Leadership Redefined: Tariq Chauhan, Group CEO, EFS Facilities Services Group Impact is the name of the game for the Group CEO of EFS Facilities Services Group.
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As the Group CEO of the UAE-headquartered EFS Facilities Services Group, it's safe to say that Tariq Chauhan knows a thing or two about effective leadership- and according to him, it requires one to look inward to see outward. "A true leader must be self-reflective," Chauhan declares. "And self-awareness is yet another critical need for those in leadership positions. Being erroneous at times or failing in business is not a sin. It is integral to the risks of doing business- but openness to learn from these mistakes is essential. Not owning mistakes and blaming others is counterproductive. I therefore strongly advise leaders to be self-aware of their own strengths and weaknesses, and even if the outcome is negative for no fault of theirs, it is imperative to accept that there are risks beyond one's control. However, mitigating them is their responsibility by virtue of their pole position as leader."
It becomes clear here that it is with this stance that Chauhan has gathered his thoughts on leadership in his corporate advisory, Getting to Resilient Mode. Chauhan says that he had long held an idea of writing a book, but it was an invitation from the publishing brand, Forbes Books, that prompted him to start on it in 2021. In addition, the onslaught of the COVID-19 crisis in 2020 served as a reminder of the significance of business resilience, and therefore determined the topic of his book. "Over the last few years, I have gained valuable lessons on resilience, both from external experiences, and my own professional journey marked by several failures," he explains. "Then, I started working on the book by using my early hours every day for writing, putting together multiple chapters. I was inspired by the European Foundation for Quality Management (EFQM) Model [a globally recognized management framework that supports organizations in managing change and improving performance], utilizing its principles to structure the various elements of my book. As for the impact, I was confident that the book would resonate with many individuals."
Getting to Resilient Mode has already received bestseller status on e-commerce giant Amazon, specifically in the "strategy and competition" and "business leadership" categories. In addition to it being well received among readers, Chauhan has decided to further ensure the book's positive impact by announcing that the proceeds from its sales will go towards improving the lives of frontline workers. This announcement was made at the book's launch, which was held in the presence of the Indian Ambassador to the UAE, H.E. Sunjay Sudhir, at the Mohammed Bin Rashid Library in Dubai. When asked to summarize the key lessons from his book, Chauhan lists three. "It is important to pursue impact by assessing the outcomes and results therein, not just efforts," he explains. "Secondly, don't fear risk, and even if the outcomes are not positive, introspect your learnings to correct your future action. Thirdly, continue to embolden your values to create goodwill and self-sustainable moral and ethical guidance."
As Group CEO of EFS Facilities Services Group, Chauhan leads one of the fastest- growing companies in the MEASA region, with it having seized a global opportunity with the help of determined and committed employees from 35+ nationalities.
Source: EFS Facilities Services Group
Now, Chauhan is someone you certainly wouldn't think twice about going to for business advice, given that he leads EFS Facilities Services Group, a global leader in delivering integrated facilities management services that is poised to cross US$1.5 billion in revenue this year, having achieved compounded annual growth of 19% over the last decade. With its workforce already crossing 25,000 in number, Chauhan now intends to continue to focus on growth and expansion of the group's footprint by adding Iraq and Malta to the 23 countries it currently operates in. "The distinguishing feature of EFS Facilities Services Group is its 12-year client retention of over 95% of its customers," Chauhan adds. "At the same time, the group continues to add the finest and most of the most prestigious client portfolios from iconic and giga projects in UAE and Saudi Arabia."
However, after so many years in business, Chauhan knows that it is not realistic to talk about only business highs- he therefore also admits that EFS Facilities Services Group is currently facing several challenges as well. "There is a continuing onslaught of reduction of margins owing to client pressures, competition, and cost escalation, that we are trying to address through innovation and cost reduction," he says. "Another issue is overall service cost escalations. EFS has adopted a lean strategy in managing its costs, and taking steps from working capital costs to its operating costs, from productivity of its human resources, supply chain, to its logistics costs. The company has set a target to reduce 20% of its cost of sales, while trimming its overheads."
The third and the biggest challenge his business is facing, Chauhan adds, relates to the rising capital expenditure and working capital needs. "Due to clients' demand for longer deferred terms of more than 120 days in tenure, the pressure is immense," he explains. "The company is addressing this by implementing improvements in its receivables management, aiming to achieve an average days sales outstanding of less than 90 days. In the backdrop of banks' tightening of interest rates, the cost of capital is going up. To meet its growth targets, the company needs additional working capital, whilst it also has to invest in capital expenditure to fund its innovation in both technology and machinery that will help eventually in boosting profit margins."
Looking beyond the current business challenges, Chauhan has chosen to base the growth strategy for EFS Facilities Services Group on three pillars. "Firstly, we focus on growing through new business and variations to maintain low pressure on overheads, as well as on growing the top line to ensure economies of scale in order to contain the over heads, and maintain our desired net profit margins," he says. "Then, we focus on innovation, service excellence, and a lean approach to be more competitive and stay ahead of competition. Lastly, we aim to bring efficiencies in service delivery through upskilling to boost manpower productivity, building a robust shared services model, and streamlining supply chain. The objective is to boost margins."
EFS Facilities Services Group CEO Chauhan with the group's employees.
Source: EFS Facilities Services Group
Here, I understand that Chauhan's patience and commitment -or, in other words, his attitude of keeping his head down and simply working hard- is also evident through what he is not telling me. In my interview with him in 2018, he had talked about his grand plan to build a $1 billion organization that would have to "employ about 100,000 people, and these people and their families would enable me to make an impact on a larger percentage of the population." And given the leaps the business has seen in the last couple of years, be it with its gains in revenue, or the increase in employee numbers, it does seem like Chauhan is very close to achieving this particular goal of his.
Meanwhile, in addition to his work at EFS Facilities Services Group, Chauhan holds a number of board positions, which includes being a founding board member of the local chapter of the UAE India Business Council (UIBC). When he speaks about the UIBC, Chauhan suggests that this is an entity that people in the business realm would be wise to keep an eye on, given that India and the UAE have recently signed the Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA). "UAE-India bilateral trade is poised to grow to over $1.5 trillion in the next 10 years, and so there is a great prospect for two-way business between the two countries," he says. "I highly recommend that entrepreneurs seize this opportunity on both sides. The UIBC's mandate is to identify such scalable businesses. We have already identified a few opportunities, and very shortly, some of them will be unveiled. My advice is to carefully evaluate these, and do your homework, and just not rush without a proper business plan, due diligence, and assessing the relevant viability."
Zooming into the UAE, Chauhan praises its ideal positioning as a global center of trade and finance. "It not only provides the ease of doing business, but offers an ideal ecosystem for business professionals to prosper and excel," he says. "The e-government services, transparent cost structure, and global access are its salient features. For doing business in the UAE, entrepreneurs have access to regional markets and opportunities across the globe." But while he recognizes that the UAE offers many opportunities for startups, Chauhan also calls for more macro efforts from all stakeholders to develop a more supportive structure for startup companies in the nation.
"They need a framework, a guide, because there is a lot of potential, but there is also lot of naivety in young entrepreneurs rushing into business with little planning," Chauhan explains. "Also, early-stage financiers are putting themselves at risk by not evaluating the preparedness of these startups with strong disregard to financial risk parameters. Due to lack of organizational basics, many of these companies are failing. Following the business plan guidelines, to prudent management of resources, is a common issue. I am indeed involved in guiding some of these companies, and I am looking to work with them to develop a prudent business and risk framework for them."
As such, Chauhan's advice for entrepreneurs is for them to remember that the core success of any business depends on people, structure, and systems. "It's not just the vision, mission, and values, as these are envisioned once the core business framework is in place," he explains. "So, choose the right people, define the structure to align with the business in focus, and then develop the right systems that encompasses compliance, governance, standard operating procedures, industry best practices, apt technology, and infrastructure. It's essential to evaluate every aspect of the business plan from market dynamics, product offering, risk management to its seamless execution by choosing the right team."