As CEO of Ethan Allen Interiors since 1988, Farooq Kathwari oversees 5,000 employees from the firm’s Danbury, CT, headquarters. Kathwari sees his management style as laced with justice: He makes fair decisions to seed confidence and trust in his employees. Justice, too, permeates his work as a humanitarian as a member of the Council on Foreign Relations, and he’s also a founder and chair of the Kashmir Study Group, a nonpartisan think tank looking at potential resolutions to the conflict in South Asia, where Kathwari grew up.
How would you describe your leadership or management style? Are there any behaviors you’re known for as a boss?
I think it’s human nature for people to get comfortable, to fall into a routine, to stop looking at all the options, and that’s when opportunities get overlooked and mistakes get made. I believe in constantly questioning what we do. Constantly asking, “What can we be doing better?” I believe in creating a certain amount of chaos, and then it’s my job to manage it.
What’s one misconception about you, and how do you respond to it?
Perhaps I am too involved with the details of running the company. To a great degree I am, but my main job is to empower our associates to stand on their own feet. I was the captain of my cricket team as a youth, and one thing cricket teaches you is that the leader also plays, strategizes and cheers with the team.
What has been most surprising to you about your career?
As a boy in Kashmir, I thought I might be a professional cricket player. As a young man working on Wall Street, it seemed as if my career would be in finance. What has happened since has taught me that life is not something you predict, but something you make out of the opportunities that come your way. The name of your magazine is Serendipity, which means a kind of happy surprise. I would describe my career as a series of happy surprises.