough across teams within one company; it gets tougher when you are operating across organizations, geographies and cultures. I do, however, believe that collaboration in its widest sense is a very important determinant of success. How do I get alignment? I believe in demonstrating win-win on a regular basis and through passion and energy.