Total Home Experience One, or THE One, operates 14 (going on 15) retail ‘theaters’ in the Gulf and Levant regions. Here, customers purchase feelings that reach them in the form of home furnishings.
In 1996, the company started from scratch as a United Arab Emirates-based furniture retailer, founded by entrepreneur Thomas Lundgren in partnership with two individual investors, one from Kuwait and one from Abu Dhabi. Now it employs some 370 staff in the UAE and more than 200 in its stores in Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar and Jordan. At the time of Executive’s interview with Lundgren in January, the company was finalizing preparations for two 2012 store openings in Lebanon (financial details were not offered).
As the highest ranking locally established company in the Top Companies to Work for in the UAE for the second year running, and one of the three Top Companies for Women, THE One would be perfectly described as a case-study in healthy corporate culture, were it not for the hearty dislike of the word “corporate” by Lundgren — a Swede who testifies that his professional life of 27 years in retail was preceded by an almost-career as goalie of his motherland’s national ice hockey team.
His scintillating approach to business entails a deep distrust of banking, a playful approach to words, strong convictions on practically everything and an even stronger practice of capitalist social action. An all-encompassing commitment to love, life, belief and dare are the core values of the company. Lundgren defines his retail spaces as theaters and his business cards come in the form of four theater admission stubs, one for each core value of the company, with four different interpretations of his CEO title.
The Great Places to Work (GPTW) comments on the company’s culture audit for the 2012 list underscore the community programs of THE One, whose signature THE Onederworld is a sustainable village program in Kenya. In its 2011 benchmark report, GPTW additionally highlighted the company’s assistance for over-indebted employees during the UAE financial crisis and its holistic interviewing approach in selecting job applicants.
The achievement of making the Top Ten companies was doubly sweet for THE One because the whole blue collar workforce participated in the employee trust index survey. “What I am proud of with our company is not only that we have done this and are ahead of many other companies but all my warehouse people, my delivery team and my cleaners, were part of the number that answered,” Lundgren tells Executive.
Being a top company to work for in the UAE was a key component in the vision that drove its founding. “Before I started the company I dreamt about it being the number one company to work for. I wasn’t surprised to be in the top ten [last year] because I do believe that in the land of the blind, the one-eyed is the king,” Lundgren says.
“Many companies, in the best case, talk about caring for their people but they don’t [implement this],” he elaborates, adding that he would not be able to name any fully locally owned company that has a system for implementing a process such as GPTW.
Although his favorite interpretation of CEO is Chief Emotional Officer, Lundgren qualifies a top workplace as a “no kissy-kissy” company. Instead, he compares it to a Formula One team where every team member has to be high performer and best at whatever it is they do.
Employee development is critical for this reason and people must fit with THE One culture. “You can’t impose core values on people. We must hire people that have the same values that we have. ‘Everybody else’ may be good people but they should not work with us,” he says.
In 2011, THE One reintroduced several activities that the company had put on ice during the UAE economic crisis. “We had forgotten what we were very good at before, which was celebrating. Celebrating was one of the biggest things that we brought back,” Lundgren freely admits, crediting the GPTW process for learning from employees that they wanted to celebrate again.
Another strengthening aspect of THE One’s culture is training, which last year increased to 40 hours per employee, up from 34 hours in 2010. But the focus is shifting from quantity to quality, according to Lundgren.
In future UAE Top Company rankings, THE One wants to beat the multinational companies.