How It Started
When Ashok arrived in Dubai in 1977, selling insurance wasn’t part of his plan. His initial job at a contracting company paid just AED 13 per day. After finding a role as an insurance broker, he quickly developed a real passion for the industry, especially within life insurance. Ashok spent the next 17 years building a large and loyal customer base, but felt that whilst his career was progressing nicely, he could help his clients even more if he had the freedom to do things his way.
“I didn’t feel there were enough options available for those I was serving. I had established a great client base, but I really felt I could offer them more if product and service constraints were removed. So, I started Continental in 1994 to provide better insurance solutions with more options to my clients. This was the primary driving force behind starting the business.”
Understand the Business Landscape
Despite an ever-changing and challenging global economic environment, there are still countless opportunities for business in the region. Entrepreneurs are drawn to the UAE, and there’s plenty of room for growth with more and more smaller businesses opening each year in Dubai. However, there continues to be a trend of SMEs struggling to succeed after launching. Whilst it’s difficult to get exact figures, some estimates suggest that as many as eight out of ten businesses fail within their first two years in Dubai.
“Business owners must be strategic in order to grow their business. I have seen a number of people over the years achieve initial success but then, too soon, look to diversification. Unfortunately, I’ve found this approach rarely brings success. Focus is incredibly important for a business; on the core strengths of your business; on creating a fantastic product; and delivering consistently over a sustained period of time. People often say ‘don’t put all your eggs in one basket’, but I disagree. Put all your eggs in one basket and really look after that basket.”
Set Clear Goals
Many business owners, even if they manage to survive for a few years, get consumed in day-to-day operations. They spend too much time working ‘in’ their business as opposed to ‘on’ their business. But there can be a way to avoid this problem.
“Whether you’re a startup or an established business, you need a plan for growing your business. Set goals, make them ambitious, and push yourself to achieve them. It’s easier to grow 10 times than 10%. Growing a business 10 times excites me, and motivates everyone around me.
It’s imperative to regularly review your performance to see if your goals have been achieved. I’d say that five years after Continental was formed, we’d achieved 10% of our goals. Now, while we’ve likely succeeded in achieving 100% of our original goals, I’d say we’ve only achieved 5% of our current goals.”
The Continental Culture
One of Continental’s goals from the outset was to create a company culture that works, which means that it doesn’t only exist in name but in action. It starts with the physical space, which at Continental HQ, is progressive. But the people in that space will always be more important than any office space.
“From the very start, we’ve placed a huge amount of time and investment in creating a closely-knit team. Many of our brokers have been with us from our early days. We’ve always looked to hire talented people in the industry. We place a huge amount of trust in our team. We give them freedom to explore new ideas and to take risks, if they feel it will benefit the business. We have created an environment where people shouldn’t feel restricted in what they can achieve or apprehensive about discussing new ideas. We have staff initiatives and celebrate our events and successes together. The look and feel of our office are designed to create a positive working environment, a place where our team looks forward to coming into work each day. People say that, ‘if you look after your clients, you’ll have a client for life’, but this applies equally to your team.”
A Final Thought
“The final piece of advice I’d give for anyone reading this is the power of relationships in business. The day I arrived in Dubai, someone offered me a bed in an air-conditioned room. My plan had been to spend my first night in a tent. This person not only became a close friend, but also became one of my first clients. People want to work with people. Creating powerful connections and building strong relationships with your employees, clients and vendors is an incredibly powerful tool for your business that will more than pay for the time you invest.”
Dedication, focus, determination, and the willingness to work with, and for, those around you – those have been the reasons for Continental Group’s success for a quarter of a century. And it’s those values that help us provide exceptional services to clients so that their own businesses can thrive and grow.
“Be honest with yourself. Has your business achieved success due to someone’s help? Remember to return the favour and help others succeed. This leads to a brighter future for us all.”