Opinion: Of Faith, Finance, Food and fashion

By Rushdi Siddiqui, Global Head of Islamic Finance, Thomson Reuters

Source: Islamic Finance 2.0, Business Times

RAFI-UDDIN Shikoh is passionate about empowering businesses to become global brands with socially responsible impact.

He is the founder and CEO of DinarStandard(TM). He has 15 years of marketing strategy, e-business strategy and technology management experience with small to Fortune 500-sized companies.

Rafi-uddin is a frequent speaker on innovation, marketing, social business and Muslim customer strategies. He has presented at prestigious industry conferences at Oxford University, Harvard University, IIUM Malaysia and others.

Prior to DinarStandard, Rafi-uddin had been a vice-president with Marsh Inc, a global risk-brokerage firm, where he led and successfully delivered multi-million-dollar knowledge management and marketing technology-related initiatives.

He had previously served as a senior e-business consultant at a Boston-based firm. In addition, he has also served as a marketing director for a communications training and sports media consulting company.

Rafi-uddin has an MBA from UNC-Charlotte, North Carolina, USA, and a BSc. in Marketing from Southwest State University, Minnesota, USA.

He was born in Pakistan and spent 14 years of his early schooling in the Sultanate of Oman.

Q: What is Dinar Standard about and when and why did you start this offering?

A: Two questions prompted DinarStandard’s beginnings: First, why are there barely any global brands/ innovations from a quarter of the world’s population – the Muslim world. This includes advanced economies such as Malaysia, whose brands such as Proton or ventures from the MSC have not been able to gain major global mind-share. Secondly, what role can and does Islam play as a source of strength in modern business dealings?

DinarStandard was started in late 2004 as an online publication to strategically and analytically explore these questions.

Our reports such as the DS100 Top 100 Companies of the Muslim World, have received global media attention from The Economist to Arab News and we have also conducted reports relating to business ethics in Islam, role of intellectual property protection in Islam and others.

Today we have evolved to become a specialised research, advisory and business media firm empowering emerging Muslim markets for growth and global impact.

We are defining the ’emerging Muslim markets’ as the inter-connected over US$7 trillion (RM21.35 trillion) OIC member country economies, the over US$1.8 trillion (RM5.49 trillion) global Muslim consumer market, and the over US$1 trillion (RM3.05 trillion) Islamic Finance industry. There is tremendous connectivity and opportunities that exist within these three segments and we feel that collectively they are as large as any other emerging market today.

Q: What is Muslim lifestyle? Is that like Christian Rock?

A: A rich tapestry of over 1.5 billion people associate themselves with the religion of Islam who are spread globally with varied cultures, languages and even the conceptions of their religion. Yet increasingly, this common denominator of their Islamic faith, which is a “way of life”, is playing a role in their “lifestyle” and consumer behaviour.

Yes, there is Muslim Rock, hip-hop, orchestra and with their own stars, such as Sami Yusuf, who have transcended national identities with a world-wide Muslim fan base. This “Muslim Lifestyle Market” goes well beyond music and covers all aspects from values-based education, media, travel, hospitality, fashion sectors, pharmaceuticals and the well acknowledged “Halal” food and Islamic Finance sectors.

Q: You have the DS-100, what is this index about and how many Malaysian companies?

A: The purpose of the DS100 (in its seventh year) is to portray a picture of the leading domestic business activities in the OIC (Organisation of Islamic Conference) member countries as close as possible.

The DS100 aims to recognise companies that are leading the charge in the global competitive landscape and are making a significant impact on the well-being of their communities. Similar to Fortune Magazine’s ranking, the DS100 is based purely on the last end-of-year annual revenue figures.

The 2010 DS100 list includes 16 companies from Malaysia (second largest numbers, followed by 20 from Turkey.)

The Malaysia companies listed are led by Petronas (#3), Sime Darby (#21), Tenaga Nasional (#25), Maybank Group (#37) and YTL Corp (#42.) Proton (#99) was the last Malaysian company on the list.

Given the objective of the DS100, the ranking includes not only publicly-listed companies, but also government and private enterprises (for whom verifiable data is identified) to reflect their disproportionately significant roles in the Muslim world economies.

A DS100 Public list is being made available for indexing purposes.

Q: How are you approaching big-thinking innovation in these Muslim markets?

A: We know that innovation best practices exist and for years global consulting firms have been advising OIC companies on these strategies. Many clusters from MSC to Dubai Internet City have also existed, but with limited major results compared to the Google’s of the world.

To address this gap, we have have identified two major areas that need focus.

The first area is based on initial findings from a study we have under way that compares the most innovative companies globally with our DS100 list of Top 100 OIC-based companies.

We have identified at least three major, “chronic” gaps in the OIC corporate culture that are barriers to big-thinking innovation. These are (1) a corporate culture that fosters “fear of failure” at all levels ( 2) small thinking led by executive leadership and (3) a corporate culture that doesn’t foster “critical thinking.”

Our belief is that these areas need to be addressed in a way unique to the OIC environment. An example of our innovation strategy services is a workshop programme titled “Creativity Rehabilitation?” that addresses the lack of world-class business critical thinking across these markets with practical skills development.

The second major gap identified relates to “disingenuous” branding and relative lack of marketing sophistication.

Kevin Roberts, CEO Worldwide of Saatchi & Saatchi, calls the most successful brands “Lovemarks” – ones that command customers love and respect. We believe, brands from the OIC, especially within the Islamic Finance and Muslim Lifestyle Markets lack their true values-driven soul and identity that would drive and build love and respect towards their solutions.

Here, we believe Muslim values such as “Halal” healthy, hospitality, community, family, equitable financing etc, present a great opportunity to build global love and respect for these brands.

The writer is Global Head of Islamic Finance for Thomson Reuters, based in New York.