Ahead of the game: An exclusive interview with entrepreneur Asad Shamim
LinkedIn @Asad Shamim)
By Swarupa Tripathy
As one of the most successful entrepreneurs in the country, Asad Shamim is not just a respected businessman who has taken online furniture shopping to the next level, but also someone who has moved from strength to strength in his career as well as personal life.
He finds his roots in Pakistan, where he was born. His father came to the UK in 1966 and ran a small business while getting accustomed to the new environment. Ten years later, Shamim and his mother moved to the UK as well.
As the only child, he reveals that he has very fond memories of his childhood as he was close to both his parents and did not feel the urge to move away from home even while attending university. “I just could not let myself go away from them and study in another city, or not see them because my father needed me. He had a small business and I was assisting him with that as well,” he explains.
However, he recalls the hardships the family had to face after his father’s first business “failed miserably” owing to his “lack of experience” and being “misled by a person”. He says, “We struggled. I remember my childhood, in having basically nothing and seeing my parents struggling on a day-to-day basis and we had some serious financial hardship.” He adds that as a kid it was painful for him to see his parents upset as they were under immense pressure. “I do dwell on my past, you know, even though God has been great to me and I’ve been very successful in what I’ve done. But I never forget my past.”
Given all the sacrifices his parents made to provide support to him as a young boy, he admits that he has always been grateful for everything they have done. Shamim is no stranger to hard work as he would help his father with the business whenever he could, working tirelessly even during the holiday period. Holding a great amount of reverence for both his mother and father, he says, “It was very important for me that I took care of them and I still up till today take care of my parents.”
He credits the motivation to start his own business to his dad “because of the struggles, the difficulties that he faced and the business failing”, after which Shamim decided to step in and help turn the business into a profitable one. “That was my motivation – to make it work, and not see it as a failure. But to obviously look at the failures and see how we can improve that business, and that’s what I did. That is when I got interested in business,” he confesses.
Shamim set up his business in 1995 and initially owned a chain of retail shops with over 180 staff members working for him. But he thought ahead of his time and knew that online businesses were going to be the next big thing. He decided to downsize and embraced the challenge of opening his business online; which he realised was easier to manage as everything could be done “under one roof” instead of owning businesses in different towns and premises. “You have one set of expenses, you have one roof, and you’re actually serving the whole nation. So, going online was a great move that I made,” he adds.
From a very young age, Shamim developed a passion for furniture and design, spending hours scouring through magazines and catalogues dreaming of how his own house would look like one day. This translated into ‘Furniture in Fashion’, known today as one of the leading online furniture retailers in the UK.
But, his father was not happy with his decision to start a business that was completely virtual. There was a high possibility of failure and he was well-versed with the unpredictable nature of businesses. He asked whether an online furniture store will be successful when people who shop for them like to “come, touch and feel” before buying a product. However, with time, Shamim was able to prove to him that people’s shopping habits were changing and they were willing to shop for furniture digitally.
Moving on from his business, which changed the way people shop for furniture forever, the leading entrepreneur spoke about some key issues that small and medium businesses are facing in the country today. When asked about the state of businesses on high streets, he brings up the concept of “Sunday trading” which allowed local stores to operate on Sundays when larger supermarkets were shut. This meant that they were “thriving off that one-day trade”. However, after online shopping became the norm, people didn’t want to step out and go from one shop to another when everything was available through the click of a button.
He identifies the rising rate of anti-social behaviour on high streets as the reason why many shoppers are unwilling to compromise their safety and go out to shop. Many businesses are also shutting down due to increasing rents and paid parking in city centres. “I think that these are factors that need to be reconsidered in order to give the smaller retailers some relief,” he remarks.
An avid badminton player, he also has interests in football and boxing. In January this year, he was appointed as the vice president of the International Football Association (IFA7). In this role, he will oversee the development and expansion of Football 7 in the UAE and the UK. He is also known for playing an instrumental role in overturning the British Board of Boxing’s decision to not give a license to Muhammad ‘DK’ Ali, the UK’s first professional boxer with type 1 diabetes.
Shamim believes that there needs to be more Asian representation in sporting boards as well as a “diverse leadership”. “We are seeing some change and hopefully we will get to a point where we hear that there are no instances of racism; and that Asian footballers, boxers, and even those in other fields of sports are being accepted,” he adds.
Despite seeing immense success, he stresses that it is important to not get completely consumed by it. “You must always remember your past and stay humble.” He continues that earning a lot of money should never be the goal of starting a business and says, “It is the passion for success because when you are successful, money will come automatically. It’s natural to come to you, but whatever you take on board, you have to make sure that you are taking the right steps and the right strategic moves in order to make that business successful.”
He also highlights that in the Asian community, when someone is successful, “We tend to bring them down by saying all sorts of things which are not backed by any proof or evidence.” As he was progressing in his career, many in the community started speculating the reasons behind his accomplishments. “I used to face this on a regular basis, and the important thing is, yes, it does have an impact on you, but try and block that out, and not let that enter into your brain or give it any time or thought,” he explains. Despite this, Shamim continued to fulfill his duties by working hard and remaining disciplined, while also ensuring that he was taking good care of his health.
In the present day, many youngsters are keen to start a business and build something of their own. Shamim says, “My strong advice for the younger generation is to take professional advice from people that are successful.” He also suggests, “It’s very important for young children to understand what line or field of business they wish to adopt. They can only make that decision by looking at other businesses while looking at their inner ability of what they can or cannot do.” He tells those aspiring to set up a business to “stay focused” as “when you are running a business, the finance of the business is the crucial thing.” “Work hard, earn your money, and then reinvest that money to advance yourself further,” he says before signing off.