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Naaree Interviews Aakanksha Bhargava, CEO And President of PM Relocations

Aakanksha Bhargava was born in Kolkata, India into a business family. When she was just 7 years old, her family relocated to Delhi where she graduated from the illustrious Hindu College.

At the Hindu college, she held 3 prestigious positions – President of Placement society, President of Choreography society and the Cultural Head for the College fest Mecca.

Moving ahead to gain deeper knowledge on managing a business, Aakanksha pursued and successfully completed her MBA from the world-renowned SP Jain School of Management (Singapore and Dubai). From here began her impressive journey to become one of India’s most successful women CEOs.

Aakanksha joined PM Relocations Pvt. Ltd. (PMR) when she was 21 years old. She always believed in making her own place and commanding respect because of her own achievements. She was the boss’s daughter hence the urge to prove herself was strong.

She began quickly changing things around and working towards scalability. She went on to handle PMR’s corporate sales, marketing and operations, among other departments. She travelled and lived in different parts of the country to understand the culture and pulse of the city establishing a good team and work process.

PMR is a Small-Medium Enterprise, a one stop solution for mobility needs, with respect to anybody relocating within India or overseas. It offers a complete solution for end to end relocation is available on a systematic online platform using technology.

Naaree interviewed Aakanksha Bhargava to understand her entrepreneurial aspirations, successes and challenges.

What inspired to become an entrepreneur? Did you always love it or was it something you got into?

Inspiration comes from the ability to be as creative as you want and as I grew up seeing my father working in this industry, I always knew what I wanted to become.

I wanted to make my career on my own, that’s why an entrepreneur. I have always believed that one should have confidence in themselves and show people something they potentially have never seen before.

If you are working for someone else, you help them with their vision. If you work towards your own defined vision and belief, you make your employees & colleagues breathe your vision and together work hard to make it a successful reality.

Right from childhood, I was always fascinated by my father’s professional commitment. He used to take me on the surveys scheduled on weekends. Hence, I was always curious to know how things are going to be handled and how passionately my father made sure that our customers are happy and stress-free while they moved with us.

I guess, that was the beginning of my interest in this industry. When I joined PMR in 2007 (then PM PACKERS), I realized that this was the place where my heart lies. I have always loved my place of working, I feel lucky to be a part of an industry that touches so many lives everyday.

I am grateful for the position I am at today which enables me to directly contribute to the lives of almost 550 employees and over 2 lakh customers who have moved with us till date.

When do you know that it is no longer just an idea in your mind, and that you can really turn it into a lucrative business?

Right from my childhood I knew I wanted to join my father in business. After completing my schooling from Tagore International School (Vasant Vihar), The Hindu College embraced me into their family and gave me the opportunity to complete my B.Com (H) with them.

Soon, I saw myself graduating and joining SP Jain School of Management, Singapore and Dubai to complete my management studies, ready to face the challenging world of service industry.

I worked as an International Sales Manager for a couple in years in PM Relocations and then worked in Corporate Sales and marketing. By the time I was getting involved in different sections of the company, I realized there is a broader way out to things.

When you work within a space your work might get restricted but when you work in different areas, you get too many ideas. I realized that this business has more potential than one can think and that was the day of success for the company.

The space we are in needs an in-depth introduction to anyone we meet hence I feel the need to tell people that moving can be made simpler with the right solutions and PMR can disrupt the space.

I think for me, Intent is important.

When I started, there were hardly any women in this industry. It was a male-dominated environment. I had to face a lot of criticism too.  The only thing I believed in was the Intent to do a good job and give my best to the right cause.

It is just about the strength of one’s mind and having faith in the intent of your heart that makes you achieve higher in life I can bet when you really do decide for something your courage will kick-ass you fear!! Take the plunge and you will see the miracles of life.

What lessons can you share from your startup experience?

I always believed in doing things on my own. I knew I wanted to do something different than others and that’s what made me work in this industry. This was unconventional, unexplored and unknown hence the zeal.

A lot of people don’t take you seriously in the beginning. since I was very young by the time I joined the company, people didn’t took me that seriously, and this thing never demoralized me but gave me motivation to show what I can do and how well.  Believe your vision and lead by example at each step.

Dealing with employees, partners and clients was difficult initially. One of the biggest challenges was to source people since we were stagnant for all those years, not many from the industry wanted to join us and fresh blood didn’t know about this industry.

Over this period, I had to lead by example at all levels right from selling to building the brand, to keep upgrading the processes and systems with increasing work and manpower, setting up a professional culture and most importantly all of this had to be done in budget since we have not been funded by anyone.

The business demands a lot of working capital whereas we work on credit; hence balancing the same was a challenge. It was difficult to work in the industry but as long as you have the courage and are ready to take up the challenges, you can get it all done!

What are some challenges that you faced initially when you started out? Do you have some examples to share and advice to women entrepreneurs on overcoming them?

Working in the male dominant, packing and moving industry was really a tough job. It was actually very difficult to deal with the employees, clients and partners in the initial years.

However as the time passed, I learnt how to handle tricky situations and deal with everyone around. I strongly believe that working in this industry needs a lot of determination, potential and most importantly patience. Have strength and you can conquer it all!

It was not really easy starting my career in the relocation industry, particularly when it comes to an industry that has dominance towards men. There were times when it was considered to be a ‘Man’s Job’ but the time changes and things got changed too.

The advice I have for ladies would be follow your heart, be true to your work, don’t let criticism weaken you and the rest will make you successful in everything you do. As long as you have faith and determination, Entrepreneurship is happy to welcome you all!

What are all the things that a woman entrepreneur needs to keep in mind? Apart from your great idea, what do you need to be armed with?

The most important thing for a woman entrepreneur is to have critics in her life. I strongly feel that “If you have no critics, you’ll likely have no success”.

One needs to have a high level of commitment and patience to breathe your vision into your employees. Also, I am thankful that I am blessed to have an extremely supportive family. Most women don’t have supportive families because of which they fail to realize their dreams.

Indian women also tend to downplay their own potential. I feel women should do what is best for them. Even if that means, entering a male-dominated industry like ours.

Times have changed, although the challenges are still there, but you need to keep the spirit alive. It is important to learn from past mistakes and move on.

Do women entrepreneurs find it tougher to get funding for businesses? If yes, why do you think that is?

I agree it becomes difficult sometimes.  Many people in the country think that women cannot work and handle the business and that’s the only reason and more importantly once you get married, how would the work life balance happen. Unfortunately, these questions are never put across to men.

Is it beneficial to have a mentor when you’re starting out on your own? What does a mentor bring to the table?

It is very important to have strong mentors in life. They give you a strong inspiration to set goals and then direction and understanding to achieve the goals. I have grown up seeing my father (Mr. Rajeev Bhargava, MD) working and he has been my greatest mentor till date.

He keeps encouraging me to keep raising the bar. His faith and belief in my vision has kept me going. And most importantly, the belief of your team (PMR Family) in you is the biggest strength.

Apart from him, from our industry, I also admire the work and life of Mr. Eric Lim the head of Asian Tigers Mobility. He has groomed, mentored and guided me all these years.

How did you recruit your first team? How difficult was it to get people on board during the initial stages?

I was keen to take people on my time who were passionate about their career. When you are taking an interview, you can really know it in the first go, who is taking the job for working and who is passionate towards it. I did the same. That is the only reason that most of my team members have been associated with PMR from many years.

Also, it is essential to breathe one’s vision in their employees to help them stay focused and visualize the same dream as yours. It was difficult to bring together people initially but with strong leadership and understanding in inculcated in each of your employee’s DNA’s then people tend to join hands and work with you to grow the company.

What are 3 key things that you have learned as an entrepreneur?

This is something I have always believed in, is that its important to have goals, desires and ambitions, however challenging they seem to be …. And you have got to enjoy the ride to these.

Sometimes on that learning curve we explore ourselves and what we can achieve. It is important to dream and keep yourself always engaged into something that you enjoy and feel passionate about.

There is no formula and no set route to success …just listen to the heart …Sometimes the right ways and answers are found there.

Another major learning for me is that when you really ride on something your courage will eventually kick start your fear. Take the plunge… and you will see the miracles of life.

Also, the most difficult thing is to manage people especially when one is in a service industry. Here we deal with a niche service which is ’emotions’. Hence, we need to be very careful while working with people.

Be it our clients or our employees. Another key take away is that “No success is possible without sacrifices and beliefs, sometimes not yours, but that of the people around you.”

What would you describe as your biggest moments of success in your business?

Every moment was a success to me in my business. Whether it was my failures, it also made me learn new things and is constantly helping me in building up my company.

There have been many moments I felt proud of; pointing out one would be little unfair to the rest of them.

© Naaree.com

Naaree Interviews Marsha Gabriel, CEO, Helping Hand Network

The recent Women In Leadership Forum India 2011 in Mumbai, saw a number of inspiring women delegates and speakers, including social entrepreneur, Marsha Gabriel, CSI Advisor and CEO of the Helping Hand Network – also known as the “Oprah of South Africa.”

Naaree.com reporter, Shilpa Sachdev, spoke to her about her entrepreneurial adventures.

Marsha Gabriel, CEO, Helping Hand NetworkWhen do you know that a business is no longer an idea in your mind, and that you can really turn it into a lucrative business?

It starts with an idea which you have to nurture, research, get advice and build the momentum. One must listen to their gut feeling and act in time because I believe that procrastination is the thief of time.

What inspired you to start on your own? How has the experience been so far?

I had to undergo a few surgeries and was declared unfit for the labour market. That is when I realised that this is not the end of life. In the days of affliction you also see a twinkle of the star.

I founded the CSI Business Congress nine years ago and in just five years of its running, I brought it to an unmatched position. The aim was to create capacity for women to rule even in the midst of limitation.

We train students to become entrepreneurs by giving them the knowledge and practical skills to create business initiatives.

What are some hurdles you faced initially when you started out? Your advice to women entrepreneurs on overcoming them.

Funding was difficult to come by in the beginning but I did not resolve to defeat. Instead, I created the ability to create projects that will generate funds. We shifted the dependence from temporary resources to sustainability.

Most women are uneducated and they cannot do anything not because of lack of funding but because of lack of awareness. They are intimidated by the documentation part.

Before starting out, can you give us a checklist of all the things that you need to keep in mind i.e apart from the great idea, what do you need to be armed with?

Association. Do not associate with people who are dream killers. Research, research and research. Exhaust every channel of funding – it is not really the problem.

Is it beneficial to have a mentor when you are starting out on your own? What value does a mentor bring to the table?

A mentor motivates and inspires. Mentorship gives you an edge, a fearless ability to do the impossible.

How did you recruit your first team? How difficult was it to get people on board during the initial stages?

I have always had a soft spot for women. In the second year of running, I had 42 women working for me all housewives, with no knowledge of computers, administration or promotions.

My approach is that today I will give you fish, tomorrow I will teach you fishing and then I will train you to buy the pond. That is what skill building is all about, to break the walls because there is space beyond those walls.

One must be rejuvenated mentally to work physically.

What are the 3 key things you have learned in your time as an entrepreneur?

Treat people with utmost respect, nurture relationships and catch your funders.

Have you been using social media marketing? How has it helped?

One cannot run the business today without depending on social media. All the promotions and marketing happen on social media platforms today.

I came to this conference through an interaction over social media. It attracts clients outside of your walking distance.

Can you share some tips for women entrepreneurs to maintain a balance between work and family life?

The woman has a natural instinct to be a mother and a wife. She must not feel guilty of taking an hour to relax. Take time out to relax. Invest in yourself to re-invent yourself.

© Naaree.com 

 

Ameera Shah, CEO

Women CEOs In India: Ameera Shah, Metropolis Healthcare Ltd

31-year old Ameera Shah is not a medical professional. However armed with qualifications like a degree in Finance from the University of Texas at Austin and participation in the prestigious Owner-President Programe at Harvard University, she is well-qualified to run Metropolis Healthcare Ltd., a multinational chain of state-of-the-art diagnostic centres.

As CEO & MD of Metropolis Healthcare Ltd., she has built the group up to 65 laboratories, both nationally and internationally, and increased the turnover from Rs 12 crore in 2003 to Rs 250 crore in 2011. We caught up with this inspiring Indian woman CEO to learn her secrets to success.

What inspired you to start out on your own? How has the experience been so far?

A decade back, when I forayed into the diagnostic industry, Metropolis Health Service was not a business of this scale at all. My father Dr Sushil Shah, who is an MD in Pathology, was a practicing pathologist for over two decades then.

At that time, I was working for Goldman Sachs in the US. I also did a few stints with start-up ventures to garner experience. While scaling success in the US, I felt deep stirrings to come back to my country and participate in its phenomenal growth story.

I realised that there are ample opportunities in India; in the healthcare segment, my father had created a platform in Mumbai by opening Metropolis Health Service. So, in 2001, I decided to return to Mumbai and help him build a stronger brand, spread across the country and beyond it.

Today, when I walk down the memory lane, I feel the experience of being a woman entrepreneur has been truly wonderful. Growing along with a fledgling company is a jubilant feeling.

All along my journey, I have learnt from my peers, colleagues, partners and staff. And the foundation of my leadership is my experiences and learning. Today, I am looking forward to augmenting the company across India and the continent.

What are some hurdles that you faced initially when you started out? Your advice to women entrepreneurs on overcoming them?

Initially, there were a few obstacles. In the Indian scenario, medical qualifications command instant respect. Thus, my non-medical background was the most crucial challenge. Though people around me felt that I would not comprehend the technical jargons that they used in their conversation, I was not deterred and never considered it to be a handicap.

I invested a lot of time on the floors, understanding how the tests were done accurately, comprehending the difference between good quality and bad quality labs and understanding various medical terminologies.

What worked in my favour was that as I spent substantial amount of time in my father’s lab as a teenager, subconsciously I was acquainted with many terminologies. The only suggestion I would give to women who are starting out is to be like the sponge which absorbs a lot. Do ask loads of questions, don’t take things for granted and understand why certain things are better.

Once you understand and see the logic and reasoning behind everything, you can feel the pulse of the business and know where you can add value. Without this basic understanding, value addition is a tad difficult. However, you must be careful that while you are learning and improving processes that you do not rub people the wrong way. A true leader always takes people along with them.

When do you know that it is no longer just an idea in your mind, and that you can really turn it into a lucrative business?

The first step is when some of your team members get as excited as you are about the colossal idea. Then, when you are able to bounce off the idea to a few potential customers, get them interested and convince them about the latent potential of the idea.

This way, it evolves from being a mere earth-shattering idea into a lucrative business. Of course, in between there are steps like viability study of the financials and doing little more detailed ground work, before you know that it is a viable business idea.

Ameera Shah, CEO & MD, Metropolis Healthcare LtdBefore staring out, can you give us a checklist of all the things that you need to keep in mind? Apart from the great idea, what do you need to be armed with?

First, you need to have immense conviction in your idea or plan. There will be lot of people who will knock down the idea, especially if you are trying to do something different and which has not been done before.

Most people are not open to novel ideas, so the common reaction to new idea is that the idea or strategy will not work. So, you need to have loads of conviction about the potential of the idea.

Second is to have a researched plan as it is not enough to only have an idea. There will be 10,000 people having the same idea at the same time; the question is really how well and how quickly can you execute it.

So it’s a matter of having an execution plan which includes having understanding of the business, having understanding of the dynamics of the industry and recruiting some key people on board.

Another significant point is to have adequate funding as many promising start-ups fizzle out due to cash crunch. They just don’t have the funds to sustain themselves long enough. When you are starting a business, you need to know in first couple of years that you are not going to make surplus cash or profit. Thus, you should have funding which will be able to sustain you for that period of time.

Do women entrepreneurs find it tougher to get funding for businesses? If yes, why do you think that is?

I don’t think women entrepreneurs find it more difficult to get funding, unless they are not able to demonstrate their commitment. At the end of the day, an investor is looking at a management team that they can trust. The management has to have a tenable business idea and they need to have experience and expertise to execute that idea.

So, from investor’s point of view, they need somebody who is committed to the idea and to the company. If they get a sense of the person not being committed, investors would be reluctant to invest. So answering your question, it’s not about the gender; it’s totally about the potential of the idea and the experience and commitment of the team steering it to be the deciding factor for investment and success later on.

Is it beneficial to have a mentor when you’re starting out on your own? What does the mentor bring to the table?

Yes, it is always helpful to have a mentor. More than anything else, you need a different perspective from an experienced person. The mentor usually has to be a veteran in the industry. To get a different perspective on some issues is crucial.

In many some cases, we may have biased thinking. We may get excited about something, but fail to notice the flaws. In other cases, we may be biased against a good idea. In such cases, the mentor can encourage, motivate and point out the problems.

Obviously, the mentor needs to be honest in his perspective and you must have the courage to hear the truth. For different people, mentors can be different. For some, it can be a father, for some it can be an older person from the industry.

Who was your first mentor? And did you have other mentors and business experts whose ideas you drew inspiration from?

Obviously, my first mentor and the most overpowering influence is my father. He continues to be both a professional and personal mentor, who has always taught me to take on calculated risk and pursue excellence. My other mentors were icons like Mahatma Gandhi and MF Husain, who have contributed immensely to society and have influenced me in varied ways.

I also admire Narayana Murthy for the way he influenced others to do business, while pursuing excellence and upholding high moral standards. In general, people who influence me include leaders who have the vision of creating something novel and having the courage to tread on a different path.

How did you recruit your first team? How difficult was it to get people on board during the initial stages?

It is difficult for a small start-up to attract good talent as people aspire to join bigger companies and get lucrative salaries. So, initially you may not obtain the best people, but I always believe that attitude is more important than skill-set.

It’s good enough if you get people who have the right attitude towards work, are motivated, enthusiastic and committed, willing to learn and do that extra bit, evolve and shows readiness for ownership of the process, even if they lack the functional knowledge of the industry. A person with good attitude does not necessarily cost a lot of money.

What are 3 key things that you have learned in your time as an entrepreneur?

First, there is no replacement for hard work. It’s the only way to success.

Second, if you want to command respect and to be treated with seriousness, then you have to take yourself seriously.

Third, work without the burden of ego, treating your colleagues with respect.

Have you been using social media marketing a lot? How has it helped?

We have not explored social media marketing much for promotion, however looking at the pace at which it’s catching up shall be open to using this promotional tool soon.

Can you share some tips for women entrepreneurs to maintain a balance between work and family life?

Across the globe, there are ample instances of women, who are successfully striking the balance between professional and personal lives. Some of these women are super achievers, too.

It’s not pragmatic that we women seek perfectionism in all the key roles that we play. We want to excel in everything task that we take on and in every relationship that we nurture. We want to be the best daughter, best mother, best wife and best daughter in-law.  We are always aspiring to be perfect at everything that we undertake and that’s simply not possible.

We need to humbly accept that if a woman has to have a professional life and she wants to excel in that, then her house may not serve the best food or it may not be squeaky clean or may not be that well-organised as that of any stay-at-home woman. To me the key to being less hassled lies in delegation. If a working woman delegates some work, she can still manage the work-life balance.

However, in an attempt to achieve balance between the work and family, many women forget about themselves and that’s sad.  It’s important that you take an hour every day for yourself as an individual, whether it is going for a walk, gym, reading a book, listening to music, whatever makes you  to give that ‘ME’ time and connect with yourself.

For me, it’s necessary to take out an hour and an half everyday for myself. During this ‘me’ time, I may watch TV, read a book or a magazine or sit outdoors to breath in fresh air or just enjoy the sun. These simple activities rejuvenate me and brings joy.

What is your larger vision for Metropolis Heath Service? Do you see it growing beyond diagnostics in the future or would you prefer to stick to your core competency?

Being a leader in the core competency is important as that’s what gives us business.  At the same time, I am definitely looking forward to expanding Metropolis in other health services and products in the coming future. We are also in the process of looking into other expansion areas, using the Metropolis Brand.

© Naaree.com