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Diving Into An Ocean Of Cash

Harry Gandhi started his own business after losing his job. With supercars and luxury villas, he’s not looking back.

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Since its inception 22 years ago, Unique Maritime Group (UMG) has grown from a company with three employees to more than 500; a local business to an international operation with five divisions across seven global regions; and a foray for Himanshu (Harry) Gandhi into entrepreneurship within the oil and gas industry that was purely accidental.

“You’re not born a businessman, you just become one when you grab an opportunity,” he says.

It’s a blistering Middle Eastern morning en route to meet him in Sharjah, United Arab Emirates, where UMG’s headquarters are located in the Hamriyah Free Zone, an industrial area far from the glamour of Dubai, its emirate sibling.

The quintessential businessman, Gandhi has 25 years of industry-savvy and a knack for seizing opportunities to form partnerships and acquire companies to expand his empire. His initiation into entrepreneurship was by chance, but his success has been no accident.

The son of an electroplating engineer born into a middle-class family in Mumbai, Gandhi started out on a different path with a chemistry degree from Bombay University, later studying computer science in Singapore when his father was transferred there in 1981.

A programmer with Associated Onshore Offshore Services (AOOS) in 1984, Gandhi quickly graduated to sales engineer, ultimately being given the opportunity to open a Middle East branch in Dubai as general manager. The future looked bright but Gandhi was about to meet his first challenge.

“In 1986, there was a big oil price drop and they decided to withdraw from this area,” he says. “I presented my then chairman with a plan and basically became owner with him of the company – so I got into business because my employment was shutting down.”

Restarting in 1993 as UMG, the company grew as a specialized equipment supplier providing offshore and onshore services including the sale, rental, manufacturing and servicing of equipment to the oil, gas and marine industries.

UMG evolved as oil and gas opportunities in the Middle East grew and Dubai became an international hub. Today, Gandhi has grown the business by looking beyond Middle Eastern shores. His investment in African companies has seen technology out of the continent excelling in one of the biggest oil and gas industries worldwide.

One such company in Cape Town, Unique Hydra, began as a small team of engineers. Approaching Gandhi with their diving engineering equipment, he recognized its quality and began selling it in the Middle East. Seeing the potential for growth with financial and commercial help, he provided infrastructure and resources, gave them challenging hi-tech jobs overseas and set up a huge factory.

“The amount of talent we have in South Africa is incredible,” says Gandhi.

As a result, Unique Hydra has grown from a small equipment manufacturing company to the leading diving equipment supplier to the world.

Much of UMG’s technology is developed on the Unique Hydra premises; Gandhi says his company has grown overseas due to their business in South Africa. UMG has spent the last three years investing in research and development there which has culminated in a new product: HYDRACraft. A marine vessel that is used to support diving operations.

“It’s more out of Africa and we globalize it,” says Gandhi.

Also operating in Nigeria as Unique Wellube, exporting their services to various industries, Gandhi says UMG wants to keep growing in Africa. Opportunities exist from Angola, Ghana and Gabon to Kenya and Tanzania.

“As a group, for us, 25% of the market comes from Africa, so we are going to regionally diversify there.”

Gandhi has witnessed a transformation in Africa’s workforce in the last decade.

“There is a lot of demand from the workforce to educate themselves further so that they can economically grow themselves and that is very amazing.”

Building a multinational operation hasn’t been easy.

“Today, I face the same challenge I had when I was a three-man company; finding the right people to do the right jobs and to be loyal.”

Dr. Saeed Alhassan, Director of the Gas Research Center and Assistant Professor at the Petroleum Institute in Abu Dhabi, agrees.

“Sustainable development of the human capital is among the most challenging aspect of the oil and gas industry because training and retaining top notch talent requires a good deal of investment; aligning human development with business strategy has to be accounted for.”

Gandhi says oil and gas is a good industry because of its growth cycle.

“The demand for oil is continuing to grow; there is still not enough oil in the world to take care of the final demands of people.”

He says oil and gas is cyclical and in his 25 years in the industry he has witnessed three cycles.

“It’s the case of it consolidates, it grows, it consolidates, it settles down, then it will grow again.”

Tomorrow is always on Gandhi’s mind, but today he acknowledges he wouldn’t have amassed such success without his team. He says good camaraderie makes employees family and if they value company culture, the organization will always succeed.

Gandhi expects to reach seven divisions in three years by growing UMG’s business lines, appealing to the same customer with different technology.

“We innovate, we learn, we buy the technology or we acquire a company doing that and so we build or business.”

He enjoys giving back, from the Lighting a Billion Lives campaign (LaBL), a solar lighting initiative where he helped light up 23 villages across India, to partnering with the EKAL Vidyalaya Foundation in India to fund 50 schools for impoverished children.

For this CEO, success isn’t represented by his Lamborghini with its elite three-digit license plate or his villa in the posh Emirates Hills district in Dubai; hard work is paramount.

“I still work from nine to five every day!”

Entrepreneurs

Leaving Airplane Middle Seats Empty Could Cut Coronavirus Risk Almost In Half, A Study Says

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A new research paper from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology estimates that blocking out the middle seat on airplanes could cause the likelihood of passengers being infected with coronavirus to drop by nearly half, just as some airlines are starting to book flights to capacity again.

KEY FACTS

  • According to the MIT paper (which has not been peer reviewed) the chances of catching coronavirus from a nearby passenger on a full airplane when all coach seats are filled is about 1 in 4,300.
  • However, those odds drop to 1 in 7,700 when all the middle seats on board are left empty, the paper states.
  • Taking into account a 1% mortality rate according to the statistical model, the likelihood of dying from a coronavirus case contracted on a plane is far more likely than dying in a plane crash, which has odds of about 1 in 34 million, the paper stated. 
  • In “Covid-19 Risk Among Airline Passengers: Should the Middle Seat Stay Empty?” the author of the study, Arnold Barnett, wrote that his analysis aims to be “a rough approximation” of the risks involved in flying during the coronavirus pandemic.
  • “The airlines are setting their own policies but the airlines and the public should know about the risk implications of their choices,” Barnett told ZDNet this week.
  • The paper comes just as more flight carriers, like American Airlines, begin booking flights to full capacity despite surges of the virus across the country. 

KEY BACKGROUND

The coronavirus pandemic has been disastrous for the travel industry, and has especially hurt airlines. Major American carriers including American, Delta and United have asked employees to take buyouts and early retirement, Forbes reported, in a bid to cut costs as the pandemic causes them to bleed cash. United Airlines warned this week that it could be forced to furlough 36,000 jobs, or nearly half of its American workers, starting in October if travel doesn’t pick up. In April, the airline estimated that in the first quarter it lost $2.1 billion pre-tax, Forbes reported, and was losing $100 million a day in the last half of March. Boeing CEO Dave Calhoun said in May he expects a major airline to go out of business in 2020 as a result of pandemic pressure.

NEWS PEG

American Airlines announced two weeks ago it would begin booking middle seats again starting in July, although the carrier will allow passengers to switch from a full flight without any extra cost, Forbes reported. United is also selling tickets for middle seats. American Airlines took flak earlier this month when Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) tweeted a picture of his crowded flight

WHAT TO WATCH

If airlines continue to extend their policy of keeping middle seats blocked off or if they’ll be forced to book to capacity to turn a profit. Southwest and Delta have both committed to keeping their middle seats blocked off until at least the end of September, while JetBlue will do the same through July, according to the Washington Post.

Carlie Porterfield, Forbes Staff, Business

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Entrepreneurs

From The Arab World To Africa

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Sheikha Hend Faisal Al Qassimi; image supplied

In this exclusive interview with FORBES AFRICA, successful Dubai-based Emirati businesswoman, author and artist, Sheikha Hend Faisal Al Qassimi, shares some interesting insights on fashion, the future, and feminism in a shared world.

Sheikha Hend Faisal Al Qassimi wears many hats, as an artist, architect, author, entrepreneur and philanthropist based in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). She currently serves as the CEO of Paris London New York Events & Publishing (PLNY), that includes a magazine and a fashion house.

She runs Velvet Magazine, a luxury lifestyle publication in the Gulf founded in 2010 that showcases the diversity of the region home to several nationalities from around the world.

In this recent FORBES AFRICA interview, Hend, as she would want us to call her, speaks about the future of publishing, investing in intelligent content, and learning to be a part of the disruption around you.

As an entrepreneur too and the designer behind House of Hend, a luxury ready-to-wear line that showcases exquisite abayas, evening gowns and contemporary wear, her designs have been showcased in fashion shows across the world.

The Middle East is known for retail, but not typically, as a fashion hub in the same league as Paris, New York or Milan. Yet, she has changed the narrative of fashion in the region. “I have approached the world of fashion with what the customer wants,” says Hend. In this interview, she also extols African fashion talent and dwells on her own sartorial plans for the African continent.

In September, in Downtown Dubai, she is scheduled to open The Flower Café. Also an artist using creative expression meaningfully, she says it’s important to be “a role model of realism”.

She is also the author of The Black Book of Arabia, described as a collection of true stories from the Arab community offering a real glimpse into the lives of men and women across the Gulf Cooperation Council region.

In this interview, she also expounds on her home, Sharjah, one of the seven emirates in the UAE and the region’s educational hub. “A number of successful entrepreneurs have started in this culturally-rich emirate that’s home to 30 museums,” she concludes. 

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Kim Kardashian West Is Worth $900 Million After Agreeing To Sell A Stake In Her Cosmetics Firm To Coty

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In what will be the second major Kardashian cashout in a year, Kim Kardashian West is selling a 20% stake in her cosmetics company KKW Beauty to beauty giant Coty COTY for $200 million. The deal—announced today—values KKW Beauty at $1 billion, making Kardashian West worth about $900 million, according to Forbes’estimates.

The acquisition, which is set to close in early 2021, will leave Kardashian West the majority owner of KKW Beauty, with an estimated 72% stake in the company, which is known for its color cosmetics like contouring creams and highlighters. Forbes estimates that her mother, Kris Jenner, owns 8% of the business. (Neither Kardashian West nor Kris Jenner have responded to a request for comment about their stakes.) According to Coty, she’ll remain responsible for creative efforts while Coty will focus on expanding product development outside the realm of color cosmetics.

Earlier this year, Kardashian West’s half-sister, Kylie Jenner, also inked a big deal with Coty, when she sold it 51% of her Kylie Cosmetics at a valuation of $1.2 billion. The deal left Jenner with a net worth of just under $900 million. Both Kylie Cosmetics and KKW Beauty are among a number of brands, including Anastasia Beverly Hills, Huda Beauty and Glossier, that have received sky-high valuations thanks to their social-media-friendly marketing. 

“Kim is a true modern-day global icon,” said Coty chairman and CEO Peter Harf in a statement. “This influence, combined with Coty’s leadership and deep expertise in prestige beauty will allow us to achieve the full potential of her brands.”

The deal comes just days after Seed Beauty, which develops, manufactures and ships both KKW Beauty and Kylie Cosmetics, won a temporary injunction against KKW Beauty, hoping to prevent it from sharing trade secrets with Coty, which also owns brands like CoverGirl, Sally Hansen and Rimmel. On June 19, Seed filed a lawsuit against KKW Beauty seeking protection of its trade secrets ahead of an expected deal between Coty and KKW Beauty. The temporary order, granted on June 26, lasts until August 21 and forbids KKW Beauty from disclosing details related to the Seed-KKW relationship, including “the terms of those agreements, information about license use, marketing obligations, product launch and distribution, revenue sharing, intellectual property ownership, specifications, ingredients, formulas, plans and other information about Seed products.”

Coty has struggled in recent years, with Wall Street insisting it routinely overpays for acquisitions and has failed to keep up with contemporary beauty trends. The coronavirus pandemic has also hit the 116-year-old company hard. Since the beginning of the year, Coty’s stock price has fallen nearly 60%. The company, which had $8.6 billion in revenues in the year through June 2019, now sports a $3.3 billion market capitalization. By striking deals with companies like KKW Beauty and Kylie Cosmetics, Coty is hoping to refresh its image and appeal to younger consumers.

Kardashian West founded KKW Beauty in 2017, after successfully collaborating with Kylie Cosmetics on a set of lip kits. Like her half-sister, Kardashian West first launched online only, but later moved into Ulta stores in October 2019, helping her generate estimated revenues of $100 million last year. KKW Beauty is one of several business ventures for Kardashian West: She continues to appear on her family’s reality show, Keeping Up with the Kardashians, sells her own line of shapewear called Skims and promotes her mobile game, Kim Kardashian Hollywood. Her husband, Kanye West, recently announced a deal to sell a line of his Yeezy apparel in Gap stores.

“This is fun for me. Now I’m coming up with Kimojis and the app and all these other ideas,” Kardashian West told Forbesof her various business ventures in 2016. “I don’t see myself stopping.”

Madeline Berg, Forbes Staff, Hollywood & Entertainment

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