Off hours: Nature a great leveller for Farooq Kathwari

Ethan Allen chief executive gets back to nature to balance out the demands of work and family life.

Farooq Kathwari has been the chairman, president and chief executive of Ethan Allen Interiors since 1988. Mr Kathwari also serves in numerous capacities at several non-profit organisations, including as the chairman emeritus of Refugees International. The 70-year-old American, who was born in the Kashmir region of India, has also served as a member of the US president Barack Obama’s advisory commission on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders from 2010 to 2014. He was in Dubai in November to launch the company’s second store on Sheikh Zayed Road. (The first is located in The Dubai Mall).

What are your favourite things to do during the weekend?

I like to spend time with family and close friends. Whenever the weather permits, I also like to spend time in the lap of nature getting some exercise.

What do you consider to be your favourite hobby?

Activities that include my family. Since we live on the shore, we like to go out on the Atlantic Ocean in motorboats and kayaks. We also like to spend time at our farmhouse. For over 30 years, I have enjoyed spending my time there outdoors, pruning trees and taking care of our apple orchards. Pruning trees is a great exercise and it leads to another reward weeks later when I am able to share the fruits of my labour with family and friends.

What can’t you live without?

I do not think there is any material thing I could not do without. What really matters most in my life is the joy and support I get from the people closest to me.

What do you consider the secret to your success?

Maintaining balance in life, understanding the relative importance of priorities and focusing on the important ones. Also, as a mountain climber, nature has taught me that it is important to maintain your pace, and that if you go too high, you should come down and stabilise. Nature is a great teacher. In times when we can get carried away in our own importance, being in the mountains is a great reminder that we are all relatively small in comparison to nature and history and life.

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

Establish a precedence of hard work; treat your customers fairly and your business partners and associates with respect and dignity. Throughout the years, my business relationships with people in many parts of the country have taught me the importance of empowering others to be independent and to advocate for themselves. I learnt that diplomacy is a careful “dance” that requires knowing when to lead, when to follow, and how not to step on your partner’s toes. When I took charge of Ethan Allen in the mid 1980s, I took the diplomacy tactics I had learnt and developed a list of 10 leadership principles I felt could benefit the entire enterprise. These include providing leadership by example, understanding that change means opportunity and to not be afraid of it and being accessible and supportive and recognising the contributions of others.

How do you achieve a work-life balance?

Again, understanding the relative importance of priorities is key. I work hard, spend time with my family, and take time to enjoy nature. I have also had the opportunity to be involved in many humanitarian and industry not-for-profit organisations and my desire for peace in my birthplace of Kashmir helped found the Kashmir Study Group to help shape the debate towards a peaceful, honourable and feasible resolution. Supporting organisations that help those in need is an important facet in my life, and I have been known to encourage my colleagues and associates to become involved as well.

How do you relax after the working day?

Work energises me, so I am not someone who comes home spent at the end of the day. When I get home, I like to take a fast swim and then spend time with my family.

If you weren’t the chief executive of Ethan Allen what else would you be doing?

I have always considered myself the captain of a sports team. In cricket, which I played in my youth, I was captain of the team most of the time. The captain leads, plays and strategises with the team. If I had not become chief executive, I would most likely have been a captain of another team.