Indian entrepreneur & chairman of Fabindia, William N. Bissell, as Distinguished Guest Online at the Entrepreneurial School®.
The Indian entrepreneur William N. Bissell grew up with Social Entrepreneurship, as his grandfather worked closely with the last grouping around Mahatma Ghandi. So social equality has always been at the heart of his family.
"For the first time in human history, we are living in an affluent society," Bissell explains. However, he points out the stagnation of governments as well as the society on how we can best deal with it. Bissell sees the government's role as making treaties to represent the interests of the people. He believes, once the framework is created, the market can take over. After all, the free market has brought us immense benefits in the last century, but it also brings disadvantages such as the current climate crisis. Bissell also addresses the distribution of COVID19 vaccines. He pleads for a fair global distribution, which is also in the interest of the rich industrialized countries, in order to prevent mutations that can arise in developing countries due to the lack of vaccine.
Bissell advises companies not to throw social entrepreneurship in with 'corporate social responsibility', but to consider it as a central starting point of their corporate philosophy. If this is not done, he believes it is a clear sign that executives are not interested in long-term, sustainable corporate governance.
Examples from practice
Bissell dispels the assumption that conventional farmers are more productive than organic farmers. He explains this with the success story of 'Organic India,' where he acts as chairman of the board. Farmers in India do not have health insurance. They also have to sell their produce soon after harvest time, which causes prices to plummet. With the introduction of health insurance, as well as the construction of warehouses that allow the sale of goods throughout the year, a stable situation has been created for producers of Organic India. In the meantime, his company has become a world leader in the sale of organic Ayurvedic herbs and teas from India.
But the road to get there was not an easy one. "The first 10 years, we lost $20 million," Bissell explains. There had been opportunities to take shortcuts, but they were sold on the long-term idea. For him, the respectful relationship with producers is paramount. Bissell explains in simple terms: "We need have to have a good partnership with the top producers, because they're the ones who are needed to make new investments."
Successful off the beaten track
With Fab India, a lifestyle retail chain, Bissell doesn't want to compete with the global players at all, he prefers to find niches where his company can succeed. Customers of Fab India will be able to shop online, but also receive a personalized service that cannot be expected from the Internet giants. Marketing plays an important role in this for Bissell to stand out. With good marketing, you can also charge more for your products. Either by creating a status symbol or with a product that stands for a certain lifestyle - as in the case of Fab India. Here, customers are also willing to pay more for the product.
Reading suggestion: William N. Bissell – The next enlightenment. Reimagining Consciousness, Wealth and the Future of Humanity
William Nanda Bissell, the Chairman of Fabindia has steered the company’s retail growth and product diversification over the last two decades. One of India’s most successful contemporary lifestyle retail chains, Fabindia is known for its focus on the craft-based products, creating job opportunities and generating livelihoods in the craft sector, across the country.
It has been particularly successful in bridging the rural-urban divide, creating access to urban markets for rural based artisans working with traditional skills.
This commitment extends to Fabindia Group company Organic India, recognised as the world’s leading source of authentic organic products and supplements, that actively supports natural, sustainable, organic, agriculture practices and livelihood across rural India through its wide network of farmers and tribal wild-crafters.
In 1988, after graduating from Wesleyan, William set up the Bhadrajan Artisans Trust (BAT) – an artisans cooperative of leatherworkers and weavers based in the state of Rajasthan. The original Trust now operates a rural school in the same area with over 450 students and an emphasis on quality education.
Between 1990 and 1999 William experimented with different forms of Community ownership, an experience that deeply influenced his approach to suppliers and supply bases when he took over as Managing Director of Fabindia in 1999, a position he held till 2018.
William lives in Delhi with his wife and two children. He is an avid reader, and passionate about the environment, the active role of good governance in business, and community-building as a social responsibility – subjects that he talks about on a regular basis.