Mon, 26 August 2019
My guest today is Farooq Kathwari, the Chairman, President, and CEO of Ethan Allen Interiors, Inc., an American furniture chain founded in 1932 with more than 300 stores across the world. Farooq has a new book coming out on September 3 titled: Trailblazer: From the Mountains of Kashmir to the Summit of Global Business and Beyond.
He has a truly fascinating life story, some of which you will get to hear today. Our discussion today covers a lot of ground including how his background shaped his approach to leadership, the immigrant mentality to work, the six leadership principles he created over 35 years ago that his team still follows today, and how to get people around you to think like an entrepreneur.
Farooq’s journey to his current role inside of Ethan Allen has been a very unique and inspiring one. He grew up in an area of conflict and he and his family became refugees and were forced to split up. At the age of 20, he made his way to Brooklyn, New York where he attended NYU at night and worked as a bookkeeper for a printing company during the day.
He also worked hard as an entrepreneur to sell arts and crafts to stores like Bloomingdale’s and Lord & Taylor. He later was hired as a junior financial analyst at Bear Stearns on Wall Street where he succeeded and therefore was recruited to set up an investment company. All the while he still sold his arts and crafts. It was at the investment company that Farooq was introduced to the co-founder of Ethan Allen, Nat Ancell.
He had a partnership with Ethan Allen which later on led to a merger. When he was in his 30s, he became the head of Ethan Allen.
How has his past shaped his approach to work and entrepreneurship? Farooq says, “When you say immigrant, you can also use the word entrepreneur. When you leave your home, when I came here with enough money for, I think about five or six months to survive, well, you have to be entrepreneurial. So immigrants, by nature, who leave their homes, who travel, have more of an entrepreneurial attitude, because not everybody from every other world leaves. It's a few people who leave. They've got to have that DNA to be able to leave, to take risks. Immigrants also take risks.”
He also truly believes in treating all people with dignity and respect. He brings that belief into his role as a leader and tries to empower his employees. When he first started as the head of Ethan Allen he met several thousand employees from different locations and he said something shocking which was, “The main job of a leader is to help their people become better. If the leaders don't do that, people have a right to revolt.” Farooq says helping people become better is “a very critical factor in leadership. Leaders don't think that their job is to make people better.”
Farooq has all of the company’s managers and leaders write a report for him every single week. In the report, they can share things that are working well, things that need improvement, and issues they are having with any employees.
This practice came from one of the leadership principles Farooq created 35+ years ago. He still follows all of these principles today. They are: