CHENNAI: Known for their business acumen and entrepreneurial spirit, being enterprising comes naturally to the Marwari community. If you go by popular stereotypes, they seem to have an affinity for numbers and managing money. While business is often associated with Marwari men, DIA REKHI chats with four women entrepreneurs in the community to find out why we don’t see more women in business.
Her commitment to keeping things fashionable yet functional, keeps Ekta Agarwal at the top of her game as an interior designer. “I have OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder),” she laughs. “I need things to be in the right place and I require my surroundings to be spick and span. Because I understand colour, texture and aesthetics, interior design was a natural choice,” she says.
However, Ekta shares that she first aspired to be a fashion designer but she could not clear the National Institute of Fashion Technology (NIFT) entrance exam and chose interior designing instead. Marriage and two children later, she used her skills to give her house a makeover.Family members noticed her talent and encouraged her decision to start Metamorphosis in 2002. But when Agarwal’s partner pulled out, she tied up with Sunny Akbar and developed Foaid Design Studio in 2004. “We have done so many projects in the city ranging from clinics, restaurants to spas and parlours... I have lost count!” she smiles. “What I enjoy doing the most is designing homes. I interact with people from varied backgrounds and different sensibilities and it is such a pleasure to take them through the whole process of making a space their own.”
Thanks to her father’s training, she works a lot on the finances of the company and also manages 15 architects at her firm. She dabbles in design whenever something excites her.
Aditi Jalan (24) is very much like the name of her app — Fizz — bubbling with positivity and ideas, she is hard to ignore and impossible to forget. She returned from the UK and immediately picked up on the opportunity to provide a service like Fizz that helps youngsters in the city to grab the best deals at restaurants, theatres, spas and so on.
She has entrepreneurship in her DNA. Her grandfather was the first distributor of Orient Fans in Chennai. “I knew nothing would give me as much satisfaction as starting my own company,” she says.
The 10 employees of her company operate out of a two-room office in T Nagar. “It is an investor’s spare office,” she explains. “It is nothing like the swanky startup offices that one imagines with motivational quotes and artwork, it is very basic but it serves the purpose.”
This isn’t surprising as Jalan isn’t one to focus on the frills. Though she primarily works on the design aspect for the company, she oversees finances every now and then. “When quizzed about why we don’t see more Marwari women entrepreneurs, Jalan points out that it is hard to find women entrepreneurs, regardless of their community. “There is a perception of incompetence that people associate with business women,” she avers. “We have to keep proving our worth and are constantly questioned. Add to that the pressures of juggling a business and home.”
Alka Lohia started her recruitment firm, BL Consultants, in 2010, soon after getting married. What started off as a small enterprise with about five people, slowly grew to 15 recently and is all set to expand further to around 25-30 people when the company shifts to its new office.
“My husband motivated me to start my own firm,” she says. “Having worked at another firm for over two years, I had enough experience to understand the business. So I took the plunge...it has been tough, but extremely rewarding too.”
Committed to having more women in the workforce, she says that 90% of her employees are women. “The number of Marwari women in business is low,” she admits. “We need family support to be in business, especially in our community, where Marwari women have to keep up with so many rituals and traditions, it can take a toll.”
That’s why she credits her success to her mother-in-law, Radha Lohia, and her mentor Syed Kaleem Raza. “She handles everything at home while I am at work. She takes care of my son so much so that I am clueless about what he does the entire day till I get back from work, but I am absolutely secure knowing that she always has her eye on him.”She falls back on her accounting skills to understand how to scale up and where to cut costs. Being a State topper in Accounts and Commerce, it wasn’t difficult for her.
This family has not just one but three women entrepreneurs of different generations and sensibilities. Thanks to Ujwal’s keen eye for fashion, she opened Raksh about five years ago.
“We started out very small but now have a full fledged boutique where we do tailoring and designing,” she narrates. “We get all our material and supplies from Jaipur because that quality of work is unmatched.”While she is in charge of the shopping and stocking of supplies, her daughter-in-law, Mona, oversees finances. “I handle the accounts and sales of the boutique,” says Mona. “I ensure that quality isn’t compromised and wastage of fabric is kept to bare minimum.”
However, the house is abuzz on how to scale up Raksha’s new venture, Jaipuriya — the lassi place. “I thoroughly enjoyed the lassi I had in Jaipur and wanted to bring it to Chennai. I discussed it with my family and everyone was on board immediately,” recalls Raksha. “We started sourcing our materials and ingredients from Jaipur...it has only two months since we opened, but the response has been phenomenal!
The lassi and sandesh of Jaipuriya have fans across the county with customers even asking for their mango sandesh all the way from Ahmedabad! This understanding of food helped build the profile of Jaipuriya which currently supplies its lassi, available in about 10 flavours to different food outlets as well as undertakes party, marriage and exhibition orders.