Where organisational purpose and nature meet

Where organisational purpose and nature meet
Michael Mascarenhas, CEO Desert Group

Michael Mascarenhas' passion to use an organisation to impact lives has no boundaries Michael Mascarenhas' passion to use an organisation to impact lives has no boundaries


Ishtiaq Ali Mehkri

Published: Thu 24 May 2018, 11:27 AM

Last updated: Thu 24 May 2018, 3:54 PM

As soon as you meet Michael Mascarenhas CEO Desert Group words like enigmatic, charismatic and articulate is what comes to one's mind. Very few people have struck me with clarity in vision and beliefs, and Michael stands among those few.
Unassuming, he is humble and talks about his calling to lead with a purpose. "Desert Group is all about creating positive societal change through its products and services". Rather strange to hear when most corporates chase "only profits". It's refreshing!
A man who has been in the trenches, seen all dimensions of corporate life and traversed all sectors in his eventful career - Private Equity, Manufacturing, Aerospace, Finance, Construction, Retail and Distribution and more - his eyes light up when he talks about Desert Group, an organisation that spans every aspect of the horticultural industry. He says: "It's all about green" and I would never have imagined a career so close to nature and plants and witnessed the joy it brings." Incidentally, Desert Group is the one of the largest concentrically diversified groups centered around green and water. 
Life has been a continuous learning experience but nothing has taught him about leadership as plants have done, this from a man who is an Alumnus from the Said Business School, a Fellow of the Institute of Chartered Accountants and an MBA. He encourages all to get close to nature to learn life lessons. Patience, adaptation, humility, nurturing, caring, sustainability, conservation, observance and looking for signs of neglect or bloom - it's all there for one to experience and learn. He uses the lessons learnt from the plant and horticultural kingdom to lead a team of 3,500 individuals. "We must collectively keep our feet on the ground, only then we will become a learning organisation," he states.
Never to back off from a challenge and with a keen sense to seize every opportunity, Michael was asked to bring life to an organisation that had borne the brunt of a crisis. And so, the journey began of transforming, building and creating an organisation known primarily for its landscaping to a successful horticultural behemoth.
Curious to know, the key characteristics needed in such delicate moments of absolute test, he replied were "integrity, purpose, humility, determination and persistence". The conversation at this point was deeply interesting and I asked him what he considers the biggest challenge as a leader. The answer was "finding the right people and continually providing the right environment for all to thrive". Only then you can sustain and build the many sectors of the Group that includes Retail, Facility Management, Construction, Manufacturing, Biological assets, Design and Distribution.
When asked for his advice to the youth, he states that "there is no alternative to hard work and continuously upgrade your knowledge. We all are on different journeys and must build our own paths. However, what is common is our values and we must stay true to them".  Which is why he is listed among the "100 Smartest People in the UAE" and "Top 50 most Influential Indians" by Arabian Business.
True to the Group's ethos which states "enhancing lives is our passion" he speaks of the success of the Group's Inclusion programme where more than 32 colleagues with Special Needs (many with cognitive disabilities) have been trained and employed like any other colleague. This programme led by Reem Al Ghaith has now evolved into one of the regions first Social Enterprise called "ENABLE".  It has a range of sustainable products on offer and the team is very visible in the UAE selling their products. He says:  "Our programme has re-enforced our commitment to create an environment that nurtures capabilities within individuals, coming from the belief that each one of us is 'unique'."
And so, the journey of daily transformation, nurturing and learning continues for Michael towards his dream to create one of the most vibrant horticultural groups on the planet. With time running out, I realised that this was one exceptional interview and it sends a strong message to pursue a philosophy of positively impacting lives through whatever we do. Fortunately, for Michael, it is using nature and green to impact lives!

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