Moments after he rattles off the dizzyingly long list of enterprises under his watchful eye, Dilip Bhavnani says matter-of-factly, “We’re probably one of the most diverse holding companies in the promotional products industry.”
It’s difficult to disagree. Commerce, California-based supplier Sunscope (UPIC: SUNSCOPE) is just one of six different business divisions owned and operated by Bhavnani and his family. The list of holdings includes a real-estate development arm, a construction firm, a mortgage company, a suite of hospitality businesses including restaurants and nightclubs, 14 monthly membership clubs, and a retail products division offering garments, gifts, appliances, lighting and electrical items.
In all, Bhavnani’s eyes are on nearly 80 different companies and 2,600 employees daily. “I think I have OCD,” says the COO. “I have to oversee everything. There isn’t a check … that I don’t personally review and sign.”
As big as the company is now, it’s still growing. The promotional products division alone recently acquired an Alabama-based printing plant from Fruit of the Loom and all of the assets of former industry player Camsing Global.
“We are working to become the largest contract decorator in the industry,” he says. “The goal is to be able to supply soft and hard goods and be a one-stop shop to the industry.”
Until now, Sunscope’s primary focus has been on non-apparel items, and the majority of its business has come from custom orders.
“We’re not the company that works with every distributor out there,” he says. “Our primary focus for years has been on large custom orders.”
To make big projects possible, Sunscope focuses on vertical integration with 10 full-time product designers, an in-house patent council, an injection-molding manufacturing facility and a 3D rapid prototype machine. “Sixty percent of what we manufacture comes out of plants we own fully or partially,” he says.
Bhavnani’s grandfather started the company in Hong Kong in 1946, and now the entire clan—Bhavnani along with his wife, parents, brother, uncles and cousins—manage the empire together. The crew is mostly spread out among the company’s various offices—four in Los Angeles alone; however, Bhavnani’s workspace shares a wall with his parents’ (There’s a shared door—and it’s open, he adds.) while his brother works 25 feet away.
The family-owned company operates in Asia, Europe, and North and South America. Bhavnani’s uncles and cousins manage the Asian and European operations, while two of his cousins look after the manufacturing facility in Asia. Bhavnani talks with each of them weekly.
The arrangement works, perhaps, because Bhavnani always knew he would join the family business. Born and raised in Manchester, England, he attended UCLA while working at the company part time. After graduation, he joined the company in 1985. Likewise, the groundwork is already being laid for his three children to run things one day. “I’m looking to create a platform for my children to take it to the next level,” he says.
Bhavnani joined the company just three years after it entered the U.S. market with the acquisition of promotional products company Sun Coast. From the beginning, he was instrumental in creating Sunscope, which entered the industry in 1987. One of his first projects was designing and manufacturing a Mickey Mouse 60th birthday in-park watch giveaway.
“My background has always been in the family business,” he says. “I have a passion for learning, and understanding new businesses. I understand the challenge of taking new enterprises to the next level.”
Managing It All
Bhavnani believes one of his biggest talents is hiring good people. “If you get the right team, and you trust the team, there is nothing you cannot do,” he says. “When I hire somebody … I have to feel a level of confidence that this person can set his mind to do anything that he wants to do.”
Not surprisingly, he often struggles with time management. “It’s my biggest challenge, has been and always will be. It’s because I oversee quite a few things, but I have three children and a wife who need my time, too.
“My interests are my family and work, and—I’ll never complain—but we always have something that is open in Asia, Europe or the Americas. There is always somebody in our organization who is looking for information.”
Constantly being in the mix of things isn’t the norm for top-level executives, but it works for Bhavnani. “I’m a pretty simple guy. Even though this business has grown, we run it like a family-owned business. There isn’t an executive or clerical employee that I don’t know personally.”
>>More Questions For Dilip Bhavnani
Does he ever stop working?
“No. I’ve been married for 20 years. My kids know vacation means dad will be up before them, putting in three or four hours before they wake up, then having breakfast and hanging out, checking in during lunch, another three or four hours of work and then having dinner, and while they’re watching TV, I’ll be back to work.”
How big is his family?
“Eighteen uncles and aunts, 54 first cousins and 127 second cousins. Not that I’m close to all of them, but I’m pretty close to most of them. It makes family reunions fun.”
Does he do anything just for himself?
“When I’m not working or spending time with family, I like to read two or three fiction books per week. Sometimes it’s the only way to escape the routine. I don’t like nonfiction—I get enough of that during my day-to-day life.”