DAY IN THE LIFE: DESERT GROUP CHIEF EXECUTIVE MAKES A THOUSAND GARDENS BLOOM IN DUBAI
Michael Mascarenhas is the chief executive of Desert Group, a diversified group of horticultural and lifestyle companies. The group incorporates 11 businesses, with one of the most well-known the Dubai Garden Centre on Sheikh Zayed Road. Set up 28 years ago, the group claims it is responsible for 80 per cent of Dubai’s public landscaping. The company also has an extensive CSR programme focused on offering employment to Emiratis with special needs. Mr Mascarenhas, 56, who is from India, has worked in the UAE since 1988 and lives in Jumeirah Lakes Towers with his wife.
I wake up at home with my wife in Jumeirah Lakes Towers. I check my emails and make an action plan for the day on the key priority items I need to address. It’s been a while since I’ve had to get my kids up and ready for school. My eldest is 26 and the youngest is 23, they live in Toronto so I don’t get to see them as much as I would like, but they’re pursuing their dreams which makes me happy.
I shower, dress and have a healthy breakfast. What I eat is very important to me, I’m careful about what foods I consume and I like to minimise the amount of oil, fat and sugar in my diet. I also consider myself something of a fitness freak and love working out in the gym.
I arrive at my office in the Dubai Garden Centre and start the morning’s meetings. Desert Group comprises many different companies and therefore I have several general managers to liaise with as well as the heads of HR, finance and IT. I also frequently meet the leader of Enable, which is our CSR company. Enable was set up in 2005 when we realised as a group that we needed to contribute to society and give back. We employ 30 Emiratis who have cognitive disabilities and provide gainful employment and hence an equal place in society. We quickly realised this section must fund itself to be worthwhile and not just be a token enterprise. Our employees are engaged in making decorative pieces for offices, residences and boardrooms. When sold, 15 per cent of the revenue goes to the person who made the piece and the remaining profit is reinvested to enable us to employ more people who need our support. We have many local partners helping to grow this sector, companies such as Emirates Catering, Emirates NBD and National Bank of Fujairah that buy from us in large numbers.
I walk around the Dubai Garden Centre and our other business offices to see what’s going on. We have a flat structure at Desert Group; by that I mean that I try to be the same as everyone else and lead by example. I don’t have a secretary or a driver, I organise my own time and expect everyone else to do the same. I measure myself against any of my workers, the guys who are out there on sites, the ones who work in the nurseries. What right do I have to sit in a room and earn a big salary with two secretaries and not understand the pressures on my team? I don’t operate like that. My door is always open, people can walk in any time and ask me anything. I like to empower my team to make decisions for themselves and not always have to check in with me. When they do come to me I know they need quick decisions, so I always try to give them that.
I eat lunch, again something healthy and light like a quinoa salad with some chicken maybe for the protein.
This is the time I get out of the office to visit sites, key clients and check up on any new projects.
I’m back in the office for a quick round-up of any remaining issues that have cropped up during the day. I leave an hour later and head to the gym. I make sure I catch a spin class, failing that I’ll do a different group exercise class or some light weights.
Dinner is always at this time and during the week is always something healthy again. At the weekends my wife and I will head out somewhere for dinner, maybe Atlantis or a nice restaurant in DIFC. Weekends are family time, although on a Saturday between 8am and 3pm I visit sites and check on our workers to make sure they don’t have any issues as well as inspecting accommodation where my staff live to make sure it’s up to standard.
This is a very sacred time; I try not to let my work encroach upon it. I read a lot; lately I’m reading about new thinking on management and leadership. I’m also writing a book about practical leadership insights based on the many years I’ve spent running companies.
I go to bed and sleep easily. I love what I do, so that enables me to switch off without a problem at night and I’m always looking forward to the next day’s challenges.