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Yasser Joharji, managing director, Binzagr Unilever
Yasser Joharji, Unilever’s first Saudi national managing director, recalls his career highlights. Shams Ahsan reports from Jeddah.
September 14, 2011 3:31 by shafeer
It is an unmarked, nondescript office building in Jeddah’s sparsely populated beach front Al-Shatea district, yet the security is so tight visitors have to go through two tiers of checks.
On the second floor sits Yasser Joharji, managing director, Binzagr Unilever. He greets us and leads us into his spacious office.
A laptop sits open on top of his desk, one which is strikingly uncluttered.
A Saudi national in his 40s, Joharji is softly spoken with a charming face; a premature sprinkling of grey can be seen in his trimmed beard.
Born in Riyadh, Joharji did his schooling and attended college in the Saudi capital. He graduated from the Industrial Engineering College of Riyadh’s King Saud University in 1993. The same year he moved to Jeddah and joined the market research team at Savola.
“That was my destiny,” recounts Joharji. “It shifted my attention from machines and factories to consumers. But there was a lot of commonality between what I studied and the market research field.”
Joharji considers his Savola experience very enriching as he had the opportunity to work with Robin Jones. Jones was at that time an adviser to the Savola Group chairman and considered ‘one of the top 30 researchers in the world’.
“I was lucky enough because at that time Savola was doing a lot of feasibility studies and market research. We worked on chocolates, dates, cakes, snacks, edible oil…that was a brilliant experience for me because it widened my perspective beyond just numbers and machines into first-hand experience into people’s behaviour, thinking, habits and attitude.”
In 1998, Joharji expanded from market research to marketing and joined Unilever. The company proved to be a great learning experience, he recalls. It gave him, as he says, a more methodical understanding of consumer behaviour. “I remember during my first three months at Unilever I read more than 20 consumer research manuals.”
A workplace and business school
For a while he worked in beverage marketing before moving to personal care and beauty.
Since May 2010 he has been managing director, Binzagr Unilever; the first Saudi national to hold the position and one he intends to hold on to for quite some time. Why? Because he considers Unilever a business school.
“Unilever for me is not just a company where I wake up in the morning and go. It is a school of personal development. Unilever adds value beyond just business understanding.” Joharji, a father of three daughters, urges young Saudis, eager to widen their perspective, to join Unilever.
Saudis, he thinks, are no different from other consumers anywhere in the world, although he hastens to add them among the most brand loyal.
“Brands such as Signal, Lux, Lipton and Dove have unbeatable consumer loyalty because Saudi people have the ability to differentiate between good, sustainable, consistent quality and flashy work,” he says.
“Saudi consumers are not driven by price; they are driven by quality. As long as you keep quality on top of your agenda and you make sure that consumers are engaged… you are winning.”
And quality comes through innovation, which, he says, is at the heart of Unilever.
To prove his point, he cites Lipton Chai Latte, “one of our best innovations,” and Lipton Fruit Teas in pyramid teabags.
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