Malaysian businessman Vijay Eswaran is executive chairman of QI Group as well as an entrepreneur, philanthropist and author whose business interests range from direct selling to real estate, education, retail and hospitality. For his next challenge, he has embarked on the development of QI City, a mixed commercial and residential ‘edu-city’ investment in Malaysia that includes a university campus, hospital, apartments, a hotel and a convention centre.
QI Group also has interests elsewhere in the Association of South-east Asian Nations (Asean) region, the Middle East and Africa. “Asean is a very powerful economic grouping, which if it meets even 10% of its growth targets will be phenomenal,” says Mr Eswaran. “You’re looking at 600 million people with the fastest growing middle class in the world.”
“Africa is one of the markets with the greatest potential for us,” he continues. “They say that, by 2030, one in five people will be African. So we have entered the market with gusto. We began in east Africa and are also very much into west Africa. Sometimes markets take us by surprise and Côte d’Ivoire is one where they just took to it like ducks to water and have embraced entrepreneurship.”
QI Group, through Qnet, is a sponsor of Manchester City Football Club in the UK, and Mr Eswaran is keen on footballing analogies. “Our company’s gameplan is to foster entrepreneurship,” he says. “This is the way out of the current global economic débâcle. Unemployment is a viral disease. The only cure is not to create more employment but to encourage more entrepreneurs. You cannot academically create this, but you can foster an environment and allow people to grow organically. It’s like playing football: you can read as many manuals as you like, watch as many games as you like, but it’s not going to make you a better player until you get on the field and kick the ball.”
Mr Eswaran believes the digital revolution is where some of today’s biggest opportunities can be found. “We work in a global marketplace,” he says. “I liked it when [Canadian prime minister Justin] Trudeau said that the pace of change has never been this fast, and yet comparatively it will never be this slow again. But it’s also a challenge. And the biggest issue we face is the protectionism that has developed of late in some of the global markets.”
Another challenge is the lack of legislative framework in some emerging markets, and Mr Eswaran acknowledges that the QI Group name has been linked to controversies in the past. “We are in 100 different countries across the world, and inevitably when you’re in 100 countries, particularly in our industry, there are challenges where there is a lack of a legislative framework,” he says. “But we’ve created sustainable working relationships with the administrations in the great majority of the markets in which we operate.”
However, Mr Eswaran is bemused by Brexit. “The question is whether or not the UK will be able to reinvent itself,” he says. “I grew up in the British Commonwealth, watching Manchester United play Manchester City. We had a lot of British values and systems – my parents studied here and I studied here. Education is an important aspect of the soft power that the UK wields globally.
“If the UK is going to play a bigger role internationally, what it had as an advantage in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s was the fact that the people it had to do trade with were ministers who were all usually schooled in the UK,” he adds. “A choice was made to sever many Commonwealth ties. A lot of them have not really been rebuilt.”