By Karen Guzman
Global business can, and should, be a tool to improve lives around the world, Farooq Kathwari, chairman, president, and CEO of Ethan Allen Interiors Inc., told students at the Yale School of Management on February 21.
“We have to change the paradigm of saying, ‘We’re going to do better, and these countries are to remain poor,’” Kathwari said, explaining that socially responsible businesses enact policies that benefit all the communities they touch.
Kathwari spoke at Yale SOM as part of the Leaders Forum, a lecture series that brings leaders from the for-profit and nonprofit sectors to campus to meet with students. Kathwari is a former recipient of Yale SOM’s Chief Executive Leadership Institute’s Lifetime of Leadership Award.
Jeffrey Sonnenfeld, senior associate dean for leadership studies and Lester Crown Professor in the Practice of Management, moderated the conversation.
Kathwari began by discussing his momentous career trajectory. After leaving his native Kashmir to attend New York University, he worked in various positions—including as a financial analyst at Bear Stearns and as CFO of Rothschild & Co., before becoming the head of Ethan Allen, where he has grown both the company’s domestic and international businesses.
Establishing a values-driven business that promotes the well-being of employees and the regions it operates in has been one key to his success, Kathwari said.
Ethan Allen’s global social responsibility and sustainability practices are woven into the company’s operating procedures, and they are behind the company’s successful manufacturing facilities in the U.S. and in Latin America, Kathwari said.
Kathwari also weighed in on the importance of business’ role in encouraging good governance on the part of governments in the countries where it operates. As part of the bipartisan Task Force on Extremism in Fragile States, he studies the underlying causes of extremism and examines policies that can address them.
“We must understand that the big problem is lack of good governance,” Kathwari said, adding that poor governance gives rises to extremism and tyranny, as well as other globally-destabilizing conditions.
Many of the ills we see today, such as mass migrations and ethnic and religious intolerance, are by-products of failed governments, Kathwari said. In respect to the United States’ own immigration debate, he said that the U.S. should welcome immigrants, and its policies should not subject any individual group to unfair restriction. “But we also need to do it legally,” he said. “Every country has that right.”
Kathwari encouraged students to establish a set of values that will guide their actions and their business practices. As an immigrant, he said he strove to find commonalities with the people around him, and that creates strong relationships.
About the Event
Join us for a Leaders Forum conversation with Farooq Kathwari, Ethan Allen Interiors Inc., and Jeffrey Sonnenfeld, senior associate dean for leadership studies and Lester Crown Professor in the Practice of Management. This event will focus on five points: talent, marketing, service, technology, and social responsibility.
This event is open to the public.
The Leaders Forum brings the heads of organizations from across all sectors to Edward P. Evans Hall for discussions about the challenges and opportunities of leadership.
Chairman, CEO and President of Ethan Allen Interiors Inc.
Farooq Kathwari is the chairman, president and CEO of Ethan Allen Interiors Inc. He has been president of the company since 1985, and chairman and CEO since 1988. Mr. Kathwari serves in numerous capacities at several nonprofit organizations....
Farooq Kathwari is the chairman, president and CEO of Ethan Allen Interiors Inc. He has been president of the company since 1985, and chairman and CEO since 1988. Mr. Kathwari serves in numerous capacities at several nonprofit organizations. He is a member of the Board of Overseers of the International Rescue Committee; a member of the advisory board of the Center for Strategic and International Studies; a member of the Council on Foreign Relations; chairman emeritus of Refugees International; an advisory member of the New York Stock Exchange; former chairman of the National Retail Federation; director emeritus and former chairman and president of the American Home Furnishings Alliance; a director of the Institute for the Study of Diplomacy at Georgetown University; co-chairman of the Muslim-Jewish Advisory Council; and a member of the International Advisory Council of the United States Institute of Peace. He also serves on the boards of the Western Connecticut State University Foundation, The Hebrew Home at Riverdale, and ArtsWestchester. He is the founder of the Kashmir Study Group, and he served as a member of the President’s Advisory Commission on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders from 2010 to 2014. Recently, Mr. Kathwari was tapped to join the congressionally mandated United States Institute of Peace bipartisan Task Force on Extremism in Fragile States co-chaired by Governor Tom Kean and Congressman Lee Hamilton, who formerly led the 9/11 Commission. Among his recognitions, Mr. Kathwari is a recipient of the 2018 Ellis Island Medal of Honor and has been inducted into the American Furniture Hall of Fame. He has been recognized as an Outstanding American by Choice by the U.S. government. He has received the Yale School of Management’s Chief Executive Leadership Institute Lifetime of Leadership Award; the New American Dream Foundation’s Lifetime Achievement Award; the Connecticut Institute for Refugees and Immigrants Legacy Award; the Eleanor Roosevelt Val-Kill Medal; the National Human Relations Award from the American Jewish Committee; the National Retail Federation Gold Medal; the International First Freedom Award from the Council for America’s First Freedom; Ernst & Young’s Entrepreneur of the Year Award; the Anti-Defamation League’s Humanitarian Award; City of Hope’s International Home Furnishings Industry Spirit of Life® Award; and the Entrepreneurial Excellence Award from the National Association of Asian MBAs. He has also been recognized by Worth magazine as one of the 50 Best CEOs in the United States. Mr. Kathwari holds BAs in English Literature and Political Science from Kashmir University, Srinagar, and an MBA in International Marketing from New York University, New York. He is also the recipient of three honorary doctorate degrees.