Cover Photo: Xerxes Lee/Tatler Malaysia

In this excerpt from our February 2022 cover story, Sharan, Ashvin and Mukesh Valiram share lessons from their late father and the bond that shapes their family business

Valiram. It’s a family name steeped in history, culture, evolution and success. The Malaysia-based retail and lifestyle group has grown from strength to strength, having started in the textile trade in 1935 by Utumal Valiram and subsequently led by his son, the late Datuk Jethanand Valiram.

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The business would later pivot towards retail in 1996, forging ahead to become Southeast Asia’s leading luxury goods retailer. Led by the charismatic brothers Sharan, Ashvin and Mukesh, the trio courted and brought in notable international brands including Tory Burch, Michael Kors, Victoria’s Secret, Tumi as well as Bath and Body Works. They also own Swiss Watch, Malaysia’s leading luxury watch retailer.

Over the years, the brothers have grown the business’s store footprint to over 400 stores across nine countries.

While both Sharan and Ashvin run the business from Kuala Lumpur, Mukesh is based in Singapore and has not been able to return home to meet with his siblings easily due to travel restrictions imposed for most of 2021.

Though the brothers all share the title of executive director, they are distinctively different both in terms of their personalities and business roles. As the eldest, Sharan, 54, is calm and methodical, playing the role of the responsible older brother well. A real people person, Sharan’s speciality is in judging a person’s character, determining their trustworthiness.

Ashvin, 51, is the more outspoken one of the siblings. Boisterous and bursting with life, he never hesitates to throw a quip when conversing. A highly driven individual, he is described as a go-getter and dealmaker who stops at nothing to get a deal closed.

Lastly, there is Mukesh, 42, who may appear very serious at first but reveals a kind and sensitive side once you get to know him. Among the trio, he is often tasked with maintaining the long-term relationships of their clients and brands. “If you want to position something in a significant fashion, Mukesh is the man for the job,” says Sharan.

Related: KSK Group CEO Joanne Kua On Building A Successful Family Business That Can Last Generations

Looking at where they stand now, it is easy to think that the brothers had all come from a privileged upbringing. “Far from it, nothing came easy. We were taught to think and act as leaders from an early age because both our parents worked full-time. My siblings and I often had to quickly step up to take charge of the household while our parents were away,” shares Sharan.

Ashvin fondly recalls their father running the family business from their home in Petaling Jaya while their mother was a career banker.  “We spent a lot of time with my father as he would drop us off at school and we would often have lunch together.”

Growing up, Sharan says both he and Ashvin actively participated in the family business. Whenever a new shipment of sarees and fabrics arrived at their home, the two elder siblings would sort and organise the goods before doing their homework. It was something that they both did dutifully and without complaint. 

Though Mukesh was too young at the time to participate in the family business, he quietly absorbed and observed the various aspects of the operations. “I found entrepreneurship to be deeply fascinating and it was what drew me to join the family business after I completed my studies,” he says.

Having been involved in most aspects of the business, the brothers have seen and done it all, so much so that they can trade places with each other and do the job just as well.

Sharan says with certainty that he could take a year off and the business will continue to run smoothly under Ashvin and Mukesh’s leadership. That being said, each of the brothers has a mind of their own and are very opinionated, but they will hear each other out. Sharan says whenever there is a new idea, the brothers will bounce it off each other and come to an agreement to implement it when at least two of them agree. 

See also: The Royalty-Endorsed Launch Of The 'Valiram: The First Hundred Years' Coffee Table Book

When it comes to lessons from their late father, Sharan says the one most important lesson he learnt was the need to be decisive. “Make the decision, even if it might be wrong, at the end of the day you need to make a choice. Admittedly, he never always did this himself but he said it enough that all of us practised this.”

When asked what their father would say to them if he were still here today, Sharan says he believes that his father would be immensely proud of their achievements. Ashvin concurs, saying never in his father’s wildest imagination would he have expected that the brothers would take the family business to greater heights, turning it into a long-term sustainable business. 

“He would never admit it,” says Sharan good-naturedly, “but my father’s smile would say it all and if he were here today, I think he would be beaming with pride.”

For the full story, pick up a copy of the February 2022 issue at the newsstands or get the digital copy here

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