Vishesh Bhatia
Vishesh Bhatia Image Credit: Gulf News Archives

Dubai: UAE-based Indian business captain Vishesh Bhatia, who passed away on Thursday, was one of Dubai’s original retail and marketing whizzes.

Bhatia, 74, had been ailing for some time. He died in Dubai.

He first made his mark in the 1980s as the city went about being a retail destination for the region and, soon, the rest of the world.

During his years with Al-Futtaim, where he headed the watch division, and then at Jumbo Group, where he had two stints at the top, Bhatia was the consummate retail guru, constantly looking for opportunities that could translate into competitive advantages.

“If I remember right, he was a chartered accountant by vocation - and he was a whiz at numbers,” said an industry source who had known him since his initial years in Dubai. “But apart from his focus on numbers, he had that retailer’s vision for the bigger picture.”

Bhatia worked in Dubai since 1978 and his four decades in the electronics distribution and retail market were recognised when the award of Indian CEO of the Year 2012 (Electronics) was conferred on him.

Bhatia was Jumbo Electronics’ chief operating officer between 2000-01 before leaving for a brief stint at the Al-Futtaim Group. He returned to Jumbo and took over as its CEO in 2012.

“He had a role in bringing in brands – reputed names – to these markets when the UAE and other Gulf markets were deemed too small by big names. I think he was also among the first in the local retail industry of that time to realise that malls were going to be the next big thing. Because until then, no local retailer could think beyond a high-street presence,” said the source.

In his later years, Bhatia was keen to make a mark in e-commerce.

It never bothered him that the retail industry as he had known it was changing out of sight, said one of his former colleagues.

“It has to be said that he never stopped learning - if something new was being written about the retail sector, he had to know about it,” he added. “Through it all, he emphasized building relationships with brand principals, however obscure they may be initially. When the smartphone businesses started growing exponentially after 2010, he was right there in the middle of it. He never ever stopped feeling the buzz of retail.”