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Meeting Oskar Metsavaht in Rio de Janeiro

We walk through rua Vinicius de Moraes in the direction of Ipanema Beach. On the corner we pass a small café where the same Vinicius wrote the famous song The Girl from Ipanema, which was performed by Astrud Gilberto, Frank Sinatra and other legends.

We’re on our way to meet Oskar Metsavaht, a man of many talents: fashion designer, creator, filmmaker, artist, entrepreneur… the list is long, the talents are diverse.

For some time now we have been hearing about Oskar and his groundbreaking work on sustainability and the environment. His fashion brand Osklen focuses strongly on the promotion of a sustainable lifestyle, using alternative natural fabrics and addressing important environmental themes in his different collections.

When we arrive at the beach we take off our shoes and walk through the hot sand in the direction of the ocean. Ipanema is one of Rio de Janeiro’s most famous beachfront bairros and the source of inspiration for the Carioca lifestyle, a laidback way of life that centres on sports, beach life and partying. It is also where Oskar gets much of his inspiration.

Meeting Oscar Metsavaht
Meeting Oscar Metsavaht

Over the years, Oskar’s reputation as an environmental visionary has spread far beyond Brazil’s borders, earning him a place among the 100 most creative people in the world of business. More recently, he received the title of UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador in 2011 for his ongoing efforts to promote a culture of peace, social inclusion and sustainable development.

We’re walking in the direction of Arpoador where the beach ends and the waves crash onto a large rock, turning the ocean into a surfers’ playground. We know that Oskar himself is a surfer and imagine that he might even bring his surfboard to the meeting…

A few years ago Oskar founded instituto e, a non-profit organisation that promotes sustainable human development. Since then, instituto e has spearheaded several environmental and social projects across Brazil to protect and preserve the country’s natural resources. Projects range from the creation of the ‘selo e’ – a sustainability index for food, fabrics and other products – to the protection of parts of the Brazilian coastline and the creation of nature reserves.

After a 15-minute stroll, we reach our rendezvous spot: Arpoador. On the beach some people are playing foot volley and a group of surfers in the water waits patiently for the perfect wave. As we are early, we sit down on the stone walkway overlooking the ocean, still clutching our shoes. “I love Rio, where else can you have business meetings on the beach?”

Read more stories on Oskar Metsavaht

Ipanema - Rio de Janeiro  Oskar Metsavaht – “Lifestyle NationsAnouk Pappers and Oskar Metsavaht  Oskar Metsavaht – “Make sustainability cool

Tags: Oskar Metsavaht, Oskar, Metsavaht, Sustainability, OSKLEN, OM, OM art, Rio de Janeiro, instituto e, UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador, UNESCO, Goodwill Ambassador,  sustainable lifestyle, Around the World, Lifestyle Nations, CoolBrands, Influencers Around the World, Oskar, Metsavaht, Make sustainability cool, OM, OM-art, Brazil, Brasil

Meeting Jean-Baptiste Santoul at Amsterdam Airport

It is raining softly as the taxi drops me off at Terminal 2 of Amsterdam Schiphol Airport. I check in for my flight to Dubai and make my way to the duty free area, to buy some magazines at the newsstand. “I want to buy Time magazine and Wallpaper,” I think out loud.

As I walk towards the newsstand I see somebody I know, browsing through the international newspapers. It’s Jean-Baptiste Santoul, Henkel Benelux Sustainability Leader, whom I met last year on a sustainability conference in Brussels. I wonder what he’s up to? “Jean-Baptiste, how’s life?” I say, while putting a hand on his shoulder.

He turns round and a smile of recognition appears on his face. “Hey, nice to see you. Where are you traveling to?” he replies.

“I’m on my way to Dubai for the launch of our book Around the world in 80 Brands” I say. “Where are you heading?”

Jean-Baptiste puts back the newspaper, as if he’s lost interest all of a sudden. “Well, I’m on my way to the kickoff of the new Henkel Innovation Challenge in Riga. Students from 25 countries are invited to participate. Their mission is to develop a concept for a sustainability according to the market needs in 2050.”

“Wow, 2050!,” I say, “Henkel is really anticipating the game. You started the Henkel Innovation Challenge 6 years ago, what’s the status?

Jean-Baptiste smiles. “I’m a true believer in innovation. I believe innovation is the solution to many of the problems, like atmospheric pollution and the global water scarcity. By stimulating the new generations to find solutions, we’re getting a step closer to global cooling.”

He pauses for a few seconds to let his words sink in. “For me, sustainability is more than “doing good” in our social environment and protecting the planet. It’s a way of managing and shaping the future.” He pauses again.

“Shall we walk? I don’t want to miss my plane,” Jean-Baptiste says. “What is your gate number?”

“I have another hour,” I say, “but I can walk you to your gate. Shaping the future sounds very conceptual. How does it work in the real world?”

Jean-Baptiste smiles again. “A collateral benefit of the Henkel Innovation Challenge is the fact that it gives us the opportunity to come in contact with top young talents worldwide. In the real world we recruit top talents, which gives us the opportunity to stay ahead of the game.

We pass in front of the Rijksmuseum annex on Holland Boulevard, which houses a permanent exhibition of work by Dutch masters of the Golden Age. Next to that, a shop where you can buy Ditch cheese and tulip bulbs.

I turn to Jean-Baptiste again. “So what are the next steps?” I ask, “What happens after the students have presented their projects?”

“First there are regional semi-finals,” Jean-Baptiste replies. “Then the winning teams will get the opportunity to compete in the international final in Shanghai.”

“Cool!” I say, “That’s must be a great experience for the students.”

“Wait, the coolest experience is still to come,” Jean-Baptiste says. “The winning team will get an around-the-world ticket to make the experience life changing.”

We arrive at the gate where JB is boarding his plane to Riga. “I’m really sorry we can’t continue this conversation,” he says. “Boarding is starting in a few minutes.”

“Yes, I’m sorry as well,” I say, “because this is really getting interesting.”

“YOUR ATTENTION PLEASE,” the voice from the speaker says. “KLM FLIGHT 1233 TO RIGA HAS A DELAY OF TWO HOURS.”

Jean-Baptiste looks at the announcement screen above the gate, then at his watch, and then back at the screen again. “Great!” he says, ”That means I have enough time to tell you the rest of the story. Come on, I’ll buy you a coffee!”

Read more stories on Jean-Baptiste Santoul.

Jean-Baptiste Santoul - Sound of Silence  Jean-Baptiste Santoul:  “The Sound of Silence

Jean-Baptiste Santoul - Sustainability Guru  Jean-Baptiste Santoul: “Sustainability Guru

Tags: Achieving More with Less, Founder Henkel Innovation Challenge, Henkel,  Henkel Challenge, Henkel Innovation Challenge, Innovation Challenge, Jean-Baptiste, Jean-Baptiste Santoul, Santoul, Sustainability, Sustainability Guru, Sustainable, JB, JB Santoul, Sound of silence

Meeting Joaquin Bacardi in Puerto Rico

“Welcome to Casa Bacardi,” Joaquin says as I enter his office. “Please take a seat,” while pointing at a large wooden table with leather chairs. He resembles Al Pacino in Brian De Palma’s ‘Carlito’s Way’, a distinguished look with an unmistakable Latino influence.

On his desk I see pictures of children. “Your kids?” I ask.

“Yes,” he replies, “taken some years ago. Nowadays, the eldest is already in college and the youngest almost in high school.”

“So the sixth Bacardi generation is ready to take over the business?” I joke.

“Sixth, if you start counting at Don Facundo… yes. Ready to take over the business… not yet. Company policy is that you have to have a university degree and four years’ work experience outside the company. Preferably with a multi-national, like I did, working for Nestle. It helps broaden your mind.”

Joaquin pauses for a few seconds to let his words sink in.

“But then again,” he continues, “I’m not pushing them to start working at the Bacardi Company. They should make up their own minds.”

Meeting Joaquin Bacardi III

“Talking about broadening one’s mind,” I say. “You had some global positions within the company as well before you came back to Puerto Rico, didn’t you?”

“I did my share of traveling the globe when I was director of Bacardi global brands,” Joaquin says with a touch of tangible fatigue in his voice. In 2005, I became global brand director for Dewar’s Scotch, leading all global brand strategies. I learned a lot about doing international business and about other cultures.”

“But it wasn’t easy on family life…” I add.

“No, it wasn’t,” Joaquin continues. “I was talking to my wife and kids more over the phone and by Internet than in real life. Sometimes I think my wife must be a saint, coping with all that. Or maybe ‘just’ an angel,” he jokes.

“I agree,” I say. ” Not about your wife of course, but about the learning curve while traveling. So you had your university education, you had your experience working for Nestle, followed by the international experience in global positions within Bacardi. And now? What is the next step, besides enjoying a bit of family time?”

“It’s a next step,” Joaquin replies. “Learning new skills, like government relations. Bacardi is an important employer here in Puerto Rico that pays a lot of taxes and therefore plays an important role in society. Paying taxes is good as it is necessary for ensuring education.”

Joaquin pauses and takes a sip from his water bottle. “We measure our results at the end of the year in three fields: ‘people, planet and profit’. Public companies have shareholders, who have invested money. Their biggest concern is the profit. Bacardi is a private company, a family business. Of course we have to make profit, but we take full responsibility for ‘people’ and the ‘planet’ as well. People work with us for 20 or 30 years, become part of the family. And we take care of them.”

“Personally I’m a great believer in the power of education, so that’s where I devote my time and energy. Alongside running the Bacardi business, of course,” he adds with a smile.

Next stop Havana?

I’m on the ferry, back to San Juan. I take out my iPad again and browse my notes. I’ve interviewed a lot of brands over the past 10 years. But the best stories come from family-owned companies like Bacardi.

The greatest advantage of a family-owned company is that they’re in it for the long term. None of the family members are interested in short-term benefits. It means all decisions are based on creating long-term stakeholder value instead of short-term shareholder value.

Just before I left Casa Bacardi, Joaquin opened a cupboard behind his desk and took out a bottle. “Here,” he said, “I want you to have this. It’s some of the best rum we have, Reserva Limitada, that has been aging for 12 years.

“Thank you very much,” I replied. “But I don’t drink alcohol.”

“This is not for drinking… this is Reserva Limitada, the best of the best. This is for sipping,” he adds with a smile. Adios amigo, buen viaje.”

I thanked him and shook his hand, turned around and left the office. Next I took a taxi and boarded the ferry to San Juan.

I have a last look at Casa Bacardi. “Wouldn’t it be great to do a search on the Bacardi roots in Cuba,” I think out loud. “I wonder when the next plane for Havana leaves?”

Read also –  “Meeting Joaquin Bacardi in Puerto Rico – part 1”

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Tags: Meeting Joaquin Bacardi, Joaquin Bacardi, Joaquin,  Bacardi, Joaquin Bacardi III, Around the World in 80 Brands, CoolBrands, Cool Brands, Cool Brands, Storytelling, CoolBrands Storytelling, Maarten Schafer, Maarten, Schafer, Puerto Rico, Meeting Joaquin Bacardi in Puerto Rico, San Juan, Casa Bacardi, Rum, Ron, the Bacardi Company, Bacardi roots, distillery, education


Meeting Carlos Ferreirinha in São Paulo

Carlos Ferreirinha asked us to meet him at Cafe Octavio in the centre of São Paulo’s business district.

We’ve arrived early and are enjoying a fresh juice and watching people rush by on their way to work. “So Carlos is the man to go to if you’re interested in working in the luxury sector in Brazil, is that right?” Anouk asks.

“Yup, Carlos is your man – he’s got years of experience. Knows everything about the Brazilian market and, perhaps more importantly, about how foreign luxury brands can penetrate it. There’s a cool example of how Tiffany had a store in São Paulo, based on the US model and it wasn’t really working.

They met up with Carlos and he told them that Brazilians want to be pampered: they want to be served coffee, have access to private lounges and receive special attention as part of their shopping experience. Tiffany took his advice and business picked up immediately!”

“Wow,” says Anouk, “just goes to show that local knowledge is priceless right?”

Ten minutes later Carlos strolls in, casually yet smartly dressed. “Hey guys,” he says with a smile, “great to meet you!” He orders an espresso and we start chatting about his company, MCF, a consultancy firm he founded 12 years ago. Today he has a team of 35 people working for him.

It’s clear that he is dedicated to the company and to his employees, as he tells us that he would sooner sell his car than fire staff. “My goal is not just to make money, but also to enjoy life, work on projects I love and teach my team how to grow,” he says.

“So tell us about your work in the luxury sector,” says Anouk. “How have you seen the market evolve since you started?”

“Well I started 20 years ago at Louis Vuitton,” says Carlos with a laugh, “so let me tell you there has been a lot of change! But Brazil is a work in progress, it will never be ready, so there is constant change – that’s very important to remember.”

Anouk Pappers and Carlos Ferreirinha in São Paulo
Anouk Pappers and Carlos Ferreirinha in São Paulo

“What do you think is the greatest challenge for foreign luxury brands entering the market here?” I ask.

Carlos considers the question for a minute, then says: “There are many, it’s hard to know where to start. But I’d say the main thing is your approach. You basically need to press the reset button, forget everything you ever learned elsewhere.”

“Wow, really?” I ask. “That radical?”

“Yes, working in Brazil requires a huge amount of creativity and flexibility. And you need local expertise. There is no way you can enter this market without speaking Portuguese and knowing the subtleties of business here.”

“And that’s where you come in!” says Anouk.

“Exactly!” Carlos says. “That’s my main role: I am a translator, bridging the cultural and linguistic gap between foreign luxury brands and the Brazilian market.”

“What about Brazilian brands? I ask. “Have you seen them growing stronger over the last decade?”

“There is some growth, but we’re not there yet,” says Carlos. “It could be a lot stronger: we are the largest producer of commodities like coconut, oranges and coffee, but we have no international brands to speak of. If you ask me we should have a patent on beachwear in general and the bikini in particular!”

Anouk laughs. “So how do you think the Brazil brand can be strengthened? Beyond the image of Brazil as football, samba and beach parties, what should it stand for?”

“Ha interesting,” says Carlos, “Brazil as a brand… that’s another way of approaching it… well I think you can’t get around the fact that samba, soccer and beaches are a part of who we are and have shaped our national character as relaxed, fun-loving and music-loving people. Beyond that I think we are also a country that embraces progress and new technology, we’re an agricultural powerhouse…”

“Ok but if there were one attribute that represented Brazil what would it be?” I ask. “I mean if the United Stated stands for entertainment, Europe for culture and luxury, and Asia for spirituality and technology, then what is Brazil?”

“Brazil is the country that translates human touch. It is the country of touching, fun and smiling,” says Carlos.

© 2013 CoolBrands – Around the World in 80 Brands

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Tags: Anouk Pappers, Maarten Schäfer, CoolBrands Influencers, Influencers around the world, Around the World in 80 Brands, Storytelling, Meeting Carlos Ferreirinha, Carlos Ferreirinha, MCF, consultancy luxury sector Brazil, consultancy luxury brands Brazil, luxury brands brazil, foreign luxury brands entering Brazilian market

Meeting Melissa Fernandes Oliveira at the Unique Hotel in São Paulo

Melissa Fernandes Oliveira

Today we’re meeting Melissa Fernandes Oliveira, the managing director of the Unique Hotel in São Paulo, though she is perhaps better known for her lifestyle blog and her reputation as an endless font of knowledge on good food and great destinations in Brazil and beyond.

Our meeting is at the Unique Hotel itself, one of São Paulo’s architectural icons with its green copper façade and abstract ark shape.

“I’m looking forward to this meeting,” I tell Maarten as we head to the hotel through Ibirapuera Park. “Several people we’ve met have mentioned Melissa and how interesting she is…”

“Right,” says Maarten, “I heard her blog is a reference across a big part of Brazil. She’s the leading lady when it comes to all things hip and stylish. Can’t wait to meet her in person!

Where did we say we would meet her?” he asks as we enter the sleek minimalist hotel lobby.

“On the roof terrace,” I answer, “apparently it’s got amazing views of the city and a crimson swimming pool!”

“Wow,” says Maarten, “coffee on top of a copper ark beside a crimson pool… not something you do every day!”

As we step out of the lift, we immediately spot Melissa, standing by the bar discussing the day’s menu with the maître d’, but as soon as she sees us she comes over. “Welcome to the Unique Hotel,” she says with a big smile. “Let’s go out onto the terrace. What would you like to drink?”

Anouk Pappers and Melissa Fernandes Oliveira
Anouk Pappers and Melissa Fernandes Oliveira in São Paulo

We order two lattes and follow Melissa outside, where, as advertised, the views are mind-blowing. Melissa and I settle on the chaise longues by the pool (which is indeed crimson) and I ask Melissa about her blog.

“I actually do it more for fun, I don’t really consider it to be work,” she says. “You see, I love travelling and exploring new places. The travelling is very useful for my job as a managing director of the Unique. This is also one of the reasons why I have been asked to be the president of the Brazilian Luxury Travel Association (”

What happened, is that because of these activities, many people used to ask me for advice about good restaurants, new hotels or designer shops in different places. I was always more than happy to give tips and share my own experiences, and after a while I decided to put it all together on a blog.”

“I heard it has really become a reference site – according to several people we spoke to,” I say.

“Well you know, this is how it goes in Brazil,” says Melissa with a relaxed smile, “people prefer having things recommended by others and to share experiences. I really enjoy the idea of exchanging and sharing information – particularly if I can help young people with my experience.

I always make time for that because I really believe in the importance of encouraging and supporting the young generation in their endeavours.”

© 2013 CoolBrands – Around the World in 80 Brands

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Tags: Anouk Pappers, Maarten Schäfer, CoolBrands Influencers, Influencers around the world, Around the World in 80 Brands, Storytelling, Meeting Melissa Fernandes Oliveira, Melissa Fernandes Oliveira, Melissa Oliveira, Mel Fernandes, Unique Hotel São Paulo, managing director Unique Hotel, president Brazilian Luxury and Travel Association

Meeting Rami al Ali in Dubai

I’m on my way to meet Rami al Ali, one of the leading fashion designers in the Middle East who has dressed international celebrities like Beyoné, Chanel Iman, Carla Gugino, Kelly Rowland, to name just a few. Of Syrian origin, Rami moved to Dubai after finishing his studies in 1995. Here he launched his own fashion label in 2000, which is taking the international fashion scene by storm with elegant designs and the subtle use of delicate fabrics.

Rami’s asked me to come to his atelier, so that I can get an idea of the design and dress-making process. Upon arrival at the atelier – a spacious, elegant villa on Al Wasl Road– I follow one of his assistants as she weaves her way between mannequins draped in elegant gowns and dresses in fine fabrics. “The latest is the Autumn Winter 2013-2014 collection,” she says as she sees me admiring the different designs.

We find Rami in his office, surrounded by books and other sources of inspiration with a sketchpad in front of him, deeply engrossed in a series of sketches. He looks up when he hears us enter. “Noor? Great to meet you!” he says with a warm smile and gets up to offer me a seat.

Rami Al Ali

An assistant brings us two cups of green tea and as I take a sip I say: “I read in your profile that you studied visual communications, what made you decide to go into fashion?”

“I always loved art,” he says. “And I grew up as the only boy in a family with four daughters, so I was surrounded by fashion and style from a young age. But I guess one of the key events that propelled me into the world of fashion was when I decided to design and produce a fashion show for my final-year graduation show. It was a very unusual and daring move, but my professors were impressed. I think this boosted my confidence and made me decide to go for a career in this sector.”

“And now some of the world’s biggest fashion icons are wearing Rami Al Ali designs and the brand is conquering catwalks around the world. Are you planning to turn it into a global brand?”

“That’s the ultimate goal. In the meantime, we’re building up a solid business with a strong foundation. But definitely gaining international recognition: our collections are presented at all the top shows in Paris and we’ve also started introducing the brand in the U.S. It’s great to see my work on the red carpet in Hollywood,” he says with a smile.

“That’s great!” I say. “So what’s next?”

“I’m working on a second Rami Al Ali line of prêt-à-porter designs. It’s still very much a work in progress, but I’m excited to see where it will take the brand. I hope that the brand will continue to grow and ultimately my business partner and I want to take it from a fashion house to a corporation.”

“Plenty of exciting plans! Be sure to keep us posted!”

By Noor Al Geziry – CBNWS 2013

Tags: Rami Al Ali, Meeting Rami Al Ali in Dubai, Meeting Rami Al Ali,CoolBrands NextWorld Storytelling, Storytelling, CoolBrands, CoolBrands Storytelling, Rami, Meeting Rami, Rami Al-Ali, meeting Rami Al-Ali in Dubai, Meeting Rami Al-Ali, Noor Al Geziry

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Meeting Sharif Ramadan in Dubai

We started our storytelling expedition Around the World in 80 Brands. After a stop in London and Paris, we arrived in Dubai.

Our CoolBrands curator for the UAE, Noor Al Geziry, selected ‘people with a vision’ and ‘brands with a purpose’ for us to meet.

As we drive on Sheikh Zayed road in the direction of the Dubai Marina area, Noor fills us in on our first meeting.

Sharif Ramadan started a company creating a line of all natural fruit drinks, with the idea of countering the bad habits of the modern consumers of drinking sweet fizzy drinks or too much coffee. And his juices are adapted to the regional taste, not some worldwide ‘one taste fits all’. He called the brand “Better This”.

Twenty minutes later we’re sitting in JLT, Jumeirah Lake Towers with a view on the Dubai skyline.

Meeting Sharif Ramadan - Better This
“How this actually started, is a story about ending modern slavery,” Sharif starts off.

“I was working for a big company in a corporate structure. My wife was at home with my new-born daughter and I was having regular 12 hour working days to make my way up in the company.

“I realised I was missing out on an important period in my daugther’s life. And mine. I realised that in modern day life our ambitions, our own choices in life put us in an undesired position.

“So I quit my job and started working for myself with the motivation in mind to help people make better choices. For me an obvious start is to help people eat and drink the right stuff. Better this all-natural fruit juice than fizzy drinks or too much coffee. Better this is more than a product… It’s a lifestyle. You have a choice and there is an alternative.

“I will get some bottles of our juices, so you can see what the right choice tastes like, he says with a smile, pointing at a large fridge in the corner. After that I’ll tell you all about the brand positioning.”

To be continued…

Meeting Sharif Ramadan - Better This

Tags: Meeting Sharif Ramadan in Dubai, Sharif Ramadan in Dubai, meeting Sharif Ramadan, CoolBrands NextWorld Storytelling, CoolBrands, Storytelling, Better This, meeting Better This, meeting Sharif Ramadan at Better This, Sharif Ramadan founded Better This

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Meeting Hazem Al Sawaf in Sharjah, UAE

Today we are leaving Dubai and going up North, to the next Emirate, Sharjah.

We are on our way to meet Hazem Al Sawaf, who is the Director of Marketing & Communication of Shurouq.

Shurouq is a development company that has set as its goal to create a Sharjah that is attractive for people and business to come and settle. So they target people who want to work or already work in the Emirates, companies to start their business here and investors to have a safe and promising investment for the future.

Sharjah as the perfect Emirate to work and live.

Calm, small, safe, community minded, friendly, and so on.

For this, they have been working for years on supporting the government’s efforts on creating awareness about the emirate. Which is of course not easy if you are located next to Dubai…but the bigger the challenge and in the end, the reward!

We are meeting in Al Qasba, one of Shurouq’s most prestigious projects, a family oriented place, to spend a day together, with the ‘Sharjah eye’ and many other attractions.

Al Qasba in Sharjah

After we settled in the coffee Lounge with a café latte, Hazem starts talking…

“Actually, I am very proud to work here, since we really get the opportunity to create and change things.
That is what I like about Shurouq. We are a development company with a clear vision for the future.”

“What is that vision?” I ask.

“To position the Emirate of Sharjah as the most ideal Emirate for people to work and live. We have everything here. Nice places to live, parks, space, schools, shopping facilities and local community activities. All is close by, easy to reach and safe.
And, if you want to enjoy the hustle and bustle of the big city, in half an hour you are in Dubai.”

“I have a question,” Anouk says. “How are you going to accomplish this? I understand the vision, but how are you going to convey this message?”

Hazem Al Sawaf by CoolBrands
Hazem Al Sawaf by CoolBrands

“First of all, by living it ourselves,” Hazem says. “We are all very proud to work for Shurouq and to help build Sharjah. We have created and continue to create the environment that we are promoting. Al Qasba that we are in now is one of those examples. We are family oriented as a people and we welcome families into our Emirate, and Al Qasba is one way of showing it.”

“And of course you have to tell the story to the right people,” I say.

“Of course, that is another area we are working on and maybe you can be of help, to get our story out there,” Hazem says with a smile.

“Well, let’s see,” Anouk says, “first we’ll share our story about meeting you in our network and then we’ll take it from there…”

To be continued.

Tags: Meeting Hazem Al Sawaf in Sharjah, Hazem Al Sawaf in Sharjah, meeting Hazem Al Sawaf, CoolBrands NextWorld Storytelling, CoolBrands, Storytelling,  Shurouq, meeting Shurouq, meeting Hazem Al Sawaf at Shurouq, Hazem Al Sawaf marketing and communication director for Shurouq in Sharjah

Meeting Elizabeth Anglès d’Auriac in Paris

We’re in Paris and we’ve just spent the morning people watching and window-shopping at the grand magasins. Now we’re on our way to meet Elizabeth Anglès d’Auriac, the European marketing director at Sephora, the global beauty and cosmetics brand.

“Did you know,” I tell Maarten, “that Sephora actually revolutionized the concept of the classic parfumerie?”

“In what way?”

“Well,” I explain, “back in 1969, they created the first ‘self-service’ beauty stores, where you didn’t have to wait to be served by a shop assistant anymore, allowing customers to touch products, test them out, compare them and take all their time to make their choice.”

“Interesting, I never realized that,” says Maarten. “So do you think the immersiveness of the Sephora shopping experience is in fact part of its brand identity?”

“Good question,” I say. “And I think I may know the answer: Elizabeth has asked us to meet her at the Sephora flagship store on the Champs Elysées, so I’m guessing that she also wants us to get a feel for the brand through the in-store experience.”

Sephora Flagship Store Champs Elysées Paris

“Let’s go and find out then!” says Maarten as we step into the store.

“See?” I tell Maarten as we walk past the perfume display, where customers are sampling the different fragrances, past the Brow Bar, where two women are getting their eyebrows shaped, to the cosmetics section, where two teenagers are testing out new tinted mascaras. “This is what I mean – it’s a really unique retail environment!”

“I get it,” says Maarten with a sigh, “It’s brilliant – I bet women can spend hours in here.”

“Actually,” I say with a smile, “the men’s section over there seems quite crowded too…”

Sephora Gift Factory

Elizabeth meets us at the Gift Factory and takes us on a tour.

“The idea of giving customers the freedom to browse, touch, smell and immerse themselves in the space is integral to the Sephora brand,” she explains.

She adds that customers also have the freedom to choose which retail experience they want – whether they want to visit a Sephora flagship store, drop by a corner store or shop online… “But anywhere you visit Sephora, the experience is designed to be dazzling and exciting,” she says.

As we stroll through the cosmetics section, Elizabeth points out the range of products and prices on offer: from the in-house ‘Made In Sephora’ brand, which combines high quality with affordability to top-of-the-range, selective beauty brands.

“Something for everyone in other words!” says Maarten.

We come to an area in the middle of the store where a new mascara line is being presented. “One of our key strengths is that we are always one step ahead,” says Elizabeth, “launching new styles, introducing new technologies… We are on the cutting edge of cosmetic innovation.” She adds that the element of surprise and energy is what sets Sephora apart.

“We involve our customers and make them part of the brand,” she says. “That’s also something we’re exploring in our new digital communication platforms and through social media.”

“Wow, virtual beauty?” asks Maarten. “I’d like to hear more about that!

“Sure,” says Elizabeth. “I’ll be more than happy to tell you all about Sephora 3.0.”


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Meeting Rogier Bikker in Shanghai

We leave our hotel just after breakfast. We walk to the corner of the street where we hail a taxi. “To Jianguo West Road  please, in the French concession” I say to the driver. The taxi makes a left turn, then a right and then a left again, zigzagging through the streets of Shanghai. “I love this part of town,” Maarten says while looking out of the window. “It doesn’t feel like we’re in a metropole of 23 million inhabitants.”

After 20 minutes we arrive at the address where we have a meeting with Rogier Bikker, strategy partner at Energize, a creative agency specialized in creating branded communication campaigns.

The meeting is set in the coffee shop at the entrance of the office building. As we enter the place we recognize Rogier from his profile pic on Facebook.

Rogier Bikker Energize by CoolBrands NextWorld Storytelling

After ordering a café latte, Rogier starts talking about a campaign they did for KLM – Royal Dutch Airlines. “The challenge was to increase the fan base of KLM Airlines in China and to activate potential travellers to Europe on a more personal level.”

“That sounds interesting,” I say, “how did you do it?”

“We started an activation campaign in which iconic cartoon character Miffy started a 100-day journey with KLM,” Rogier says, “leading the experience on behalf of Chinese consumers. The campaign turned potential travellers into KLM customers with activations on Miffy’s and KLM’s social channels. The participants received goodies inside the airplane and were greeted by a lifesize Miffy upon arrival in Europe.”

”That sounds simple, the way you describe it,” I say.
“Simple, but effective,” Rogier continues. “There were 123.000 participants, 89.000 new fans on social media, 4,2 million video views and almost 1 million site visits.”
“Wow, that sounds impressive,” I say, “can you give me some other examples of campaigns you created?”

“Of course,” Rogier says, “but let’s order lunch first and I will tell you all about  our credo ‘earned attention’.

Rogier Bikker - By CoolBrands - Energize
Rogier Bikker – By CoolBrands – Energize

Tags: Rogier Bikker, meeting Rogier Bikker, Bikker, energize Shanghai, miffy, klm, klm china, china, shanghai, energize, earned attention

Meeting Rahul Akerkar in Mumbai

It’s Tuesday morning in Mumbai and we’re on our way to Indigo Deli where we’re going to meet owner and chef Rahul Akerkar. “Time for breakfast and a good cup of coffee,” says Maarten as we walk towards Indigo with the Gateway of India at the end of the street.

Together with his wife Malini, Rahul runs a series of restaurants and deli’s in Mumbai, which they manage under the umbrella of their hospitality company, deGustibus. Their restaurant Indigo, which serves European-style food, was listed on the San Pellegrino Asia’s 50 Best Restaurants List in 2013 and has won an array of other awards and prizes.

“I’m curious to hear about his background,” I say. “You know he’s American-Indian and was on a PhD programme at Columbia University in biochemical engineering?”

“Really? Sound like an interesting career path!” says Maarten.

Five minutes later, Rahul has found us a table at the deli and we’re sipping on a perfect caffè latte.

Rahul Akerkar - Indigo - by CoolBrands NextWorld Storytelling
“So Rahul, how did you get into the restaurant business? I read you were well on your way to becoming a research scientist in biochemical engineering!”

Rahul smiles. “Yeah, that’s how it started out, but then things changed. I got disillusioned with research and academia. All through college and grad school, I had been working in restaurants, in New York. Cooking had really become a passion and so I decided to go back to India to open my own restaurant.

“I started with catering work. It gave me experience, and allowed me to understand the Indian palate’s acceptance of western food. It also meant that when we opened our first restaurant, I already had a following. So the risk was relatively low.

“We opened our first restaurant in Bombay in 1992 and then moved to Bangalore three years later to run a small boutique hotel.  We returned to Bombay in 1997 and finally opened Indigo in 1999, in a picturesque bungalow in a street behind the Taj Hotel. And, which is not common in this city, after 15 years, we are still around and doing very well.

“So, what we heard is correct. With Indigo, you were the first in Mumbai to open up a stand-alone fine dining restaurant, the culture being that these restaurants used to be inside hotels only. Setting a trend actually,” says Maarten.

“And today you have a hospitality company and you own a whole series of restaurants right?” I ask.

“That’s right,” says Rahul. “We’ve grown immensely and deGustibus Hospitality will soon have over 1,000 employees. Besides Indigo and the Indigo Delis in Mumbai, we have Neel and Tote on the Turf.”

“What sets your restaurants and delis apart from other places in Mumbai?” I ask.

“Hospitality!” says Rahul. “We have always taken a warm, personal approach to hospitality – going that extra mile to make our guests feel special is something we have believed in right from the start. We are purveyors of the ‘can do’ kind of hospitality.”

“I think we can vouch for that!” I say. “Breakfast was delicious and the coffee was excellent. So what are your plans for the future?”

“We have lots of ideas for extensions, but in the immediate we’re focusing on Delhi and first opening Indigo and then several delis there.”

“So next time we’re in Delhi, we should look out for Indigo! We’ll come and look you up!”

“My pleasure,” says Rahul. “You’re always welcome!”

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