Alumni Spotlight: Navin M. Valrani

Navin M. Valrani W93 considers himself a CEO during the day and a leadership student by night. He is also an avid sportsman—playing and watching cricket and cheering on the Liverpool Football Club. Wharton Magazine spoke with the CEO of the Engineering Services Group at Oasis Investment Co., a Dubai-based, family-owned conglomerate—about serious minded business topics and his passions. The following is an excerpt:

WHARTON MAGAZINE: What is your No. 1 piece of advice for a businessperson looking to expand into the Middle East?

NAVIN VALRANI: The Middle East might be classified as one geographic area, but it certainly is not one market. Each country within the Middle East is different, and doing business with each country is different. … However, for most businesses, operating regionally is a necessity due to the benefits of scale. If one does want to operate throughout the Middle East, then the city of Dubai becomes a natural choice to set up the regional headquarters because of the ease of doing business in the city, backed up with a truly world-class infrastructure.

WM: As a leader at a family firm, what have you found to be the top challenge of running a family business?

VALRANI: Over the years, it has been attracting top talent into our organizations. Typically family businesses do not carry the charm that multinational firms would when it comes to building an employee’s CV. So we have had to provide an offering that is more exciting and rewarding for the prospective employee than joining a multinational setup. This has been done by constantly revamping our HR policies in order to build a culture of fairness and compassion, which is very difficult to replicate.

WM: How optimistic are you about the global economy in 2015?

VALRANI: 2015 will be an interesting year. The United States is clearly ahead of the rest of the world when it comes to growth, but Europe and the emerging markets have their challenges. The two big stories have to be Greece and oil. … If Greece exits the Euro, either voluntarily or forcefully, there will be serious negative repercussions that will be felt globally. When it comes to oil, the world will be divided into the producers versus importers, and I see 2015 as the year for the oil importers.

WM: What’s your favorite Wharton memory?

VALRANI: Walking into Steinberg-Dietrich Hall for the very first time was pretty special, and it will be a moment I will always treasure. However, my all-time favorite moment was when I walked into my first Management 101 lecture with Professor Paul Tiffany. I sat there in the lecture hall absolutely mesmerized and walked out knowing I would pursue a concentration in Management at Wharton. I still recall that he talked about the Hawthorne Effect, and I was amazed at the principle.