From training to smell raw materials for three-four days to understand the complexities of layering in fragrances to starting out on the shopfloor to becoming the CEO of an over seven-decade old family business, Ajmal Perfumes, third-generation family member Abdulla Ajmal has seen it all over the past 26 years. From the art of smelling to the art of selling which he lovingly calls “dukandaari” his learnings have been many.
But before getting into that and how the business has evolved, here’s a bit on how it began.
Almost a decade ago, during a conversation with RetailME Mohamed Amiruddin Ajmal, Chairman of the Board and Managing Director of Ajmal Group had humbly said, “Whatever you do, your intent must be honourable. Your means must be honest. That’s what we learnt from our forefathers and that’s the principle we’ve followed in our business since the day we set up our first shop.”
The inception of what’s today a rapidly growing, farm-to-fragrance business started with the intent to provide basic necessities to the family and a sustainable source of income for neighbours from their small village called Hojai in the Indian state of Assam. That’s how several decades ago the Ajmal family ventured into the trade of responsibly grown, premium quality agar wood eventually moving and setting up shop in the UAE at Murshid Bazaar in Deira, Dubai which used to be the nerve centre of trading.
Cut to the present, Ajmal Perfumes has a network of 300+ retail stores in 50 countries. In an exclusive interview with RetailME, Abdulla Ajmal shared the company’s growth outlook as well as how the business continues to abide by the principles practiced by his forefathers.
With the recent role change, what will be your top three focus areas over the next two years?
Being human-centric has always been an integral part of our business, ever since the time my late grandfather and our founder Haji Ajmal Ali started the business. My topmost priority will be to consolidate our people strength, ensuring that we not only hire but are able to retain our talents. Second focus area will be to grow the business sustainably. I’d like to continue introducing progressive strategies and innovative solutions to futureproof our business. Importantly, the value system set by my grandfather will continue to be my north star as I carry our business forward.
Is there one contribution/achievement that you are particularly proud of?
This question takes me back to the time I was six-or-seven years old, playing in my father’s tiny office in Mumbai. I was seated in his chair when he walked into the room. In a calm yet firm manner, he asked me to get off the chair, sat me down and explained that “the seat must be earned.” My proudest moment will be when my father says, I’m ready to take over the business. Over the next two years, my plan is to shadow my father to further understand the ins and outs of the business while staying true to our moral compass.
Being part of a family business, according to you how important is it to have a governance structure to enable smooth, merit-based succession?
Governance is a crucial area for any business, more so for family businesses with multiple family members working together. In our business we’ve had a formal, legalised family governance structure since 2004, which defines the board structure, succession planning, career growth and much more. Interestingly, this year we have decided to redraft the governance guidelines as the number of third-generation family members in the business has increased to 10 and we feel with the passage of time certain guidelines must evolve to be relevant.
So, what’s next for Ajmal Perfumes?
The plan is to expand our current network from 300+ retail outlets in 50 countries to being present in 100+ countries in the next three years. We also plan to quadruple our topline in five years. At the product level, something new is in the making set for a reveal in 2024.
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