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Sat 15 Aug 2009 04:00 AM

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Golden opportunity

Firoz G Merchant is the founder and chairman of Dubai-based Pure Gold Group.

Golden opportunity
Merchant says that now is the time to buy jewellery because of its sustainable price.
Golden opportunity

Firoz G Merchant is the founder and chairman of Dubai-based Pure Gold Group.

What did your father do?

My father ran a real estate company. I used to go to work with him to see how the business was run, but I didn't like the real estate industry much. When I first came to Dubai and saw the Gold Souk I just had this feeling that I wanted to work in the jewellery business. I told my father that he should diversify and he thought I was mad. "Are you crazy?" he asked me. "You have your own family business - why are you doing this?"

That day I made my decision. I told my father that I couldn't work for the family firm and he told me that he would never give me a single penny.

So how did you start the company?

I started Pure Gold as a brokerage firm, buying from one place and selling to another. I didn't have any money, but at the time it was very easy to do that.

I used to go to the Gold Souk and ask stores if I could supply them with gold bars. The shop owners would ask me for two pieces and I would tell them I will bring it in half an hour. Then I would go to another shop and ask for the two bars, and tell them I didn't have any money. They would then send a messenger with me and I would pay him after I had sold the bars to the first shop. I earned around AED10-25 in commission. Slowly I built up the capital to open my first shop in the bazaar.

Who do you most admire and why?

For leadership, HH Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, and in life, my father. My father was like my university. He always said: "How much you are educated is not important, it is what you learn that is important." He taught me that the best university in life is the university of the world. I still keep this in my mind today. I am always learning; my whole life is a learning process.

What is the worst management mistake you have ever made and how did you fix it?

The business world is constantly up and down so whenever the down time comes, I try to be positive. I think it is good to correct and good to understand, but I never think of a time as the worst time.

I did struggle when I first arrived in Dubai but it wasn't the worst time. At the end of the day I started my own business. The first day I earned AED10-15, I was happy.

What's the best way to sack someone?

First of all, I don't like to sack people; not unless they have made a major mistake. If someone makes a small mistake, I try to educate them. Everybody has a capability. You cannot, for example, tell the office boy to take over the running of a business. He has a capability, so you have to understand his capacity and give him work according to this. Would your wife recognise your character in the workplace?

When I am at home I am a father and a husband, and when I get to work I believe in professionalism. If I bring sentiment into the business, I cannot run it properly. Sentiment is for the home, professionalism is for the office - after all, they say the church is run by the padre and the business, the professional.

Today, my son is the CEO and managing director of the company. He takes care of the day to day business - the system - while my daughter looks after the diamond division and our sunglasses business, La Moda.

Do you think, based on your management skills, you could manage your national football team?

I can manage anything in the world, because I am a very positive man. I always believe everything is possible. You can do anything. The only things you need are ethics and principles. If you are ethical and have principles, nobody can touch you.

How are you reacting to the current economic climate?

This year is a challenging year, not just for me, but for everyone. As everyone knows the world economy has changed as a result of the global financial crisis. The challenge is to sustain and survive.

We are very lucky. In the last five years the Pure Gold Group has had tremendous growth and expansion. So this year for us is a year of consolidation, correcting any mistakes we have made and stabilising ourselves.

So far we have lost about 15-20 percent. If we maintain 15-20 percent I would consider us very lucky.

When did you decide you wanted to be a businessman?

Even in childhood I was very ambitious and aggressive. I have five brothers and my father took me into the business at the age of 10, at the same time I did my studies.

Business was my passion and when I went into the business my father was always teaching me what he was doing, what he wanted. I was always in the shadow of my father. Wherever my father went, I always followed him. My father taught me how to be a good businessman and my mother taught me how to be a good person.

Finally, do you have any tips?

Gold is extremely volatile at the moment. People should be diversifying from gold to diamonds.

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