A day in the life of Vidya M. Chhabria of Dubai retailing powerhouse Jumbo

As Chairperson of electronics and tech group, Vidya is always going for the bigger picture

September 29, 2022
Gulf News

Dubai: Vidya Manohar Chhabria is in no doubt as to what she brings to her role as Chairperson of Dubai’s Jumbo, the electronics-to-tech-to-IT services group.

“My focus is on the big picture. Jumbo under my late husband, Manu R. Chhabria, heralded the era of consumer electronics in the UAE. Fast forward to the present, we are now a diversified business with an integrated growth strategy offering so much more.

"On average, Jumbo sells one phone every two minutes and four laptops every hour."
- Vidya Manohar Chhabria

“We work hard to keep alive and nurture entrepreneurial spirit and integrity – the two values I have imbibed from my husband. I take my role as mentor very seriously."

That means being hands on with setting the direction for a multi-billion dirham family business that also has a presence beyond the UAE, and which since 2020 has been carving up new growth opportunities into higher margin enterprise and IT services. But it’s a hands on management style delivered with the gentlest touch.

It was in 2002 that Vidya found herself cast in the role of Jumbo’s Chairperson after the quite untimely passing away of the group’s founder. (Manu Chhabria was 56 at the time.) Those were uncertain times for the retail sector, particularly that related to electronics and tech. The smartphone category was just beginning to shape up, while ecommerce was seen more as a pretender vis-à-vis physical stores.

In the years since, Jumbo has shaped – and reshaped – itself to be in sync with changes to the way the business of retail gets done here. Much of that was in evidence when the pandemic hit.

Reassess priorities
“COVID-19 forced us to relook at and reassess our priorities in life,” said Vidya. Now, there are many ways for remaining productive - without taxing ourselves too much. I make the most of the tools and avenues to stay connected, without marring the lines of personal space and time.

“Jumbo has been in existence in the UAE for nearly five decades. We have shaped a stable organization by prioritizing long-term goals over short-term gains and developed an operating framework that’s pillared by an advisory board, empowered teams and solid governance processes.

We have a diligent Board – an experience-rich mix of internal and external stakeholders – who are actively involved in strategic planning and the selection of key management positions. As individuals with a global outlook, the Board members bring critical thinking and perspective to steer the ship in the right direction.

Our people are empowered to perform the business’ essential daily functions without micromanagement. It gives me the bandwidth and time to offer strategic inputs on various aspects of governance.

“I’m personally invested in all matters on Jumbo.”

Does that mean less or no time for leisurely lunches? Or switch off from work by, say, 6pm?

“That’s an interesting question - but I don’t see it being raised to a man,” is how Vidya deflects that one. “I make time for meaningful social engagements. I’m passionate about children’s education and employee welfare.

“I never really afford myself the luxury of completely switching off from work. I’m available 24x7 to my team for guidance.”

Much more to it than selling electronics
In any conversation about retail, it’s inevitable that it would veer towards online vs. physical, what the next big wave in electronics could be, and how much of change should an entity like Jumbo bring about to stay on top of those changes. And how soon should change within the organisation should come about.

“We have embedded ourselves deeply into the consumer market,” said Vidya by way of statement of intent. “On average, Jumbo sells one phone every two minutes and four laptops every hour. Of all the gamers in the UAE, 74 per cent use a video game console that is brought to them by Jumbo. While 90 per cent of calculators in use in the country is distributed by Jumbo as well.

“While retail continues to be a stronghold, we are consistently carving a niche for ourselves as a trusted service provider in the consumer tech space. Today, we have a robust presence across enterprise, distribution, logistics and managed IT services in the UAE and poised for more consolidation and steady growth in the coming years.”