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Trust, transparency, teamwork: Anup Agarwal

The evolution of Anup Agarwal’s career has been a diverse one – it’s a long way from mobile phones to cosmetics and skin care, but that’s the path he’s taken as Director of Bright Diva International.

Anup Agarwal, Director of Bright Diva International

Of course, if not for the efforts of Anup and his fellow co-founders in adjusting to shifting market trends, the business wouldn’t be thriving today. “Like every business, ours had a humble beginning,” Anup recalls. “I had just quit my job in August 2013 and had started a trading company with Xu Chun He, who is also a co-founder and director of Bright Diva.

“We called the company Diva Communications, and it dealt in mobile phones. As with any start-up, we were working hard to build our base, but it didn’t take us long to get rolling, since Xu and I both had plenty of experience in mobile phones and the electronics business.”

But the market opportunities soon began to shrink. By the end of 2014, Anup and Xu had started considering new business opportunities. During this exploratory period, Xu was invited to an electronics seminar in Seoul by Deepak Agrawal of the electronics distributor Brightex.

Deepak would go on to become Bright Diva’s third co-founder and director, and it was during that trip to South Korea that the inspiration for Bright Diva was sparked. “On that trip, they met an old friend who said that Korean skin care was getting really popular and that there were great opportunities in the Hong Kong and China markets,” says Anup.

“After their trip, we started doing a lot of market research to understand the dynamics of ‘K-beauty’. After researching this for a couple of months, we thought we could try to start this business as the market had a lot of growth and we could see a big gap between demand and supply. Thus, Bright Diva was founded in May 2015 with a team of five people, including us three co-founders.”

“We’ve always believed that one strategy does not fit all.”

After some brainstorming, the portmanteau name of ‘Bright Diva’ was settled upon for the new company. As with Diva Communications, Anup and his partners had to work hard during those early days, but fortunately all three had a deep understanding of distribution and trading.

Rapidly establishing solid connections with customers and suppliers, the company saw double-digit growth throughout most of its first year. “Our experience in the electronic trade helped us a lot, since we knew the importance of inventory management and delivery,” Anup says.

“It was useful in ensuring Bright Diva’s model was unique and providing our customers same-day delivery. Initially, we targeted only the general trade customers – independent pharmacies – since they always had inventory management problems due to limited warehousing capacity and cash flow.

Anup Agarwal, Director of Bright Diva International

“But we’ve always believed that one strategy does not fit all. We offer tailor-made strategies to suit the needs of our partners, customers, vendors and even employees. We also believe in maintaining a transparent relationship with all our partners. For us, building trust is the most important thing in any relationship.

“We make sure we add intrinsic value to our partners’ businesses, with end-to-end distribution solutions encompassing route-to-market planning, sales and marketing, channel mapping and developing earmarked strategies, proving market insights, NPD and innovation support, and logistics. At the end of the day, distribution is all about synchronising the objectives and vision of brand owners with retailers, and meeting the requirements of end users.”

Much like Bright Diva’s strategies, Anup’s individual responsibilities have continued to evolve as the company adjusts to a changing market. At present, he focuses on talking strategy with various department heads, while also supporting them through challenges.

Anup also seeks out new business opportunities, but most crucially, he travels to each of Bright Diva’s regions to ensure alignment with local markets, while also maintaining strong partnerships with clients – all part of Anup’s ambition to make the firm a partner of choice. “I want Bright Diva to be recognised as the best distribution company in Asia,” he says.

“In the future, maybe we can achieve that across the global FMCG, health and beauty industry. We want to be the preferred strategic partner for great brands that want to establish their footprints in countries where we have a presence. In making this happen, there are a lot of challenges, but we are confident that we will be able to achieve these goals.

“Also, with success comes responsibility towards the community and society,” he adds. “We have already been doing our part by contributing and spreading awareness about breast cancer through various programs.”

“Employees with a sense of ownership are great assets for an organisation.”

Personally, Anup finds the biggest challenge is keeping pace with fast-changing market dynamics. Ensuring Bright Diva has the best and brightest talent is also an ongoing effort.

On a wider scale, cosmetics and skin care are battling IP infringement and counterfeiting, which are particularly prevalent in this industry due to the low-tech nature of products. Anup hopes Bright Diva and other companies can combat this, so that eventually customers can be assured they’re buying something that’s genuine and of good quality.

In fact, realising these strategic goals and overcoming these challenges are what motivates Anup. “When you realise that your vision, strategies and business plan that were written on paper and discussed in the meeting room are now becoming a reality, you have the motivation to do better every single day,” he says.

“At the same time, when I see all my employees coming back to work every morning with the same excitement and pride to work for this company, it keeps me going. Their prosperity is the company’s prosperity.”

Bright Diva’s employees, totalling more than 250 across nine offices, are essential to the distributor’s success. In maintaining the motivation of the team around him, Anup endeavours to ensure a kind of entrepreneurial attitude among them, to give them a sense of agency within the company. “Employees with a sense of ownership are great assets for an organisation,” says Anup.

“I strongly believe in this and encourage my team to take ownership of their work. This is possible only when you trust them, allow them to learn from their mistakes, share some insights about the future plans of the company, inspire them to maintain a work–life balance, hear them out and make an attempt to solve their personal as well as professional issues.

Anup Agarwal, Director of Bright Diva International

“I endeavour to build an employee–employee relationship with them instead of the usual employee–boss relationship. I find it eventually gives them confidence in management and reassures them about their growth in the company. We talk about things like entrepreneurship and how they can also become a business owner in the future.”

It’s a lot of work to maintain employee relationships like these, as well as relationships with partners and customers. But Anup believes it’s essential for leaders to maintain these complex networks, using what he calls the three Ts: trust, transparency and teamwork.

“I have always believed that with those three qualities you can overcome whatever problems you may face,” he explains. “When you do business, you are bound to face some issues. The key is to understand the difficulties faced by both parties and then work together to sort them out.”

For Anup, decisiveness is an essential quality for a leader; facing issues like these requires the ability to make solid decisions in any situation. He also believes a willingness to take risks is necessary in such a competitive environment.

The picture he paints of a leader, therefore, is of someone who’s bold, confident and committed, and can establish clear, concrete goals with optimism, flexibility and open-mindedness.

With many leaders, these qualities can equally be a drawback; a decisive risk-taker can also be an individual who forges ahead alone, failing to bring the company along with them on their ambitious mission.

But Anup believes in communication and inclusive leadership, providing a balance to these more assertive qualities. A good leader must not only be able to set a path for the company, but also communicate this to employees and ensure they understand exactly what they’re collectively reaching towards.

“The first step to success is to make an effort in the right direction.”

At the same time, leaders must motivate their employees to reach these goals, at least in part through leading by example. But perhaps his most crucial piece of advice is to “never underestimate yourself”.

“No matter what the circumstances or the problems are, if you give 100% and you’re dedicated to moving forward and finding a solution, you can achieve anything,” he says.

“There can be situations we have no control over, but if you believe you can do it then there’s no looking back. The first step to success is to make an effort in the right direction. Even if you fail, you’ve learned a lesson on what not to do. Believe that everything is possible.”

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