TBY talks to Pankaj K. Khimji, Director of Khimji Ramdas, on the evolution of the sector, the company's current portfolio, and educating the public.

Pankaj K. Khimji
Pankaj K. Khimji graduated from Hammersmith & West London College in Building Construction Engineering. He is also a keen cricketer, being the Director of the Oman Cricket Club and Executive Board Member of the Asian Cricket Council. He was Director of the Board of the National Bank of Oman from 1998 to 2003. Since 2007, he has been the Chairman of the Oman-India Joint Business Council.

How has the retail industry developed over the past decade?

Over the last decade, there has been a very recognizable growth spurt in the income levels of lower middle-class families and working-class families. In the last two years, we have seen a rise in minimum salaries from $300 to $800. A minimum base salary of $800 for an unskilled Omani worker boosts trade hugely in the retail industry. Another factor in the evolution of the business environment over the past decade has been the consistent investment in education, health, and infrastructure development. These are the key elements in ensuring the success of any economy. We have seen very sizable growth despite the global downturn, which had little or no impact on Oman. Given the high levels of spending we have witnessed recently, there has been a certain amount of inflation, but this has been reasonable and controlled.

What is your retail presence in Oman?

We have close to 55 retail consumer grocery stores, including forecourt stores at fuel stations. We also have many luxury retail outlets, but we are more focused toward consumer retail and consumer grocery retail. This is a growth area for us, and we are actively evolving our offering. Our friendly neighborhood stores have done well, and we have made good penetration in the smaller towns of Oman. We are not focusing on the urban sprawls, but the smaller towns around Oman. We want to be the local neighborhood store.

How is the logistics side of the business developing?

We have grown the logistics, but now we really need to consolidate it because if the growth network and infrastructure in Oman is going to be shifting out of Muscat and into the south, then we will have to re-orientate our provision substantially toward the southern region. We are building large, fully integrated warehousing units. One building in particular will be the largest single warehouse in Oman at about 27,000 sqm in size. It is in Barka, about three kilometers beyond the airport. That is where the logistics hub will be in the next three to five years' time.

How important is your brand portfolio?

Most of our brands, including Rolex, Swarovski, and Pizza Hut, have been with us for over 20 years so we understand their philosophy in terms of marketing reach and they understand our ability and our distribution network. It is a win-win situation when we partner with such large brands. It is the distribution within Oman that is important. The volume isn't there; we are not as big as Saudi Arabia, and we are not as big as some North African countries, but we are certainly doing well for ourselves. They know that we are reliable and we do our job diligently. This has been an area of consistent success over the years. I am sure that each of our profit center managers will be looking at expansion, both organic and through new business ventures and joint ventures.

How important is training and education?

We do not view education as a means of earning profits. We use education as part of corporate social responsibility (CSR) efforts and as a message that we need trained, skilled people. When we hire people, we need to train them according to our requirements given the absence of sufficient academies for skilled development. By setting up our academies we not only train our own future employees, but those of the nation. We have made a major contribution to setting up Muscat University, which is going to be established by the business people of Muscat. This will be a university for innovation and quality education. We wanted to set up a pure business school and did this alongside Symbiosis University, from India. We are a business family and feel we must give something back to society.

What Omanization initiatives do you promote?

We have taken a very pro-active role in the Omanization scheme. We are consciously aware of the fact that we need to employ local people and get them to really start working and appreciating what work culture is all about. We try to take on young people and retired young officers from the services and induct them into our system. We have done well. We have grown from having 300 plus Omani staff three years ago to about 2,000 now. We have about 4,000 employees in total.