Bijay Shah (National Director, BNI UAE), Amit Vardhan (Executive Director, BNI North Dubai), and Pankaj Gupta (Executive Director, BNI Deira, Dubai Region) join us for a very special interview as they discuss key milestones, moments of celebration from this past year, key takeaways and the road ahead for BNI UAE.
“One of the highlights of last year was that we were able to go back to in-person meetings finally, so that was a big moment for us; having said that, there are a few chapters who chose to stay online for the right reasons, and I’ll be sharing more about that later. Going back to in-person that the pandemic seems to be coming towards an end, at least we are at much more peace and comfort right now the way things are. So I think that’s very positive overall. Still, despite that, you know… the last two years, as challenging as it has been, when it comes to the numbers and business referrals and even overall growth of members for the organization have been on the rise. I think that’s probably the biggest celebration that I can share that despite all the challenges, we learned a lot of things, and business between themselves grew,” Bijay states.
“I got into this Executive Director role by 2020, and we just started… 2021 had been a year where we can say we can count on what we did and what happened out there. I’m definitely celebrating the gala dinner, which we were able to do for our region. It was a regional gala dinner, a lot of awards, lot of celebrations; we did a growth of approximately 200%. We started our journey with some 80..90 members, and we were around 180 members at the end of 2021, and that was a phenomenal journey, that’s towards the number, but about personally, I would say I felt a lot of support and growth in myself.
“I always say you know growing yourself and growing the business both are important, so I am celebrating the way I can look into people now I can I have my team of chapter directors, ambassadors, leaders, and it is overwhelming. So I’m definitely celebrating the way it could happen that way; all of your blessings and support have made it possible.” Pankaj adds.
“Just finished six months, North Dubai region started with almost 60 members and two chapters. Today we have a third and a fourth chapter going, so that has been some good news. We are looking forward to growing to 200 members and at least 5 chapters in North Dubai, as we have a lot of potential there. Small chapters are doing very well. The smallest chapter did around 12 million Dirhams of business. I now look forward to our new slogan, “BNI Better Together,” and this year’s focus is growth for every member and business for every member, and that’s what I would look forward to us as we grow members, growth of the members would be my key outlook for this year. Each member should grow in their business,” says Amit.
The Secret Is Empowerment
“I will split this into two parts; what is working for me is that I’ve been able to learn how not to take charge in all the situations, leave it up to the team, and let them make their decisions and empower the team. Once I empower the team only then, they become true leaders, and then we get benefits of their leadership; otherwise, it is visible as so many people in the room taking the lead but being led by one person doesn’t help, so that’s something which is working out for me.
For chapters in the region, I would say I felt a sense of abundance mindset that has developed over the period. Growth starts happening when members do not think that another member who will come will share some part of the cookie they are eating. Rather they think that together we can be better and believe me when this slogan came I got my answer that what is happening in the region. I looked deep dive and found that it is nothing but the abundance mindset, and that’s been helping tremendously. It is human nature when you try to achieve something, and you start getting some success. It encourages you to go beyond and beyond and beyond.
I’m not personally a follower of the titles like “I’m the largest,”.. so I am the largest today. Still, tomorrow can be somebody else; tomorrow can be somebody else now my point is for this year what can we do which is never be done in your way at least anyway and if we do that as fast I want to do something first that is what I am working on a little secret. Still, it will come up soon. That’s what I’m working on.” Pankaj shares his view on what worked for him and his chapter that led to tremendous success and growth in a very short period.
“We have successfully franchised a couple of regions, so we’ve been operating for the last 17 years, and to scale up, we do need to identify more people who can take an active role not just as Leadership or Director Consultants but provide an opportunity for members to treat this as a business from which they can benefit from and by creating that mindset of abundance, everybody wins.
Two years ago, we were able to get Pankaj on board as our first Executive Director; last year, we were able to get Amit on board, and both of these gentlemen are very experienced. They have BNI in their blood. So I’m really proud to have both of them, and you know the growth that we’ve seen is mainly attributed to that, both of them, and then of course so looking forward we do have more regions to franchise out, and I believe that’s one of the main ways in which we can grow. So franchising is currently working, and I look forward to doing more of that and working closely with both because this is still the beginning for us; what are we learning from this, how we can make that better but scaling up is the way forward for our members and us.” Bijay says.
“We started with 60, now we are at around 80 members, and we put him together for one more chapter. What Bijay did is, what I learned from Bijay is to first – Recruit the right mindset, second – Retain the right kind of people, and the third thing is Train them to be there. These three things help us grow and grow stronger together; while we are saying Better Together, I would say stronger together because if we have the people, we first recruit the right kind of people who have the mindset as we’ve been talking about collaboration and abundance. We have these people with this kind of mindset; we need to train our leadership teams to get those people and then retain them to see that they get the commitment that people are promising.
We have to recruit, retain and train them all to become the ambassadors and spokespeople of BNI. Members do not come with the same kind of knowledge, the same kind of expertise. So we have people from all kinds of fields, which is the nice part and the good part, which is the thing about BNI that we have people from garage owners to restaurant owners to chartered accountants to doctors and from different mindsets. So, for example, a doctor is not a marketing or salesperson, whereas an advertising person behaves differently in that scenario.
That is what’s working and what we are doing with some chapters; at times, we are in one of the chapters I’ve downsized to get this corrected”. Amit shares his thoughts on what is working for him as an executive director who has taken up the role just six months ago.
Learnings In Leadership
“For me, as I said, the main important thing which I learned last year is oh you know let the leaders take their defeat, grow leaders, nurture leaders, be their support and very recently this happened so that I was being taught by someone that there are four kinds of situational leadership I can be into. So there can be directional leadership, a very new leader I have, and they need direction, but then there can be something which means there’s coaching and you know mentoring kind of stuff. Then there can be a third stage where they need you to be standing in their support, they know how to do it you need not to you know treat them like a school kid so give them direction and finally there can be your team members who need correction you delegate to them and forget it, they can do it.
The most important learning I received in the last few years now I choose and try to analyze what kind of leadership they need and give them what is required for them. One size fits all was not working, and this has been tremendous learning personally.
As a matter of fact, in this year to come, my focus is on making some plans to work on my leaders’ coaching. It will not limit only to Director Consultants or Ambassadors but to chapter leaders, so that’s the plan I have in mind to bring something like mindfulness. I have recently been exposed to something called “look inside yourself” from Google. It’s a mindfulness coaching program which Google does. A company like Google invented this and gave it to their team members and their leaders. So why can’t we do something like that for our leaders, help them be at peace and still grow? No need to be on your toes and always be in a panic.” Pankaj shares the key learnings he has gained as a leader.
“The biggest learning came when it was decided to go back to in-person meetings, it was new for the whole organization, locally and globally, and the approach we took globally was to kind of put it out on vote offered the members. The choice we now have three different formats; it’s a good thing that the pandemic taught us that we could do things online. Hence, we offered different formats to members, but when I put it out to vote, the right decision needed to be made. The criteria that we put there had to go in a certain direction, all the chapters were meeting online. So now they had a choice to remain online or go back to in-person or even choose a hybrid format, but we require them to have an 85% majority. That’s a pretty high bar. In the course, we learned that in the first round of voting in many chapters, we got 70%, so it’s still a majority. Still, it was not an 85% and what it meant is the 30% who chose to remain online, at least for the time being at that time, were holding the chapter back. After a couple of months, we did the second round, and in most of these chapters, they managed to get the 85% they needed and went back to in-person successfully.
Some chapters just could not get that 85%; it meant that the minority of 15% were making the decision, which doesn’t make sense democratically. So the question was how long we wait for, and we learned from other countries and regions as they had a similar experience. If we were to have done this again, the approach might have involved the leaders in these chapters, involved our DNA team, of course, involved ourselves, and then really made an executive decision for each chapter.We have no hidden agenda that chapters should go back in person or stay online or go hybrid. We want to do what’s best in the interest of all the members, as far as business goes. It just happens, sadly in a few chapters, the focus of the members is more towards the format as opposed to why we are here. You know the relationships have been built to do business with each other and refer, and now everybody was thinking what the safer way to do it is.
There is no safer way to do it. I think it’s about understanding, acting, and then embracing the change in the new normal, and had the members been focused on that, they would have made a decision that kept them together. Unfortunately, in a couple of chapters, they split up or fractured and lost a lot of members. Unfortunately, the learning was that people who were still focused on doing business stayed on. We do hope that the people who kind of split up can come back and then choose the format that works best for them and utilize the benefits of BNI. The biggest learning for us is not everything can be done by vote; it’s not always the best decision. Sometimes leadership needs to be exercised, and you end up making decisions that may sometimes make people unhappy, but it’s not about making people happy or not. It’s about doing the right thing at the right time.
At that time, you, of course, will get people who, you know, don’t feel right about it, and they’ll curse you, but in the long term, when you look back, they’ll think yeah, that was the right decision. So these are the learnings that we’ve had. We are living in unprecedented times, and let’s hope now that this is all over and behind us. We can get back to focus this year, and again as you can see, the theme is Better Together. We’ve gone through so much just in the last two years, what we can do is to focus being ‘Better Together’ staying together, focusing on relationships and doing business and helping each other.” Bijay shares his perspective and key learnings from a tough pandemic period and the challenges it brought with it.
The New Normal Vision
“First of all, I would like to talk about the vision for BNI Synergy, and we understand this chapter has grown up with the greatest speed. I have been continuously discussing how to retain members and have all these new members renew how to have all these new members feel the benefit. We were always born in a formula of telling the new member what you need to do to get the business and what you need to do to feel the value of BNI. I am going the other way around. I have told the core member team, the members who started all these things, and the leader that why can’t we take the responsibility to at least have them taste the benefit of BNI once they have tasted it. Then we guide them on how to get it more. If they like it, they join you. Why don’t we take the first step, and that change I’m quite hopeful will maintain the highest retention for this particular chapter.
So that’s one winning on that side, that’s one particular chapter because it’s sizable and challenging to do and when I look at the entire region. I am not pushing chapters for tremendous number of growth now. I am already at 200 members, after which we touched the past week, and very proud to say that you know that was a milestone now; our vision very clearly is 290 members by 2030, but that’s the vision I have. Definitely, I want to continue launching new chapters, so we are going to launch a minimum of two chapters this year; the target is the same; we launched somewhere between April and May when we launch in October and November. That’s a very fair kind of target we have kept for ourselves at this very moment. Two of my Launch Ambassadors are working on it separately. One is at the beginning stage, and another has their first information session on the 4th of March.
So right before I came to India, that’s the meeting I had, and I was sharing with Bijay. This chapter will run their meeting on Friday, so that’s another new change we want to adapt to run the meeting on Friday; that’s a new normal, as Bijay correctly said. That is our focus on relationships and consolidating work more closely, creating value for members, and ensuring that new members become your family and language and choice of words. We need to encourage them, we need to handhold them, and when we do that, we will be more successful. We can push people out; you cannot pull people inside. That’s my simple way of learning.” says Pankaj as he looks forward to the new normal at BNI.
“I hope I can follow Pankaj somewhere with his inspiration what he’s been doing. I also attended his social, it was lovely. The most important thing is building relations, generating referrals, and getting business for everyone, so I’m now trying to tell my DNA that it will not just be about teaching and coming to impart knowledge. It is about getting them that experience and getting the real feel of BNI by getting them actual business and actual transactions.
So we have to live with that vision of BNI. We should follow the structure that we should build the relationships with, it should generate referrals, and finally, everyone gets business. Suppose I’m getting good business from somewhere. In that case, I make sure that I will be a part of it. I should enjoy doing it, so I want that culture of getting business for everyone, building relationships, and making referrals; if we do the steps right, the outcomes would be desired. Hopefully, that’s my thing to my DNA, to my LT’s that you, each of you, are responsible for delivering the BNI commitment to the members. So our vision is 200 members, doing lots of business, higher seat values, good relations, and yes, that’s how we’re going to look at being Better Together.” Says Amit.
“I wear multiple hats, I am the co-national Director, and then we also have our national regions, Central Dubai and New Dubai, so let me start by the region vision that we have for these two regions that that that we manage, the first region and this is the pioneer region, Central Dubai, it’s got 5 chapters, the average size is over 50, and we wanna make sure that this region is a showcase for every chapter is a platinum chapter and it stays above 50. All of the chapters in Central Dubai are in-person chapters. We’ll be launching an additional chapter there, which will be hybrid. For New Dubai, a lot of work is to be done, as it is made up of a lot newer people in Dubai. I remember 17 years ago, Dubai had a population of about a million today; it’s over 4 million. By the end of this decade, it’ll be well over 6 million. So we think the target market is much younger, so we are focusing more on the online, hybrid chapters, and our vision is to have a team of young members as they are much more tech-savvy. We need people who can embrace future technology to fully utilize the opportunities in online and hybrid formats, especially for New Dubai.
As for Abu Dhabi, we’ll be launching a new chapter after a long hiatus in that region, so it’s certainly a place to keep an eye on. Sharjah and Ras al Khaimah have good prospects of growth as well. Three to five years down the line, we can have a community of 2000 members. We are about to cross 700 members very soon. Together we can be not just Better Together, but the best dream team we can have,” Bijay concludes.