This is the official blog of the Landmark Group with insights
and stories from the people behind our many brands.

Thoughts on building a Web Team

Taking a $3.8 bn retail and hospitality behemoth online is no small potatoes. As the head of Landmark Group's new Web Team, Savitar Jagtiani has some exciting challenges on his plate. He shares some of them here.

What was the need for an in-house Web Team?
We needed to raise the quality bar of the Landmark Group's web initiatives, which include design/redesign projects, project/product management & marketing, online marketing and more. 

When and how did you begin?
It all started in April 2009 with a four-fold mission:
  1. Redesign, develop and promote Citymax Hotel's online booking site
  2. Redesign the Landmark Group's corporate website
  3. Redesign the group's employee Intranet
  4. Design a loyalty website for the Landmark Group's 1.5 million loyalty card members

Before/After
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The first promise was delivered in August 2009 with the redesigned and purely informational Citymax Hotels website (before/after screenshots above). Its transactional phase launched in April 2010 (our Hospitality division's first eCommerce site) along with the property launch of Citymax Al Barsha. 

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The next 3 promises were all delivered in 2010 itself with the rebooted, 150+ page corporate site (before/after screenshots above), the new socially-networked, Enterprise 2.0 Intranet for thousands of our Middle East team members (before/after screenshots below),

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and a clean, simple and country-specific loyalty website for our many Shukran members (new design below). As a bonus, we even rolled out the official Landmark Group blog.

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Sounds like other businesses could use Web Teams too. Can you share some of your methodologies, beliefs and values?
We're big fans of design, usability and thought leaders like Apple and 37signals. The latter's 'Getting Real' philosophy is immensely useful and essentially our bible on how to approach project and product management. Some of the tricks we've learnt and practice include:
  • Building the user experience first. The user experience is the product.
  • Less is more (eg: less mass and less features = more focus, less code, less cost and less time to production).
  • Iterate, iterate, iterate!
  • The devil is in the detail.
  • Design precedes development - always.
  • Design, and products, are never finished - Kaizen (a Japanese concept of continuous improvement) drives freshness and innovation.

We're also huge believers in collaborative software like Basecamp (see our case study on 37Signals' Product Blog). Basecamp is our communication backbone and keeps us and our global network of partners both organized and connected.

What excites you most about your work?
First, there's no set formula to getting the web "right", so figuring out how to crack it is incredibly exciting. Second, I work with a great set of web professionals which is both awesome and a privilege. Third, knowing that we have the opportunity to make a profound impact on the web for millions of our users, our many businesses and the region at large, is a trip by itself.

What has been the biggest challenge so far?
Hiring. Finding and recruiting high quality web talent isn't easy; we're constantly on the lookout for fresh talent and eager, brilliant minds.

Where do you see the Web Team three years from now?
By 2014, I hope to have at least 30-40 people in our growing Web Team, a major expansion in our Product Management team, and new focused units for specific functions like e-commerce, social media and mobile products.

What's the best web experience you've had as a customer or business owner? Share it with us here!

Landmark Toastmasters: Conversation, Confidence & Camaraderie

Public speaking can be a private nightmare for many. Conquering that beast is a challenge laden with rewards both professional and personal: with improved public speaking abilities come better communication and leadership skills, increased confidence, accelerated career success, a positive attitude and more eloquence in expression.

I've always been interested in improving my abilities to address an audience, so I was thrilled to learn that the Landmark Group - as part of its initiatives promoting excellence and growth - nurtures its very own chapter of Toastmasters International, a voluntary "learn-by-doing" club in which participants are encouraged to hone their speaking and leadership skills in a friendly atmosphere.

Area-Contest.pngThe Landmark Group Toastmasters - "LMG TMs", for short - meet regularly to share prepared and impromptu talks on assigned topics; encourage, exchange and help develop each other's presentations; improve grammar, vocabulary and pronunciation; and generally loosen our ties (and tighten our public speaking skills) in an environment of shared camaraderie where everyone is welcome. There is no instructor; instead, we take turns in facilitating meetings and documenting minutes, which allows us to be on equal footing and experience various roles. Group members include colleagues, co-workers and employees across brands, territories and job functions, so being a part of Toastmasters is also a great way to get to know each other on a more personal level.

Club-Contest1.pngI never thought I could enjoy learning about a topic as seemingly dry as Supply Chains before a humorous speech on the subject (which managed to incorporate witty anecdotes and Hollywood movie references), or be deeply inspired in under 5 minutes by a talk on how key decisions have the power to affect us all. As my own speaking skills have improved, I've seen close bonds developing with fellow Toastmasters and I find myself looking forward to the next meeting. Getting over cold feet and stage fright has never been so much fun.

Do you have a memorable public speaking experience to share? We'd love to hear about it here!

Way to Becoming a Leader

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When I first joined the Landmark Group in 1994, I was put in charge of finance at Splash, the fashion retail concept then in its infancy. I am a Chartered Accountant by profession, and apart from limited experience with a small fashion brand, I was new to the field of garment retail. I found myself faced with many aspects of the business: dealing with contractors, coordinating with architects and project teams, warehouse and retail coordination, staffing, work permits and more. Learning it all practically at the same time gave me tremendous exposure.

From those early beginnings to my current position as CEO of Max, I have looked at every challenge as an opportunity to learn and improve skills. Leading a business is like climbing a mountain: the journey isn't primarily about experience, but more about faith and conviction, trusting one's instinct and staying on the path no matter what. Here are some of the truths that helped me to get to where I am today, and that will undoubtedly help many to become leaders in their field.

Communicate a clear vision
For a team to work together towards a common purpose, it's important that they see it clearly. A good leader will have a rational, realistic plan, communicate it consistently and stay committed to it. Empower your team members to take decisions and to be accountable for them - and don't forget to recognize and reward your team for a job well done.

Make bite-sized goals
It is always better to break a long path into meaningful, bite-sized goals - this keeps the team motivated, enables them to measure their performance and makes the ultimate pinnacle less daunting. With the focus on achievable short-term objectives, you will be pleasantly surprised at how easily morale stays high - allowing you to set higher goals and targets.

Share the load
I recall my experience in Kuwait when we opened our store in Al Rai. With a small team of only 40 employees, we successfully opened a large 100,000 sq. ft. store. In order to ensure the team reached its objective, all of us volunteered to share the workload and take up responsibilities which were beyond our key responsibilities. I am happy that some of the key members of that team have grown in the organization today as GMs and COOs.

Strive to continually improve
I believe that besides passion and hard work, one needs conviction and clear vision to succeed and grow. Always learn and improve your skills. This will keep you engaged and driven, and you will always move ahead. Believe that you can do more and better each day than what you have achieved in the past.

Do you have any best practices for better corporate leadership? Share them with us here...

As Golf, So Life

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Golf runs deep in my family's blood. My grandfather started playing the game when he worked with the Government of India under British rule; then my father and uncles took it up and passed the passion on to the third generation: my brother, cousins and me.

I'd accompany my father to his club every weekend to play until I was old enough to commute there by bus on my own. I must've been just 12 or 13 years old when I got hooked - while other boys my age preferred rowdier games, I was drawn to this sport of keen focus and quiet concentration.

My uncle Bilu Sethi was a big inspiration, being India's No.1 golfer in the 1960s and '70s and winning many prestigious international and national golf championships in his lifetime. Through dedication and practice I soon became quite good, and went on to win the All India Junior Amateur Golf Championship at the age of 19 in 1977.

Golf has always been a great way for me to de-stress. Even now, no matter how busy I get at work, I find four hours twice a week for a round of golf where I think of nothing else but hitting that little white ball as best I can. Not only has it helped me improve my personal best while feeding my competitive spirit (and allowing me some fresh air), but the sport has taught me loads about life: through golf, I've been able to closely observe human nature and character, to make reasoned decisions about whether to take a risk or play safe, to aim for the skies even though I might not always get there.

One of the most interesting things about golf is that its only real referee is your own conscience. My biggest life lesson from golf is to be honest to myself first in everything I do, and this has helped me grow both personally and professionally.

My craziest golfing experience was in Mumbai during the monsoons - the rain was pelting down so hard the course would normally have been closed, but the captain of the club, seeing what regular enthusiasts we were, allowed us to play soaking wet, fortified by the contents of a hip flask and our shared passion for this game.

GN_merchantscup_08.jpgI've managed to infect my wife with the golfing bug, and now she plays more often than I do. Although my two daughters haven't quite taken to the sport as their forefathers did, I'm always eager to share my inherited interest with anyone who'll listen. After all, on the golf course everyone feels like family.

Do you have a passionate interest that's positively impacted your life? Share it with us here...

A Thousand Words

My love of photography began when I was barely five years old. We were in Matheran, a hill station near Mumbai, and my father was carrying a black metal camera in a brown leather case slung around his neck. I kept jumping up to try and touch it.

The first time I actually took charge of a camera, though, was when I was eleven, on another family trip. It was a basic "Keystone USA" model - nothing fancy, just a cuboidal body with no detachable lens - but from the first shot, I was hooked.

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Photo Therapy
Photography is an intensely therapeutic experience for me. It adds to my enjoyment of travel - now I rarely see the world with bare eyes. Cameras top my list of cool gadgets (large, hooded zoom lenses remind me of The Guns of Navarone), and the clicking sound these DSLR cameras make is music to my ears.

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Learning Curve
Dubai's a pretty dusty place, which is problematic for shooting distant objects and landscapes. Also, sodium lights and dim lights make it more difficult to capture natural colours and flesh tones. I avoid using a flash, especially because it gives faces a ghostly, unnatural pallor. But as with all challenges, there are always solutions and workarounds that I keep learning along the way.

Tech Specs
I use a Nikon D90. It's a tried and trusted model, and carries most features that later (and considerably more expensive) models like the Nikon D300, D700 and D3X have. In the eternal Nikon vs Canon debate, I finally chose Nikon because most reviews indicated better low-light performance and better sensor quality.

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My Way
My shooting process is quite straightforward: evaluate the lighting, compose the frame, tune the settings and shoot. I review the picture for its frame and colour contrast, then readjust the settings if necessary.

Once I'm done, I don't retouch. I prefer capturing the moment with my own skills, which I'm working on improving before I consider getting into retouching and editing.

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Favourite Things
My favourite photographer is Ken Rockwell. I go to Digital Photography School for tutorials and tips.

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My dream is to have National Geographic magazine publish an original Jatin Mehta photograph! Favourite subjects include landscapes and cityscapes, and I've recently been experimenting with portraiture. Our six-month-old daughter gives me plenty of opportunities to practice portrait photography while spending time with my family - and who knows, maybe she'll be as fascinated by her dad's camera as I was by mine.

Do you have a hobby that's become a passion? Share it with us here!

Wisdom of old: start when you're young

"Study hard until you're 25 - what you learn during this time will help you earn until you're 60. Work hard until you're 60 - what you earn during this time will help you save for your retired life until you're 90!"

My father shared those words of wisdom with me when I was young. It's easy to understand why most young workers don't think much about retirement, though - 20-somethings are usually more concerned with kick-starting their careers, not ending them in the distant future.

If you're smart, you'll grab the opportunity to start saving early for retirement, when the beauty of compound interest can work its magic and maximize your savings. Consider this scenario: If you start saving for retirement at 25, putting away AED 6,000 a year (that's AED 500 a month) for 35 years, you'll end up with about AED 1 million when you retire (assuming earnings grow at 7.5% annually). If you wait until you're 35, you've got just 25 years until retirement to put that same AED 6,000 a year to work for you - so at the same annual growth rate, you get around AED 450,000 when you retire - less than half the money!

"Forget investment - I'm barely out of credit card debt!"
Before you start investing, get yourself out of the red. Credit cards can be a great financial tool if managed properly, but you pay more interest on credit cards than you'll ever earn on investments. All credit card companies earn profits, pay staff salaries and bonuses and offer attractive cash-back incentives to customers from the money they make on late payment fees and interest - so make it a point to pay your credit card's complete outstanding amount by the due date.

investment-pyramid.jpgWider is better
Investment types perform differently under dynamic market conditions, so it's important that you have a wide variety. Known as diversification, owning different types of investments help reduce your risk, and potentially increase returns within your portfolio.

Your investment mix could include investments from each level of this pyramid. The amount at each level depends on your personal situation and level of risk tolerance. Remember this golden rule: always start from the base of the pyramid and move up.

Although you might have limited investible surplus early on in your career, age is on your side. Be regular and systematic in your investment pattern, and you're sure to retire wealthy. My father's advice hasn't failed me yet!

Have any good investment tips that family or friends shared with you? Feel free to pass them along here!