The brick walls are there to show you how badly you want something, Ujjwal Goel often likes to state as a reminder, especially in challenging times. It seems to have paid dividends given that the 26-year-old has already accumulated an impressive list of accomplishments in a very short period and has shown exceptional foresight to make his family-owned business future-ready.
“I take a lot of pride in what we’ve created. We’ve faced many challenges, but in the four years that we’ve been here in Dubai, we’ve built a company worth more than half-a-billion-dollars. It began with me as a one-man operation to today having over 100 staff members,” Ujjwal Goel, the Managing Director of Teraciel Group, confided with Signé in an exclusive interview. He leads the Teraciel Group’s operation in Dubai, the region, and in Africa. He is also involved in the company’s strategic management in its home territory of India.
The group consists of five divisions. La Sorogeeka interiors, the founding entity, offers turn-key services that include engineering, project management, manufacturing and procurement. Over the past three decades, it has grown in size and stature to become one of the largest, and most renowned luxury interior companies in the Indian subcontinent and Southern Africa with a diverse portfolio of clients in such sectors as luxury hotels, palaces, airports, corporate towers and convention centres. La Sorogeeka Associates, meanwhile, is the consulting division offering bespoke interior design solutions.
Anca (pronounced unk’a) is the group’s furniture brand and manufacturer. It also handles all the artwork and semi-precious materials. “We have a catalogue-based production and sell a lot of our products through retail. We generally launch two collections each year which are semi-customizable in terms of fabric, colour, wood, sizes and so on. We also have bespoke designs that are custom built for particular projects,” explains Ujjwal.
The Teraciel Marble Industries is a recent addition based in the UAE and offers an exclusive selection of high-quality stone and associated craftsmanship. It was set up because Ujjwal wanted to control the cost, quality and delivery time of this important element of a project. Teraciel Engineering and Contracting division was also added for similar reasons. “The contractors that we were working with were sometimes not capable of providing the quality we needed, especially when it came to high-value projects such as palaces. So we said we should do this ourselves.”
“Each division is an independent profit centre with independent teams and with different managers while some core support functions like marketing or auditing are handled at the group level. The idea behind making them independent, even though there are obvious overlapping interests, was to make the business vertically sustainable, to be able to offer turnkey solutions and to ensure efficiency within each business.”
The group has grown geographically as well: “We have developed a very elite clientele among the royal families here as well as the royal family in Saudi Arabia which includes projects for King Salman and Mohammed bin Salman. We have established an office in Mumbai to oversee our Ritz-Carlton project. We also have offices in Equatorial Guinea and Swaziland.”
These achievements are quite impressive when one considers the rather humble beginnings of the company back in 1985 when Ujjwal’s parents founded La Sorogeeka Design and Engineering in New Delhi.
“We come from a business family, and we’ve always been in business, so my parents were thinking let’s start something. They were recently married, and my mother had some experience in design. An opportunity arose when my grandfather was constructing some buildings, and he asked my mother to design the furniture. My dad hired a few carpenters and started manufacturing with one workshop in a small alley. That’s how it started, very organically.”
“When people visited the project, they liked the quality of the work which led to more orders. Our business has grown every year since just through word of mouth. The other quality that defines us is our customer service. Once we commit to a project, we don’t look at the financials, we want to deliver a product or service that our client will remember us for. And that’s what really separates us from the rest. Some of our clients have been with us for 35 years.”
This is the world to which Ujjwal was born and raised in. “People might say I have four years of experience in the industry, but in reality, I have 25 years of experience since I practically grew up in our factory.”
Ujjwal left the comforts of home for Singapore, to complete his high school education. Then he headed to the University of Southern California for undergraduate studies in BBA and Construction Engineering which he concluded in 2014. In the midst of his undergraduate studies, Ujjwal studied Strategic Management at the London School of Economics, London and International Business at the ESADE Business School, Barcelona.
“I was always a bright student and was very confident of my capabilities.” However, when the well-travelled, and well educated Ujjwal returned home, brimming with new ideas to implement in his family business, he quickly learnt another important lesson: change is not easy to implement. “My parents said theoretically we understand whatever you’re saying but since this is a machine that has been working well for 30 years and we’ve only grown, so let us not make so many changes so quickly that we break this machine.”
“I felt very frustrated and thought: what’s the point of all of this education if I can’t apply it. So, I moved to Dubai to do some African mining related trading at DMCC. But the market crashed, and the people that I was dealing with wanted to exit from the industry. I was left out in the open. I needed something new to do, something which I was familiar with. So, I got our furniture catalogues and, for about a year and a half, went from door to door liaising with designers and architects.”
“I soon found a lot of local clients but often found their sites were not ready for the furniture. They would ask me for help in getting the job done. I gathered a few small companies, like my dad did back in the day, and took the help from our engineering team in India. I was doing this even though I didn’t have a contract for it. I was doing it on a personal level.”
“Today, I’ve built something which is larger than what my parents have built in a very short span of time. They are now definitely a lot more supportive and have a lot more confidence in me being able to change our business in India. So, I have again involved myself in our business in India over the last couple of years.”
Now that Ujjwal has a greater say in shaping the future of the group, he has turned to Ray Dalio, the American billionaire investor and his book Principles for inspiration. “We are moving towards what is called Radical Transparency, where anything and everything that is felt in an organisation should be said, and there should be nothing unsaid. That is what I want to develop at this point,” says Ujjwal.
To achieve this, “I’m am trying to inculcate principle-based decision making within the organisation by personally developing a set of principles which I would run this business on. Then I am going to publish them throughout the company so that everyone has access to them. Then on, every decision that has to be made, must be based on those principles. We are also moving more towards corporate governance where, instead of me being the lone decision maker, we’re setting up committees for every department or for certain decisions such as risk analysis, audit or financials. These committees will make their decisions based on the principles which I have set out. The ultimate goal is that, at some point, the decision making should be independent of me. I want to build a 100-year company.”