Monday, August 19, 2013

Taking Control of their Lives

Author Rashmi Bansal's latest book, 'Follow Your Rainbow', focuses on 25 women entrepreneurs who started their business from scratch and made it a success
By Shevlin Sebastian

I was most impressed by the story of Manju Bhatia,” says Rashmi Bansal, the author of ‘Follow Your Rainbow’, (Westland Publishers), a book about women entrepreneurs. “Manju began working at 16 in a pharmaceutical company. At 26, she became the Joint Managing Director of Vasuli Recoveries, a pan-India loan recovery company which handles cases worth Rs 500 crore and employs 250 people, all of whom are women.”  
Contrary to people’s perceptions, it is easier for a woman to recover a loan than a man. “Most of the time, the defaulter, who is usually a man, becomes embarrassed and pays up,” says Rashmi. There was a case of a minister in Madhya Pradesh who was not even aware that he had defaulted. When Manju spoke to him, he immediately paid up.
There are other success stories. Paru Jaykrishna’s family was in trouble. Their textile business had collapsed. Undaunted, Paru started a pigment company called Asahi Songwom, Now, with the help of her two sons, who got degrees in finance and marketing from American universities, the group is now worth Rs 300 crore.
Rajni Bector, who was married into a wealthy family in Ludhiana , enjoyed making ice creams and cakes. One day, with an initial investment of Rs 300, she started an ice-cream making unit in her kitchen. Today, her firm, Cremica, is a Rs 500 crore company. They make bread, buns, biscuits, sauces, syrups and snacks, among many other items.    
Meena Bindra had traveled all over the country as the wife of a Navy officer. One day, in 1982, aged 39, she took a bank loan of Rs 8000, and began designing and selling ethnic wear. Today, ‘Biba’ has become a national brand, worth Rs 300 crore.

And there are women who are also shining in unusual ventures. Binapani Talukdar exports Assamese handicrafts; Nirmala Kandalgaonkar is in the business of vermicomposting; Leela Bordia deals in traditional blue pottery; Deepa Soman runs a market research company; Nina Lekhi sells canvas bags through her Rs 34 crore company, Baggit; In Pondicherry, A. Ameena, clad in a burqa, is running a sawdust factory, PJP Industries.   
Asked the difference between male and female entrepreneurs, Rashmi says, “Usually, a male businessman can devote 100 per cent of his time to his work, because there is somebody at home to look after everything else. I don’t think women have that freedom. Even as they are running their companies, they also have to play the role of daughter, wife and mother. As a result, their firms grow over a longer period of time.”

Usually, a woman comes into her own only when she is in her forties. By then the children have grown up and she is free of many responsibilities. “It is only then that they can concentrate on the business and make it grow,” says Rashmi.  
But this growth is based on moral values. “Women are not driven so much by money alone,” says Rashmi. “They will not go for high growth for the sake of growth. They are more ethical and focused on building a sustainable and long-term business. They want to provide high-value products and services. Whatever they do should be meaningful. They don’t look for power and status. They are not driven by the same things as men. They want to create something beautiful.”  
Women also have a social attitude. “They want to make a contribution to society,” says Rashmi. “If something is detrimental or harmful to people, I don’t think women will get into that business. Some of them have told me that the quality of what they are producing is very important.”
Unfortunately, most men do not have this mind-set. “Several times, men will cut corners, in the pursuit of growth,” says Rashmi. “That is why we have a society which abounds in masculine values like aggression, fierce competition and dubious methods.” 
Incidentally, Rashmi had come to Kochi to give a talk to The Indus Entrepreneurs group. And she had some interesting experiences in Kerala. “A young man came up and said that after reading my books he was able to leave his IT company and start a business,” says Rashmi, who has written four other books on entrepreneurship, which have sold over 7.5 lakh copies. “Many people read my books like a story, but for a few people it has made a difference in their lives. That makes me happy.”
But Rashmi is not happy about the status of women these days. “The good news is that women are getting a lot more exposure and education,” she says. “Unfortunately, the family expects them to be modern as well as traditional at the same time. In Kerala I met a woman who said that most of her friends were already married, and this girl was only 22. I was surprised. I thought that in a state where so many people are educated, women would have a better chance of going into careers.”
At the College of Engineering, in Chengannur, Rashmi urged the girls to ask their parents to help them achieve their dreams. “Can’t we make our own decisions in life?” Rashmi said. “After all, boys get five to six years, before they get married. Why can’t girls get the same amount, to build a career?”

Clearly, the pace of change is slow. “It will take another 30 years to see the impact,” she says. “Those who are lucky to get married into a broad-minded family, will get support, while the others may lose out. I am hoping my book will inspire a few women to take the bold step to take control of their lives.” 

(The New Indian Express, Kochi) 

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