BBC World News commissions eight-part series; The Ideas Exchange

BBC World News’ eight-part series, The Ideas Exchange, pairs up business leaders from around the world to debate today’s business landscape and their secrets to success. The final episode brings togetherthe largest distributor of chemicals in the Middle East and the founder of Charles Tyrwhitt, a quintessentially British men’s clothing company.

Yogesh Mehta now runs the largest distributor of chemicals in the Middle East, but was virtually penniless when he moved to Dubai in 1990, after a business in his native India failed.

“I was in the last stages of my financial ruin when I thought of coming to Dubai. My friend came to Bombay where I was living in absolute poverty with almost no money and he said what’s happened to you and I said well I don’t have any money.

“It came to a point where electricity in my house was cut off. I was always sleepless and worried sick as to what I would do. There are times that you think shall I end my life? The only thing that kept me going was my sense of confidence and conviction and belief in myself.

“Having failed miserably back in India I did not want to fail again so I said let’s start at the beginning, know the market, know the buyer, know the seller. At that point I was then looking for a financier. Four months later I did find a company with deep pockets who wanted to invest in chemicals.”

By 2007 Petrochem Middle East’s annual growth was running at 18 per cent, but the company lost a lot of money in the global recession a year later.With huge losses to recoup, Yogi went on a bold spending spree in his core business.

“The chemical prices were so low that I thought they could not get any lower. We invested in large stocks, thinking that the prices would move up, and we bought very wisely. And those chemicals that I bought at that time became more and more profitable for us.”

Petrochem Middle East now has offices all over the world.

Nick Wheeler founded Charles Tyrwhitt, a British men’s clothing companyin 1986 when he was still at university. He had inherited some money, but later expanded his capital with a calculated investment in a classic car. Charles Tyrwhitt’s flagship store is now located on Jermyn Street in London, which is famed for its exclusive gentlemen’s outfitters and sells $170 million of goods a year.

Nick Wheeler said: “It doesn’t matter whether you’re the biggest company in the world or the smallest corner shop in the world, you know, you have to think about it as being one customer at a time.

“I’ve never really been one for doing huge amounts of market research and really thinking through things properly. I think of something, I think it’s a good idea and I just go for it.”

In 1994 the company went into receivership after dabbling in children’s wear.

Wheeler said: “I have this rather annoying habit of making mistakes. Now we were a mail order men’s shirt business and we completely went off the rails and bought this business, and it was an absolute unmitigated disaster.

“The lesson that I learnt from that was that you really need to focus. We lost more money in three months than we’d made in the previous three years.”

Nick managed to salvage the business and got it back on track by focusing on its original successful formula; smart clothes for men at work.

“We don’t want to be on every street corner. We don’t want to be a sort of mass market company that you see everywhere. We want to be special. We trade very heavily on being Jermyn Street. People recognise Jermyn Street Piccadilly London as being the centre of shirtmaking excellence.”

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