Off hours: heaven scent pastimes for Dubai perfume expert

As the head of a family perfume business in Dubai, Chris Pickthall follows a company rule of not emailing staff outside work hours to ensure everyone can relax during the weekend.

Chris Pikthall is the fourth generation of a perfume family. Reem Mohammed / The National
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Think perfume, and you probably imagine subtle fragrances wafting through the Parisian boulevards. Chris Pickthall, an expert in the aroma business and the fourth generation of a perfume family, has chosen the rather grittier air of the Jebel Ali Free Zone. As the chief executive of UK-based CPL Aromas and managing director of the firm’s Dubai operations, he has run the global business from Dubai for the past 10 years. CPL operates at the industrial end of the fragrance business, manufacturing and supplying essences to manufacturers of shampoos, deodorants, air fresheners and any other product that needs to smell good. When he’s off duty, the Briton, 46, likes to give his nose a rest.

What are your favourite things to do on the weekend?

I like to play tennis and train for marathons. I like to do one a year, in London or Dubai, where I’ve completed a couple. My daughter, who’s 15, is in training for the London marathon with me next year. And I like watching my sons, 17 and eight, play football. All the children are at school in the UK so it gives me a thrill to catch up with their sporting development. I’m trying to persuade my daughter to go into the perfume business, which I think is the best job in the world, but she wants to be a lawyer.

What do you consider to be your favourite hobbies?

Apart from actually playing sport, I’m a great fan of Tottenham Hotspur Football Club. If I’m in the UK you can catch me regularly at White Hart Lane, “the world famous home of the Spurs”. If I’m in Dubai, I watch the game with my fellow fans at the official UAE supporters’ club in the Icon bar at the Radisson Blu in Media City. Great bunch of fans and a great venue. Apart from that, I love music.

What can’t you live without?

Music. I can’t imagine my CDs being taken away from me, especially my collection of Paul Weller music, whether it’s from his days in Jam or Style Council or any other era. I’ve got it all on Apple music too, of course, but the CDs are special.

What do you consider the secret to your success?

A really strong family upbringing, and being fortunate to work with some of the greatest perfume professionals in the business. To be successful in this industry, you have to be truly passionate about the product. The Pickthall family have a long history in the fragrance industry and we all love what we do and the product that we create.

What advice would you offer others starting out in your business?

Before you can embark on a career in the fragrance industry, you have to have a passion for it. You need to listen to industry experts and ask as many questions you can. In addition to this, there is no substitute for hard work. And the actual perfumers have to have passion. They are the Michelin-starred chefs of the fragrance business.

How do you achieve a work-life balance?

I find spending time at the weekend exercising helps me to switch off from work and refreshes my thought process. I try very hard not to check emails when not in the office. We have a rule in the company: I won’t email you out of hours and you aren’t expected to check work emails then either. If something is really important, it’s worth a phone call. And I like to devote as much time I can to my three children.

How do you relax after the working day?

Watching a Spurs victory is always the best way to wind down. But on the rare occasion they cannot manage that for me, a good meal at one of Dubai’s many restaurants with friends.

If you weren’t running your business what else would you be doing?

I would like to be involved in more charities. CPL is involved with two main charitable organisations. I’m a Catholic and attend St Francis of Assisi church in Jebel Ali, so Catholic Action for Overseas Development is a charity very close to my heart. Across the world they bring hope and compassion to poor communities and try to end poverty and injustice. I’m also working through an organisation called Cofvi – the College of Fragrance for the Visually Impaired – for people with vision problems. I’m convinced they have a huge role to play in the fragrance industry. We did some work in Mumbai putting blind people through fragrance courses, and they did extremely well. We’re also working with the Al Noor Centre for children with special needs to see how fragrances can stimulate their learning. It has great potential.