Ashraf Motiwala: Inspiring India through the art of jewels
Selected as India’s Inspirational Leader 2020, Ashraf Motiwala, Managing Director of AS Motiwala – heritage jewellery – rose finished the jewellery industry in India to emerge as a Fine Jewellery maker.In Conversation with Ashraf Motiwala: The ‘Fine Jewellery’ Maker.
Years of working in the industry, your contribution reflects versatility and volubility. What has influenced your decision making process at various stages?
Personally, it’s just two decades of work, butI have over 100 years of legacy that has directly or indirectly influenced my decision at different times. Since 1905, the Company and its promoters have won trust of the multitude, one individual at a time. This organic growth did cost us sizable market share. However the contentment was huge and business safe.
I was determined to change this and started learning everything there was to learn about the trade. I joined in the year 2000 and started at absolute rock bottom of design and manufacturing process – at our factory in the highly congested kalbadevi in Mumbai. That was my first tryst with the real skill and techniques of jewel making. Every little step grew in importance and I absorbed every minute detail like a sponge. The next set of learning was understanding raw material further- for which I went to GIA (Gemological institute of America) in Carlsbad, California in 2002. I learnt the nuances of diamonds right from mining, cutting , polishing and assorting (grading ) the Diamonds and precious stones before graduating from this prestigious institute.
The way forward emerged from here. I was fascinated by the Italian designs and manufacturing specially their finish that were way ahead of the rest of the world. So I deep dived into it geared to learn everything and bring home a defining finish to our business. I was determined to translate heritage value with high finish and be an exporter of ‘Made in India’ jewellery to the rest of the world.
The dream was shaping and chasing this growing phenomenon, I moved to Thailand as most places in Europe and America chose to outsource their jewellery from Hong Kong and Thailand. Here I worked as a diamond & precious stone grader for a jewellery export house.
When I look back I realise that right from the very beginning, I always pictured myself to be the person who changes things for the better and most importantly get the company to stay relevant and it’s this dream that led me from one decision to other shaping a very meaningful journey of discovery all along.
An accomplishment that you consider to be the most significant in your career?
I think the biggest accomplishment was the crescendo I felt after I put all my learning into practise. A decade of deep learning manifested itself into something completely new. A completely new product unit, with state of the art machinery, best technology, both in manufacturing and polishing and to top it all a brand new flagship store at one of the most coveted address in Mumbai, Bandra.
The newness only begins here – we moved away from yellow gold then dominating the market; we disregarded round brilliant cut diamonds that the Indian market so adored back then. We had understood these fixations and chose to utilise these blind spot to the rest of diamond shapes and finishes as an opportunity.
For the first time ever for anyone in the Indian jewellers industry, we took a bold step – we introduced other 8-9 different shaped diamonds. We knew mere new shapes would not be enough, so a radical change in design was bought about – to top it all we manufactured it using rose/pink gold instead of the most preferred yellow.
From a company playing safe to innovation leaps in every aspect of design and manufacturing aiming to being nothing less than trend setters – the risks were huge –but I was confident on this being the future of jewellery and we went all in and launched it as Fine Jewellery in an all designed 6000 sq ft of sheer luxury with unprecedented in store customer experience.
I now can boldly state; When a store is made up of 80 percent rose gold and fancy shape diamonds jewellery, in a never before seen design and finish- alongside deliberately left 20 percent of the usual yellow and white gold pieces, in typical designs is opened, with a mind set to serve your customers something new… Magic happens
This powering moment of pioneering & retailing rose gold jewellery with all the different shapes of diamonds in India way back in 2008, till date to me beats all other accomplishments of my career.
How do you integrate corporate philanthropy or corporate social responsibility as a part of your business strategies?
To us at A S Motiwala, Corporate Philanthropy and CSR are two step processes to nurture and nourish our environments. Identifying and being true about our involvement to the cause is how we see it. The extra mile to reach our customers in top notch form is our way of integrating a take away for our clientele. 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 jeweller. 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 CSR efforts though diversified have a single agenda to make a better tomorrow for all. A defined percentage of earnings are donated directly from our stores towards social causes that include girl child
education, for children with special needs or differently abled kids, acid survivors and even for environmental cause like planting trees and giving back to Mother Nature.
What has been your driving force or philosophy in life?
My Grandfather’s principles have been the founding principles of my life. Earlier my enticements in business were the sparkles and the celebs before I was directed by him. I still remember the ‘by 2’soup and the precise advice he gave me on my first day of work.” Ashraf, when you say a piece contains a certain amount of natural diamond carats, make sure its .001 extra not .001 less.” This definition of trust drilled down to .001 has truly been a driving force that has instilled honesty and trust in our business and relationships
I am blessed with a team that shares this philosophy. It’s this ability to offer what we seek for ourselves that fuels our constant innovation, strengthens customer service and keeps our quality control top notch. Internally at ASM too, every potent idea is rewarded with thoughtfully crafted perks as in a family would. The best ideas win simple joys of life like 5 star dinners and tickets to amusement park etc. an activity that has kept us close knit and well grounded.
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. We definitely like to do more. However, we every year channelize certain percentage of our profits into philanthropy.
To us charity begins at home. We start first with our employees and their families, we help manage their weddings or any emergency that they have not anticipated or are prepared to deal with. We also have worked with some NGOs and supported varied issues. (Girl child education, children with special needs and acid victims) we hope our help today will help them to build a better tomorrow for all.
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, your efforts fructify, when you stand out in an ocean full of jewellers for what you offer: when something so special is achieved–when it’s done on your terms,with all the ethics and values you believe in, when your intention too are acknowledged and well received, that is success to me.
Our brand translates this to the tee. It has won over 25 national and international awards for our design, quality and our business practices. Also, to us, it’s not about how much more you can earn but, how many more can you convert to your way of thinking and how many lives can we touch in the process.
I believe, we are jewellers and people come to us mostly to landmark personal victories, celebrate milestones or happy occasions. For them to choose us, to share this joy with us 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?
True, this constancy is progress. We believe in innovation, we believe in adding value in all spheres. Our products use state of the art machines, so we can offer our products the best possible way it can be offered. 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 excess weight. We make our products close to 20-30 percent lighter in gram weight as compared to the traditional way of working; which many jewellers are still doing cause the cost of investment in machines with duties etc being high.
We took that call earlier on; to offer our products the way we would want them – cheaper than the next person and also with finished that’s far better than what’s prevalent in the market. This thought process worked out for us very well and now we not only retail pan India but we also export our jewellery to some of the finest jewellery stores in Hong Kong.
It’s a dream come true for me. I have always wanted to reach the highest standards of manufacturing and Hong Kong used to be the place that does it the best. Imagine my delight when some of the finest stores in Hong Kong now buy their finished product from us in India.
In your opinion what is the most significant aspect of leadership?
Being 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 kind of attitude’. I keep myself very approachable and at the hierarchy of being the Managing Director,I am 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 an hourly basis. I don’t settle for the title of being called boss and all my team either call me by my first name or as Bhai (Brother) which is a lovely Indian way of saying you’re 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 nature of being is to be empowered. We live in a day and age of constant change and varying perceptions. The only way to address this situation and to succeed is empowerment.
Most, if not all, who work at ASM have space and authority to wield, as long as it’s within the framework of honesty, integrity and transparency. Innovations don’t flourish if you do not empower your team. I feel this is strongly lacking in my industry and people are too constrained by their own fears to empower people around them…
First you work on yourself, your belief systems and then align it with your keys personnel. Once they get the mission statement deeply engraved I their psyche, then you let them make decisions and grow to build on their own confidence and gain respect within the organisation.
One thing you wish to change and one thing you wish to retain about your industry?
Transparency: It really is lacking in our industry. There are so many jewellers 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.
I would retain 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 that seals the deal. The paper work follows later but initially it’s only a
handshake that becomes a form of entrustment. I find that fascinating.
One thing you have to let go off as an entrepreneur/leader?
As a leader the buck stops at you. A calm exterior is a boon to this chair. However, I am wired and charged up as an individual. Forecasting industry trends, building new design trends and managing business is something that is purely instinct driven and an adrenalin rush to me. I want to learn to get hold of the anxiety that comes with it and just start trusting the process more. The task is to balance between being anxious and being confident. For anyone who works in a creative field 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 it to everyone who has helped me be me. My success has many stakeholders: My entire team at ASM, who unfailingly back and walk the talk with me, day in and day out.Our loyal patrons who believe in what we do and constantly cheer us to reach the stars.
My Father, who without even understanding my vision fully still backed me and eventually built his trust in it. My Mother for convincing Him, and last but not the least my wifewho at a very early stage in my career, believed in me, in my vision and the changes I wish to see in our business. Shewas and is the constant rock support of 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, who offer so much to learn and with the rapport a jeweller shares with his people, it’s something I find extremely special and rewarding. I feel this is one of the few businesses that allow you to meet such fascinating set of 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!