Zubair Timol is the Partner and Area Director of India, Middle East & Africa at Meltwater. He joined the company during its startup phase, being trained in Oslo, Norway, under the tutelage of the CEO, before moving, as part of a team, to start the company’s operations in London. He has since then remained a valuable member of Meltwater’s growing international team and is largely responsible for its growth across Asia, Middle East and Africa. With his focus on global strategy and expansion, Zubair has a pedigree for developing leadership talent across markets.
He moved to Dubai in 2010 and has devotedly built up the company’s regional team. Having worked extensively across Europe, China, Japan and South East Asia, his passion is emerging markets and their interplay with technology. He is also a serial entrepreneur which aligns with Meltwater’s entrepreneurial culture. Over the years, Zubair along with his brothers or friends have been involved in setting up various businesses with interests as diversified as design, event management and fashion. His most recent stint was setting up Velsvoir, a luxury menswear brand with his two brothers in Dubai.
Apart from building Meltwater’s presence in the region, Zubair is passionate about developing and retaining the company’s talent pool, with a strong success rate in developing female leaders from within the organization. His business mantra is to personally handpick the right talent, create a positive environment and develop them through positive and constructive feedback. As a result, the company has an enviable retention rate.
In business, Zubair’s inspiration is Prince Al-Waleed Bin Talal bin Abdulaziz al Saud, the Saudi business magnate and investor whose entrepreneurship skills across a broad range of sectors and cultures, provide ample inspiration.
Zubair has a degree in European Law / Masters in Medical Law from the University of Amsterdam. Given his thirst for education, he has recently completed a Post Grad in Global Business at the University of Oxford.
Zubair continues to be an active commentator for style, design and culture, given his exposure to travel. In his leisure time, he enjoys spending time with his family, sampling food across the region, designing and taking part in sports activities including boxing, bikram yoga and running. He is also an avid reader and contributor to trend driven journals.
What attracted you to join Meltwater? What’s your story behind this one?
What most attracted me to Meltwater is the company’s founding vision of building a truly global organization with exceptional people to provide breakthrough technology solutions to analyse data. In Meltwater, there is a strong focus on training and development, creating a positive environment and being at the forefront of technology.
What are the challenges of Meltwater right now that you are working on and what are you doing to try to make it look easy in solving them?
The world of social media is changing rapidly and so is the amount of data available. Even though many companies in the region are aware of the need to monitor data many are still unaware of how media monitoring tools can help them in tracking consumer trends. It is still a challenge to educate companies of the importance of our service.
Can you tell us how did this all start?
I joined Meltwater during its startup phase. I was trained in Oslo, Norway, under the tutelage of our CEO. I then moved, as part of a team, to start the company’s operations in London. My focus then became global strategy and expansion. I moved to Dubai in 2010 and focused on building a strong team here and expanding our presence in this region.
Having worked extensively across Europe, China, Japan and South East Asia, my passion is emerging markets and their interplay with technology.
How do you manage your role as partner at Meltwater and oversee running a luxury menswear Velsvoir.
My two brothers Zak and Talha are also involved in Velsvoir so that frees up my time to focus on Meltwater.
Why open a business in UAE? Do you think there is still room in UAE that is ready for Velsvoir? How will you convince the unforgiving market like the UAE with Velsvoir?
The UAE is a growth market and at the forefront of fashion. The consumption of luxury brands is increasing with a greater emphasis on menswear. Given our existing presence in London and Singapore, Dubai seemed like a natural choice for us to introduce Velsvoir and work on a variety of projects both on and off the runway. The UAE is always open towards brands that has authentic design and style. Veslvoir embodies both of these components, together with a bespoke approach we have been able to dress a variety of individuals and celebrities, giving us the scope and platform to continue evolving.
Did Meltwater somehow prepare you to be an entrepreneur?
Meltwater’s culture is based on a fundamental belief in people and the inherent potential we all have to achieve great things. At Meltwater, we create an environment where our people are motivated to discover new strengths and shine even brighter. So I can clearly say that Meltwater motivates me to pursue my interests in fashion and entrepreneurship.
What are the lessons you learned in your entrepreneurial journey?
I have learned not to give up on my dreams, be perseverant and work hard. I have also learned that it is important to have the right people on your team. I have to be true to myself and differentiate between what I am good at and what I am better off delegating to someone else.
You have been very vocal about Prince Al-Waleed Bin Talal bin Abdulaziz al Saud as one of your inspiration in terms of life, career, and business. Tell us how you came to be inspired by this man. How and Why.
Prince Al-Waleed Bin Talal bin Abdulaziz al Saud, through his success in investment, his ability to spot opportunities and not being afraid to take risks, is someone who inspires me. He has the true qualities of an entrepreneur.
In your opinion, what should entrepreneurs do to succeed?
To be a successful entrepreneur, you must have a vision and plan and above all else, a passion for the work you have chosen to do. You must also learn to manage your finances, recruit the right kind of people and learn to delegate.
What advice would you give to aspiring entrepreneurs?
It is always helpful and very wise to have a mentor who guides and supports you. Always believe in yourself and know that if you have the will, you can do anything you want. Be ready for unexpected challenges, because you will face a lot of them. Know that the key to success is to manage your energy and not only your time.
How do you maintain a work life balance?
I’m a very organized person, work time is for work only and I do not let it interfere with my family and social life. I always make sure to plan exciting trips with my wife and be part of family gatherings, so that we spend as much enjoyable time together as possible.
What do you think is still needed in UAE in terms of the digital landscape?
With young people under the age of 30 making up a large part of the UAE population, there will be a tremendous growth in social media; and the UAE digital landscape needs skilled force to meet the demand for engaging with today’s digital savvy consumers. There needs to be more focus on ‘digital’ in educational programs, and companies should have dedicated digital and social media managers.