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Asim Arshad: Charismatically Consistent & Self-Driven

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Going back in time, Asim Arshad hailed from a city in northern India called Kanpur, where he completed his schooling. Post completion of senior Cambridge, he was sent to Aligarh Muslim University by his father to get a better understanding of the religion, as having studied in an American school, his understanding of the religion was minimalistic. Being a decently good student, he graduated with a Masters in History.

Hailing from an Indian family, the career choices provided by parents and grandparents were limited – either become an engineer, doctor or enrol in the civil services. The latter was an obvious choice as his family consisted of a lot of IAS officers. So, the civil services it was, and preparations began in full swing, until a fateful meeting just two months before the exams. Arshad was approached by Travel Corporation of India (TCI), the largest travel company (then) in India, to join them as a management trainee. The lure of an office in a five-star hotel and travelling the world caught on to him, which made him take the plunge in Agra with TCI for a starting salary of Rs 250 in 1977.

Travel being his fascination and more a rare commodity in those days, was very appealing as it put Arshad in a different league. An induction was conducted along with SITA Travels (then SITA and TCI had a joint programme, a first of its kind) and subsequently given different scopes of work. He began in Delhi, trained for while before being moved back to Kanpur. The move was strategic, as the company felt, he hailed from the same city and studied in an illustrious school, so obviously, there would be connections with business families such as the Singhanias; this, in turn, could be good for business generation. However, the move to a smaller city from Delhi did not appeal to the ambitious Arshad who decided to move on. After having worked for a year and a half.

The Middle East calling began in 1978-79 when he landed a job in Oman through an advertisement in Times of India for a starting salary of OMR120 plus accommodation. The job gave Arshad his first taste of the region but was limited. Having worked in Oman for two years, he set his sights on Dubai, which for fulfilled with an opportunity to work with Orient Travels.

The Journey Begins

Arshad joined Orient Travels in March 1981 and as the saying goes, ‘there was no looking back’. He was promoted to sales manager in 1983 and subsequently, given the responsibility to lead the organisation in 1986. Being a relatively small organisation of just 25-30 people when he joined, he was probably the youngest manager in the region and wasn’t even sure, if the company would retain him for long but was optimistic about the opportunity. The first three years in the company were very tentative, not just about growth but retaining his position. However, in his opinion, God had other plans for him. The years though tentative helped Arshad grow in confidence and since then, his titles have changed but has been in the same position for 27 years.

Being the largest privately-owned company in the UAE, Orient Travels has come a long way to a strong employee base of 600 people with varied business operations. The company was established in 1963 with the vision of the President, HE Sheikh Faisal Bin Khalid Al Qasimi to develop tourism by taking a leap of faith. Being the second oldest travel company in the UAE, the changes adopted have proved successful such as the move from being headquartered in Sharjah and facing its own challenges to establishing itself in Dubai in 1990. The company has also been through several partnerships such as Instone Group, ATPI Group, Agencia (part of Expedia) and eventually, a successful working relationship with Carlson Wagonlit Travel (CWT).

The game-changer for Orient Travels was the partnership with CWT, being the biggest travel management company in the world. This also gave Orient Travels, the regional footprint as it meant expanding operations in new countries such as Kuwait, Qatar, Bahrain, and Oman. This was a major change. Today, the parent company – Orient Travels – has diversified into several verticals namely Orient Corporate with one of the largest retail networks in UAE; a GSA division with several representations of carriers; the outbound leisure department and inbound DMC (Orient Tours) which is the oldest established in 1982 and one of the largest DMCs in the region.

Having overseen all the verticals and heading the whole group in these years as CEO, Arshad was completely handed over operations under his portfolio just two years ago.

Industry First

Arshad is very proud of his achievements, which is evident from the many firsts in his life. He has witnessed the birth, emergence, and growth of four to five major carriers namely Emirates Airline, Etihad Airways, Air Arabia, flydubai and Qatar Airways in the region. This is a fortunate experience that not many people here enjoy. In fact, Arshad also has the distinction of being the first person to charter a flight of Emirates Airline, especially at a time, when nobody knew how to make a contract for a charter. So it has indeed been a very eventful long journey and he has thoroughly enjoyed it with a lot of good memories.

The Professional

As of 2017, he is the senior-most agency managers in the region within the travel fraternity with a lot of recognition. Arshad feels fortunate to have received this opportunity which according to him is a combination of luck, God’s grace, and his parent’s blessings. He is proud of the achievements of his company which has been consistent. Arshad also feels that all of this would not have been possible, had he not enjoyed the privilege of freedom of work by his owners. This was the key differentiator.

Arshad describes himself as a people’s person and he totally believes in his team. In his view, it is the employees that make an organisation and he is proud of his team. Many of his team members have been consistent with him for a good 25-30 years, with a lot of belief in his vision.

Donning several hats, Arshad is the present Vice Chairman of APJC (Airline Passenger Joint Committee), actively representing the UAE. He is also the only travel and tourism personnel to be listed in Forbes Middle East for three consecutive years. This to him is an honour of his achievements apart from the several other recognitions.

Motivating Factors

Arshad admires a lot of people but does not get inspired by them. What drives him are his own achievements. In his opinion, there are a lot of factors that can keep a professional constantly driven and focussed. The challenge arises when, as a professional you head an organisation for so many years, it can get monotonous. In Arshad’s case, it is the growing desire to constantly innovate for the organization at every step that made the difference. He is never content with achievements and feels no matter how old you get you should never stop learning and exploring. After all these years, Arshad still feels, he has to take Orient Travels to a different level. Being self-driven is in his DNA and is also his biggest strength coupled with a passion for work and growth. The success achieved by him has come with a lot of hard work coupled with a fair share of challenges. It is the challenges that help an individual increase their resolve. With this approach, Arshad feels that set-backs can have only two outcomes – either a person gets under pressure and buckles-in or bravely comes out. In his case, it was the latter with the help of a supportive team.

A good team in Arshad’s view is not built overnight but over-time and with a lot of effort. It is important as a leader to be modest, humble, approachable and constantly thankful of your blessings. He also feels that a person’s luck and God’s blessings play a major role as one has to be at the right time and right place to grab the opportunity. He does not believe in being carried away because it can lead to costly mistakes but be level-headed in your approach.

The Working Style

Arshad shares a very interesting thought especially for people in power. He says, “Decision making can always be a challenge for people in power. In these cases, there are two options applied – one a decision back with a lot of research but ends up disastrous. While the other is an intuitive decision, which may be the best approach based on one’s experience.”

He goes on to quote Malcolm Gladwell from Blink: The Power of Thinking without Thinking: “Being able to act intelligently and instinctively in the moment is possible only after a long and rigorous of education and experience.” Arshad very much adheres to this perspective.

Two factors that also are very important in one’s career according to Arshad is integrity and honesty. These values cannot be imbibed but are instilled in one’s upbringing over the years. He further adds that lead by example and be surrounded by the right people. As a leader of an organisation, he advises on ways to do business which should be tactical and strategic. “It is important to not just to do tactical work have a strategic vision. This is what sets an exceptional leader apart from the rest,” he affirms.

He sums up his working style as a lot of support from the owners which makes the biggest difference coupled with trust, assurance, authority and the support despite making some mistakes over the years. These factors have helped Arshad excel and in his role.

Leadership Qualities

This in Arshad’s view is a combination of a lot of things. It starts with personality – your employees should admire and look up to you; empathy for your colleagues and their families, is a simple philosophy. The outcome is employees that are well-looked, will take care of you. A good PR approach applied with employees, clients or even customers is the next quality. And finally, a strategic and analytical mind, if one lack’s this aspect, you become a short-term leader. The other factors simply come from one’s value system which is sincerity, belief in oneself and the organisation. To also be a successful leader, support from God and family is essential. He respects the fact that his family has supported him in his earlier days, when he was not present at important occasions when needed due to work. He sums it all up saying a lot of things come with a price!

On the Personal Front

Arshad had a love marriage and lives in Dubai with his wife. His family consists of a daughter and two sons, who are all well-settled in life. His wife is a career woman and has worked as a systems analyst across several banks, the government of Dubai and Emirates Airline until she decided to resign and stay at home. Arshad and his wife are proud grandparents of four beautiful kids. Arshad and his family migrated to Canada but returned to work Dubai with a Canadian citizenship. His daughter and son with their families live in the UAE while their youngest son still resides in Canada with his family.

The Explorer

Having travelled extensively in his career both professionally and personally, choosing one single destination becomes difficult for Arshad. Nonetheless, the one city in his view which makes him very comfortable is London. However, he further states that every place has something unique. He also loves Vancouver and Victoria in Canada. He describes the scenic beauty of Alaska as breath-taking especially a city called Skagway which is absolutely fascinating. He also finds destinations with a lot of historical buildings fascinating such as Paris, St Petersburg, Salzburg and overall, Austria. Among all the destinations mentioned, the one that stands out for his current passion is Thailand for its Golf. Arshad feels the destination offers Golf enthusiast value for their money which is unmatched anywhere else.

Donning Different Roles

He describes himself as a committed husband and a good son to his parents. However, he considers himself a strict, conservative, traditional and protective father but a wonderful grandfather to his grandkids.

On a Lighter Note

Arshad has always been up to something, as a child, he enjoyed being a stamp collector like all other kids. He describes himself as a competent and passionate sportsman, being an athlete in his younger days. He has played a lot of cricket and table tennis which even continued in Dubai. However, the passion for Golf took over since the last 20 years. A passionate and addictive Golfer is best what describes him and his passion for the game has won him several trophies. Coming from India, cricket is his next love because it is more of a religion there. This is closely followed by Tennis. He is such a Tennis enthusiast that he keeps a track of every single tennis players in the last 30 years.

Movies, Music & More

He does not consider himself a movie buff but does watch movies in theatres. In the recent years, his kids have got him addicted to watching series on Netflix to the extent that he downloads the series and watches them on his flights. His favourite movies are Mughal-E-Azam and Sholay (Bollywood) and The Shawshank Redemption and Godfather 1 (Hollywood). He has even seen Godfather 1 more than 70 times. He is a very passionate and avid reader, loves to read management books and is a big fan of John Grisham and autobiographies. Music is more of an Indian flare with the likes of Mohammed Rafi, Hemant Kumar, and Kishore Kumar.

Food

Arshad considers himself a complete foodie and loves all kinds of cuisine. However, he is an absolute seafood lover and loves seafood preparations in either Thai or Japanese style especially the Sashimi or Teppanyaki. He does not cook but keeps promising his wife that he will learn to cook one day.

Principles of Life

  • Honesty and Integrity
  • Determination to succeed
  • Responsibility for your staff
  • Contribute to society in some way
  • Be grateful for your blessings