Ashish Panjabi
Ashish Panjabi of Jacky's Group: "During the pandemic, It really was the case of not having enough – of TVs, iPads, laptops - in the market…” Image Credit: Clint Egbert/Gulf News

Dubai: Re-write the rulebook…. Or get disrupted.

That’s the one message global businesses have been told will happen to them if they don’t learn some hard lessons imparted by COVID-19. But for Ashish Panjabi, that’s a bit over the top.

Yes, change needs to be made, but not necessarily the wholesale ones that management consultants are shouting about. Or CEOs fear they will be forced to make.

“The fundamental principles of business have not changed despite the pandemic,” said the Chief Operating Officer at the tech and electronics retailers Jacky’s. “How you get there, the channels you use have changed… a little bit. That’s it.

“The one thing that’s always going to be there are markets. The question is finding where the markets are.”

Constant learning... Ashish Panjabi has never been one to get too comfortable with not having change. Sonia Shah/Gulf News

Minus the ripples

That’s been the Panjabi way of doing business ever since he came on board the family-owned business over 20 years ago. With him, it’s never about making the big splash, but finding the right wave to ride on.

This time, with the pandemic still influencing how lives are led and businesses operate, those waves will be created around education, healthcare and digital.

“We are seeing a lot of start-ups,” he said. “In robotics, we have seen a lot of solutions developed. We tied up with Microsoft to offer solutions to schools.

“For healthcare, we are selling queueing systems. Another product we launched last year was escalator sanitisers - we installed these in Abu Dhabi airports. Now, this is a business that would not have existed a year ago.”

Ashish Panjabi, Jacky's Group
Panjabi was always convinced about robots and robotics having more of a role to play - the pandemic has only reinforced that opinion. Image Credit: Clint Egbert/Gulf News

Tech is the core

Looking at the UAE and Gulf’s business landscape, it’s apparent that even at a time of distress, the power of a business idea will still find a resonance.

“Dubai is a base for many things, technology being one of them,” the COO added. “To go with the tide and stay on top of our game, Jacky’s ventured into new areas. One of the things we did last year was venture into robotics business and we are seeing adoption of that technology.

“Another thing we got into in a big way is 3D printing solutions. “There has been a rise in demand… we are seeing that.”

Dip his toes

Panjabi joined the family business in 1999–2000. Before that he was working Kong as a finance analyst.

“At one point, I did not want to leave Hong Kong to come and live here,” he recollects. “Hong Kong was well-known for its speed and dynamism.”

Panjabi holds a bachelor’s in science with specialisation in finance, investments and economics from Babson College in the US. With a finance and investments major, Panjabi was naturally tasked with looking into that area of Jacky’s business.

“That did not last very long - My nature is such that I was jumping into other areas,” he said. “One of the first things I looked into was the e-commerce side of the business. At that time, Amazon was still a bookseller. That is when Jacky’s started selling online in UAE changed from being a mail order company. We were initially based in Jebel Ali Free Zone.”

Spread the entrepreneur spirit
Ashish Panjabi is current president of the UAE Chapter of TiE (The Indus Entrepreneur), where the focus is on fostering entrepreneurship through mentoring, networking, education, funding and incubation.

He is a board member on the Dubai Computer Group (DCG), which operates under Dubai Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

A past president of the Entrepreneur’s Organization (EO) UAE Chapter, Panjabi created the UAE version of the Global Student Entrepreneurship Awards in 2017.

Keep channels open

During the pandemic year, Panjabi doubled down on keeping all communications going.

“End of the day, we realised everyone is part of the same eco-system,” he said. “We had to keep talking to customers, suppliers, government entities or those in the business fraternity. And we realised success can be achieved by being compassionate, understanding and having a dialogue with stakeholders.

“When your stores are shut for a month, you need people on your side. If you are willing to stay calm, be cordial, it all pans out well.”

Talking specifically on the period during the sterilisation drive when stores were shut, Panjabi said it was a learning experience. “During that period there was no rulebook. People were falling sick - how do you deal with that?

“Fortunately we were able to get through all of it. If today I talk about the pandemic, the numbers and the growth of the company are just aspects of it. There is a gamut of things that enterprises have had to learn and deliver.”

Learning curve

“There were a number of webinars we organised or attended,” the COO said. “Education was key. We even organised webinars covering areas like banking.”

Some good fortune too

Jacky’s business year operates from July 1 to June 30…. And when the pandemic struck, this had its benefits. “So, we were in our fourth quarter during the lockdown period and this meant we had enough time to re-strategise for the next financial year starting July 2020. We knew how to get it going for us.”

Panjabi sure knows how to ride the wave…