NEW ROCHELLE, N.Y. -- "Pashmina! Pashmina!"
The CEO of one of the largest U.S. furniture chains, determined to introduce a visitor to his beloved cat, is calling in vain out the doors of his stone-and-stucco mansion on the water here. He quizzes his driver and the landscaper on whether they've seen the Egyptian Mau.
Farooq Kathwari, who has run Ethan Allen Interiors for the past 20 years, is a hands-on CEO and Muslim peace activist with a soft spot for people -- and cats.
Interviewed at his fashionably furnished, nearly 150-year-old home and at the company's Danbury, Conn., headquarters, Kathwari moves seamlessly between talk of strife in his native Kashmir, the new look of American furniture, and the challenges of managing change.
Kathwari, 62, has been juggling business and his own brand of diplomacy since he came to the USA in 1965. He chairs both the National Retail Federation and Refugees International, which provides humanitarian assistance to displaced people.
His awards include as many for global relations as for business.
"He's so intellectually curious and has more interests outside his work than any CEO I've even known," says Tracy Mullin, CEO of the retail federation. "He's a true internationalist."
Kathwari grew up in Kashmir, located between India and Pakistan, the son of a politician/lawyer and grandson of an antiques dealer.
When he was 4, his father traveled from their home in the Indian-controlled part of the Kashmir Valley to the portion controlled by Pakistan and was not allowed to return for 18 years. After a year, his wife and younger children joined him, while two older children stayed behind.
After his father died eight years ago, Kathwari brought his mother, now 85, to the USA to live with him. He takes a visitor to meet her in a wing of the house where she has live-in care. She mumbles a greeting, then, in her native Kashmiri, asks Kathwari when she's going back to Kashmir, a question he says she poses every morning.
"At the end of the day, these are the things that matter," Kathwari says after releasing his mother's hand.
In a bright sunroom overlooking a pool at the edge of Long Island Sound, Kathwari traces his trip from Kashmir to New York, where he and his wife, Farida, have recreated much of the beauty for which their homeland is famous. Farida co-founded Funkar International, which promotes Kashmiri classical music.
The home has photographs of family and pets, framed botanicals, overstuffed chairs of leather, plaid and floral prints, and mementoes of travels. About 90% of the $5 million home's furniture came from Ethan Allen; the rest are antiques bought at flea markets and shops in Asia and Europe.
While working at the1965 World's Fair in New York, Kathwari's father began a campaign to bring his son overseas for graduate school. They picked New York University's MBA program because classes were offered at night so he could work during the day.
Business was a likely choice for a man who had long been in charge. When he played cricket and soccer as a youth, he was invariably captain of the team. When he joined a securities firm after graduate school, he quickly rose to vice president.
"It didn't matter what I was doing, I looked to it as a team that had to be led," says Kathwari.