PIVOT NEWSROOM

Pivot Factory Podcast - Episode 4 - Kamal Somaia

Feb 20, 2019 10:30:38 AM / by Pivot Factory

Sometimes innovation is born from within.

Before helping turn the textile company his father literally started from the trunk of his car into a global sensation, Kamal Somaia accomplished what many athletically gifted Englanders only dream of: playing professional cricket.

But unlike other notable athletes, his foray into the centuries-old sport is arguably the second-most interesting thing about him.

So how does someone go from professional cricket player to global CEO of an international textile company? Certainly, making the jump from the world of sports to the business of linens requires a great deal of fortitude and ingenuity, but Kamal, a self-described “futurist” with a strong grasp for innovation, also had his father to show him the ropes.

Simba Global began as a small family company more than four decades ago. Its transformation into the largest commercial textile supplier in the Southern Hemisphere lends further credence to the notion that any company, regardless of size, can have an extraordinary impact.

In this podcast episode, Kamal Somaia and host Michael Leadbetter, CEO and founder of Pivot Factory, discuss the hardscrabble beginnings and eventual global success of the Somaia family business, avoiding disruption, and how innovative technologies helped Simba Global thrive.

Humble Beginnings

Before Simba Global was a successful textile company, it was simply Anil Somaia, Kamal’s father, selling towels door-to-door out the back of a truck. From there, he watched his business boom, and decided it was time to expand.

In 1980, Anil went to the largest importers in Australia and walked away with new business. It was a transformative moment for the company, Kamal tells Leadbetter, adding: “I was 12 years old, and at that time, he was already sharing business numbers with me and...teaching me. And he said, ‘Son, today I think we become millionaires.’”

As for Kamal, the plan wasn’t to take over the family business. He was in college for two years, studying to be an accountant, before realizing it wasn’t for him. He later became a professional cricket player, and the sport transported him around the world. Eventually, however, all roads led back to the family company, which was called Somaia Group before it was rebranded in 2014.  

As Kamal came into the business with his two siblings, he quickly learned the ins and outs, and realized in the late ’90s and early 2000s that the world of technology was changing.

“It was the first time...the true world of disruption and the true world of globalization started to resemble prominence,” he says, adding, “everything moves so slowly that I don’t even think everyone knew what was about to happen.”

Avoiding Disruption at All Costs

The threat of disruption from outside forces can feel paralyzing, especially when you’re unclear about how to shift your business model. However, the Somaias banded together and devised a plan to penetrate the U.S. market and solidify their position in the industry. They realized they could emblazon custom images on towels, for instance, and completely change the customer experience.

From 2000 to 2002 Simba took their products to the United States and scored a deal with the NFL and several American cruise lines. Yet there was a problem. What they were offering wasn’t moving the needle, because it wasn’t directly reaching consumers.

“No one’s buying it until the consumer buys it,” Kamal recalls.

That period turned out to be serendipitous.

“One of the biggest lessons I learned through that process,” he says, “is technology, and technology investment, never stop. And you’re never finished.”

The Somaia siblings knew they had to make a comeback, so that’s exactly what they started to do, by returning to their Australian roots. They adapted—again—and sealed partnerships with large-scale operations, such as hotels, medical facilities, laundries, and gyms, among others.

“One of the biggest lessons I learned through that process,” he says, “is technology, and technology investment, never stop. And you’re never finished.”

Becoming Transformational

“The first form of disruption for us, and it was massive and it was painful, came from when we were selling to retailers,” Kamal tells Leadbetter. “And when the internet came in, and supply sources became transparent, and they needed better margins and all of that, the secrets we had were no longer secrets.”

As the company grew, Kamal realized time was of the essence—they needed to think exponentially before their competitors caught up.

With the help of his siblings, he began to think of a place to use technology in linens and decided on RFID technology. This can do a number of things, but Kamal used it to implant small chips in all their linens to track wear and tear. If linens were becoming weathered, Simba would know immediately, and could refill consumer linens much faster.

This evolution led to a partnership with French-based tech company Invengo, which helped turn Simba into a global laundry service.

“If you’re looking at your market as how it exists today, and doing commercial calculations around that, you’re never going to become a technology player,” Kamal tells Leadbetter.

Takeaways

It’s true, any company can benefit from digitization and technological advancement. That’s also true for companies that started in cars and thrived in laundromats, as Kamal’s father learned. No matter how big or small, any company can be affected by technology and innovation.

If you take even one thing away from the episode, it’s that the combination of determination, the ability to adapt, and being open to new technologies can help lead a company down the right path. Trusting that your company will be able to thrive under these conditions is one of the first steps to realizing true Exponential Growth.


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The Pivot Factory Podcast is a Morey Creative Studios production.

The Pivot Factory Podcast is hosted by Michael Leadbetter, and engineered and produced by Michael Conforti, Rashed Mian and Christopher Twarowski. Jed Morey is the executive producer.