Ashraf Motiwala: India’s Inspirational Leader 2020
Selected as India’s Inspirational Leader 2020, Ashraf Motiwala, Managing Director of AS Motiwala heritage jewellery is inspiring the industry with the art of jewels. Mixing traditional with contemporary to inspire.
Years of working in the industry, your contribution reflects versatility and volubility. What has influenced your decision making process at various stages?
Ans : personal work experience is close to two decades . being the 5th generation of a jewellery legacy and backed with over a 100 year legacy (1905). The company and the promoters had won the trust of soo many families , but somewhere along the line the competition grew and our market share started to diminish . we had stop being inventors and started following a safe path , cause the family at that point felt taking any extra risk would not necessary mean more market share and somewhere the promoters felt content with their offering . When I joined the business in the year 2000 I went with the grass root level approach , so I started at the absolute bottom of the design and manufacture processes . I used to spend most of my days at the factory which was in a congested area of kalbadevi in mumbai . I got a first hand glimpse of how to manufacture jewellery and all the technical know how. the practical knowledge according to me was soo relevant cause I feel my mind was a sponge absorbing every time in real time . in 2002 I left for further studies to really understand the raw materials better ( diamonds , gold and precious stones ). I graduated in diamonds from the prestigious institute GIA (Gemological institute of America) in Carlsbad, California and learnt every little thing right from mining, cutting , polishing and assorting (grading ) the Diamonds and precious stones .
I was always fascinated with the way the italians used to manufacture their pieces . they were way ahead of the race and there was something so superior when it came to their finish of the product . So I dug deep into it and learnt everything I had to to bring about this change in my business . I was determined to translate high finish in our country and be an exporter of made in india jewellery to the rest of the world. Most places in Europe and America use to outsource their jewellery from Hong Kong and Thailand, so I moved to Thailand straight after my graduation from GIA an worked for a exporter of jewellery there as a diamond grader. From the very beginning , I always pictured myself to be the person who changes things for the better and most importantly wanted to keep the company relevant.
An accomplishment that you consider to be the most significant in your career?
In 2008 after doing all my research, understanding design, manufacture and observing jewellery trends for over a decade, I decided that it’s time to put the learnings into practice. Equipped with all my learnings, I decided to setup an all new product unit , state of the art facility with all the latest and best technology in terms of machines & polishing units along with an all new address for our flagship store in Bandra .
Next set was the design and manufacturing. Most of my competition or the market was dominated by yellow gold and round brilliant cut of diamonds . Indians for some reason had this fixation that only round brilliant diamonds have and hold value and the other different cuts of Diamonds do not. That was the loophole I was looking for but I knew just setting different shapes of stones will not be convincing enough I had to radically change the way it’s designed and produced and finally finished, I took another bold never done before step in India. We introduced diamonds of all shapes (8-9 different shapes ) besides the hugely accepted rounds diamonds and we manufactured it using rose/pink gold instead of the yellow. It was a Huge risk but I was convinced that this is the future of jewellery so I went all in . Being the pioneer of rose gold jewellery with all the different shapes of diamonds in India was accordingly to me my most significant accomplishment in my career . When a store is made up of 80 percent rose gold and fancy shape diamonds in a never before seen design and finish and deliberately left 20 percent of the usual yellow and white gold with the typical way of design… Magic happens . We had patrons seeing the beauty of this new gold colour and loving the way we designed with so many shapes to play with rather than the usual round. We supported this new jewellery termed as “ Fine jewellery “ with a whole new flagship store in bandra with 6000 sq feet of space with never before seen in store customer experience.
How do you integrate corporate philanthropy or corporate social responsibility as a part of your business strategies?
Our factory and our retail stores have been certified by quality brands of India for the past five years (2014-2019) .all of our jewellery is 3rd party certified by one of the largest laboratories in the world IGI ( international gemological institute ). There are a lot of jewellers who do not offer third party certification of their stones and a customer has no choice but to have that faith in their jeweler. While trust is hard earned I decided to do away from that notion and wanted to create a very transparent way of conducting business. Profits are of course important for any business to sustain and thrive, but we put social responsibility too on the same plane and in our list of priorities . our store donates a certain percentage of earnings towards social causes like girl child education, for children with special needs /differently abled, acid survivors and even plating trees and giving back to mother nature with the intention of trying to do our bit in leaving a better world for the future generations to come.
What has been your driving force or philosophy in life?
I truly believe that to break the rules you must first master them. I also believe that any business needs to have a level of fluidity and innovation is the only constant that works . No man’s an army and I truly believe its having people who share this vision is most important. Right from our skilled workers, to our technicians to our back and front staff all share this dream of being honest , hard working and doing for others what you would like done to yourself. I am blessed to have a team that share this philosophy and hierarchy does not take precedence. We have a think week every 2 months and all of employees contribute to it with their ideas, the ideas that get voted on by top management those are rewarded with small but thoughtful perks (a dinner with the family at a 5 star or even a trip to an amusement park.
I have been very close to my Grandfather and have imbibed his principles in my life.
I used his principles of honesty and added few new dimension to it , I put constant innovation , quality control and customer service to it.
My grandfather and I shared a very special relationship. I can without a doubt say that he was one of the finest they come, always putting his family first even if it meant that he didn’t live a life as many of us today see as a good life ( today the version of a good life means u travel to exotic destinations , dress in branded clothes , drive expensive cars and have great meals ). He instead used to work to save money and empower his children with it. I always used to wonder why he didn’t take many holidays and travel the world, why he after being so successful in his times did not crave a life full of luxuries and rather see his children and grandchildren enjoy that side. He was so selfless and so self made but his principles and ethics were so strong. This reminds me of my very first day at work I was all of 20-21 years when I started my journey. I was so eager to step into this world cause I would see the glamour attached to the business, the sparkle of diamonds and all that comes with it was something that was tough to resist. He called me into his cabin made me sit down and order a soup for us to share in a 1 by 2 format ( he believed that sharing was always the best way to do anything in life. Once we had our soup he told me: “Ashraf remember in life u have to be sincere with yourself and every one who walks into that door, pointing towards our main entrance. If you say that, you are giving 18 carat gold, ensure when tested that is 18.1 not 17.9. When u say a piece contains a certain amount of natural diamond carats ( weight) make sure its .001 extra not .001 less. What u say and what u give have to be absolutely the same cause people are putting their trust in the company and invariably in you. Yes if after being truthful you feel u need to earn more for the efforts you have put in the sourcing and designing of the product, please do that, but don’t cheat and earn.”When i joined work and wanted to stay on and work, my grandfather told me to come back the next day to work. He asked me to ponder upon the lesson he had told and come back with a mind filled with hope, trust and an ability to provide our best to our customers.
What are the other philanthropic works you are involved in?
Being a company that’s relatively new (retail relaunched in 2012 ) and with investments in new locations ( 9 stores pan india with the Taj group of hotels), we are still getting there in terms of reaching our potential of our philanthropy. But we every year put aside a certain percentage of our profits into philanthropy . We start first with our employees and their families manage their weddings or any emergency that they have not anticipated or are prepared to deal with. We have worked with some NGOs and supported different aspects (girl child education , children with special needs and acid victims).
How do you define success and how do you measure up to your own definition?
Success is the cumulative of all that you wish to see in the world. When your ideas are received well , when you stand alone in an ocean full of jewellers but you offer something so special and with all the right ethics and values, the intention of yours gets accepted and well received, that is success to me .
Our brand has won over 25 national and international awards for our design, quality and our business practices. It’s also not about how much more you can earn, and how many more can you convert to your way of thinking and how many lives we get to touch in the process. We are jewellers and people come to us mostly to mark personal victories, birthdays or marriages. For them to choose us to share this joy with and to entrust us with their money. That feels a lot like success to me.
We are constantly making things better, faster, smarter or less expensive. In other words, we strive to do more with less. Talk about a recent project or solution to a problem that you have made better, faster, smarter or less expensive?
Our products use state of the art machines, so we offer our products the best possible way we can. Our machines and design process (CAD /CAM , 3D printing ) help us in many ways to reduce the cost., i.e. shorter time to manufacture = lesser man hours and cheaper labour and production cost and with these machines we manage to scoop out any extra gold in terms of weight we make our products close to 20-30 percent lighter in weight of grams as compared to the traditional way of working which many jewellers are still doing cause the cost of investment in machines with duties etc are high . we took that call and decision that even if it cost us we have to offer our products cheaper than the next person and also finish it far better than what’s there. This thinking worked out for us very well and now we not only retail pan india , we also export our jewellery to some of the finest jewellery stores in Hong Kong. It was a dream of mine to get to high standards of manufacture and Hong Kong used to be the place that does it the best . Imagine my delight that some of the finest stores in Hong Kong to buy the finished product from us in India .
In your opinion what is the most significant aspect of leadership?
Be a good listener. Always have the zest to learn something new and respect opinion of others. I feel a leader cannot have the typical ‘I know it all attitude’. I keep myself very approachable and in the hierarchy of being the managing director im just a call away. My team has direct access to me at all time via Mobile groups and I like to be aware of the workings on a hourly basis. I don’t settle for the title of being called boss and all my team either calls me with my first name or brother (Bhai ) which is a lovely indian way of saying your family .
Your perception of an empowered society. How far your industry has/can contribute for the same?
I truly believe that a person’s truest form of being is to be empowered. We live in a day and age of constant change. We see so many shifts in perception in todays’ time so the only way to address this situation and to cross hurdles along the way is empowerment. Most if not all who work at ASM have space and have authority to bend but as long as it’s in the framework of honesty, integrity and transparency. Innovations will not happen if you do not empower your team. I feel this is strongly lacking in my industry and people are too worried to empower people for whatever personal fears . First you work on yourself, your belief systems and then align it with your keys personnel. Once they get the mission statement deeply engraved, then you let them make decisions and grow in form of confidence and respect within the organisation.
One thing you wish to change and one thing you wish to retain about your industry?
Transparency: It really lacks in our industry. There are so many jewelers out there who will sell inferior products or diamonds and not disclose it. It’s very tough to compete when it’s not a level playing field. One thing to retain is surely the bond we share with our people. This is an industry of trust and high ethics. It’s amazing how this industry exchanges parcels worth millions in the form of diamonds and sometimes it’s just a handshake is what seals the deal. The paper work follows up but initially its only the handshake that becomes a form of entrustment . I find that fascinating.
One thing you have to let go off as an entrepreneur/leader?
I am wired and charged up as an individual. Forecasting trends, new trends and business is something that is purely instinct driven. I want to learn to let go of the anxiety that comes with it and just start trusting the process more. Have to balance between being anxious and being confident. For anyone who is in a creative line this comes as a challenge, so it’s a work in progress for me right now
Who do you owe your success to?
I owe my success to a lot of people. My entire team at ASM who back and walk the talk with me day in and day out. My Father, who without understanding my vision fully still backed me and eventually had the trust in me. My mother for convincing my father, our loyal patrons who believe in what we do and stand for and are the main reason for us to repeatedly try and reach the stars and last but not the least my wife who at a very early stage of my career, believed in me and heard me talk constantly about the changes I wish to see in our business. She still is a constant rock support in my life.
Best thing about your job?
The best part of my job is meeting people. The company and I have been very fortunate to be well received among HNI, bollywood fraternity, heads of states, sport legends, past, present and future and even royal families from the middle east and far east. It’s a lovely feeling to be in touch with some of these personalities, so much to learn and with the relation a jeweller shares with them it’s something I find extremely special. I feel this is one of the few businesses out there that can make you meet such fascinating and great personalities
A message from you to all the future entrepreneurs/leaders?
Think out of the box, do not be afraid to dream, be an eager learner, a good listener and most importantly surround yourself with people who bring out the best in you and force you to level up!