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Leaderspeak

Born and raised in Mumbai, Zaiwalla was the first Asian to set up a City law firm in London, and has been involved in more than 1,200 arbitrations globally. He has also worked for the Nehru-Gandhi family and the Bachchan brothers
Team BT | Print Edition: July 14, 2019
Leaderspeak
Sarosh Zaiwalla, Founder and Senior Partner, Zaiwalla & Co

Q. The biggest challenge you faced in your career

A. I was an ambitious young lawyer from India and wanted to make it big in the city (London). But in the early '80s, there was open prejudice against Indians from some in the profession. Then an English mentor told me, being an Asian, I would never excel in a big city firm. So, I started on my own but found it difficult to get work from English clients and had to travel abroad to get business. One of my first clients was the Indian government, which faced shipping disputes in London courts. I did not know it, but I was actually ahead of the curve. All London law firms are now hungry for international work.

Q. Your best teacher in business

A. I had great mentors - from Cedric Barclay (he convinced me to start my firm) to V.A. Seyid Muhammad, the highly supportive Indian High Commissioner. But experience is the greatest teacher. You learn from the highs and the lows, successes and mistakes, and accept responsibility with grace.

Q. Three key management lessons for young people

A. Be friendly with clients but keep your professional distance. This way, you can set firm expectations and earn respect. Second, be creative and brave. I worked with Iranian clients to help them challenge global sanctions, but at the time, others would not do it. Finally, work on your team. Seek out people with positive outlook and they will boost the team's morale and it will improve the business.

Q. Two essential qualities a leader must have

A. Vision and integrity. When I started, I had the vision of creating a multicultural, quality law firm in London. Vision is important to create a road to success. You also need courtesy and integrity. There is a misconception that succeeding in the world of business is inherently aggressive. But in reality, it requires creativity, intellect and integrity. I was ultimately accepted by the British legal fraternity because I delivered notable results and they also recognised I had integrity.

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