Selected as WCRCLEADERS, World’s Best Emerging Leaders 2022, Vach Pillutla, CEO, Al Ikhsan Sports is a dynamic business leader with sharp and strategic acumen that propels growth and nurtures superlative values.
What makes a strong leader? What are your key leadership strengths are make the strongest attributes of success?
In my opinion, what makes a strong leader is his/her ability to show empathy towards one’s employees and aligning them successfully towards company goals and objectives. In my view, one of my strengths as a leader is to always provide a context to whatever decisions are being made and clearly communicating the direction that I want my employees to take. Additionally, I also believe in coaching and guiding my team members so that they are able to maintain the pace. My attempt is to do all this fairly and with a very clear KPI driven approach. In all this, it is important to monitor and measure how the organization is tracking vis a vis the KPIs and the destination.
An accomplishment that you consider to be the most significant in your career? What challenges did you face to reach to the success?
In my view, the fact that our business has grown tremendously well over the past 5 years despite headwind is one of the key accomplishments. Our sales grew 50% and profitability grew 400% between 2017 to 2019. We are all aware that the world has been suffering from Covid for the past 2 years. Despite the tough conditions, we have managed to deliver a consistently profitable result with our market share increase.
What is a role of leader in these challenging times.
- Coach and retain your best employees and keep them motivated
- Ability to manage uncertainty and deliver consistent profit
- Ensuring that too much cash is not locked up in inventory
- Nurture a strong and healthy ecosystem of vendors, consumers and partners
- Invest heavily in digital and ensure continuous engagement with consumers
What is your vision and how do you share that with your shareholders, employees and others?
My vision is to build Al Ikhsan into a world class organization with over 50% market share within multi-brand sports retail category by 2025. Ultimately, our goal is to list this company within the Malaysia stock exchange, thereby making this the first Bumiputera retailer to list on the stock exchange. When I had taken over the Al Ikhsan Sports in January 2017, I had shared my goal objectives, mission and vision along with the 5 years business plan. I have quarterly and annual discussion with my board in terms of how we are tracking and regular town halls every quarter with my employees where we communicate our results.
How do you drive active business innovations and how does that impact your subordinates?
From my perspective, business innovation essentially entails a shift in the way we think and approach our ultimate destination. The destination never changes, but the speed and agility are what determine success. For sure not everyone would equally understand the impact of such changes or innovation on themselves or others. To this end, I always try to give a clear context to the employees and how this change will benefit them.
How do you integrate corporate philanthropy or corporate social responsibility as a part of your business strategies?
Corporate social responsibility is a key part of our DNA and our corporate philosophy. Every year, we set ourselves a clear goal as well as a budget in terms of reaching out to maximum people and students from the lowest sections of the society. This strategy is executed through our team of 7 CSR team members, as well as our shareholder (Ekuinas) and other partner associations.
What has been your driving force or philosophy in life?
My driving force has always been to build immense value for any organization that I have worked for. To do this, the first thing is to identify the core purpose of the organization. Every organization must answer one simple question, “Why should the consumers choose me over the competition?”: Through a structured vision, mission and purpose statement with clear strategic pillars, any organization can become a strong force within its own area of business. This is my core thought process.
How do you plan to drive your business at a global level?
My goal is to first accomplish substantial market share within Malaysia over the next 3 years, and then expand. Once we achieve the expansion, I believe that our business model which offers absolute value to consumers looking for their daily sporting needs, can easily be expanded into Middle East, North Africa and Eastern Euro as well. All this will need to be fuelled by joint ventures or partnerships with key retailers in the respective markets.
How do you define success and how do you measure up to your own definition?
Life is like a balance sheet; on one side you have assets – what you are able to give (help, advise, guidance, money, support and understanding). On the other side you have liabilities – what you constantly take or receive from the others. The difference between assets and liabilities is your equity or net worth (reputation, goodwill, image and finally happiness). Therefore, the secret to being successful is to constantly give and not receive.
In your opinion what is the most significant aspect of leadership?
Successful leadership is the ability to build a lasting legacy and a strong bench-strength of future leaders who can execute on a long-term vision of the organization. All this must be done by ensuring that due platform and environment is provided to young and capable managers within the organization.
Your perception of an empowered society. How far your industry has/can contribute for the same?
An empowered society is one where the consumer has the freedom to make his own decisions and choices. In our industry, our goal is to try and empower the consumers by bringing a wide variety of products from global brands at the most affordable price points and allowing them to make choices in a friendly environment rather than offering them just one brand. From that perspective, we offer a very clear customer journey by individual category rather than by brands.