We’re in conversation with Chhaya Sehgal, on her journey as a successful woman entrepreneur for over 15 years. Chhaya is an alumnus of JBIMS. Her firm, The Winning Edge provides mentorship to SMEs & entrepreneurs and MNCs
She is also faculty at ISME (Indian School of Management & Entrepreneurship) and the Prahlad Kakar School of Branding & Entrepreneurship. We wanted to find out what makes her such a popular name on the campus of Entrepreneurship Schools, Accelerators and Start-ups… it turns out it is her passion to teach and her commitment to making a difference.
- What prompted you to start out on your own? When and how did you become an entrepreneur?
I was the first born in a Maharashtrian teacher’s family in rural Madhya Pradesh. Education, Culture, and old-fashioned ideals of respect, commitment, hard-work, accountability and ethics were the foundation of our upbringing! We inherited self-motivation, and the fire in the belly for accomplishment! Personal integrity and the strength of character were considered the topmost virtues.
My father was an extremely respected professor of Mathematics, idealistic and honest to the bone and students used to fall at his feet with sheer respect. But never a favour was either given or taken despite the power he enjoyed. Mother was a scholar of Agra University; MA in philosophy, she was a home maker, our mentor and taught us self-reliance and worked hard to ensure our overall development despite limited resources and opportunities. Due to her committed coaching I completed the entire education on scholarships. We were two sisters and a brother and all were given equal opportunity outside and equal responsibility at home. The work division and the rulebook for our conduct was by and large gender agnostic. As such the atmosphere was pretty liberal and conducive for all-round growth; however, the routine discipline was enforced with an iron rod.
My schooling and graduation happened in Hindi Medium in obscure villages of MP. Then I secured merit-based admission in ICT (then UDCT) and thereafter in JBIMS MUMBAI for Professional Education following which I joined the Navratna Oil Giant Hindustan Petroleum Corporation Ltd. in June 1983. During my stint there for thirteen long years I had the opportunity to work in almost all the departments of Finance Stream. Thereafter it started stagnating, and the responsibilities at home front had considerably grown so I decided to give up the job in the interest of effective work life interface and freedom to choose my path for self actualisation.
- Can you briefly tell us about your entrepreneurial journey so far?
I and my husband Arun Sehgal (always wanted to be entrepreneurs) met while pursuing our MBA in JBIMS. My job for 13 long years gave security and stability to family until “Chempro Exports India” started by him established its business of merchant exports of chemicals, colours and pharmaceuticals as a Government recognized Exports House successfully. Today we have presence in about 50 countries with over 500 products.
After I quit my job I took up an offer to teach once a week and engaged as a visiting faculty with my Alma mater JBIMS and a journey of accelerated learning began.
Soon corporate training and development offers started to pour in; and association with prestigious professional bodies and institutions commenced. The next in line were the consulting assignments! The entrepreneur in me recognized the opportune time to set up my company “The Winning Edge”.
Simultaneously as a passionate educator and a believer and an early promoter of Entrepreneurship I became a much in demand Mentor and Faculty in niche programs such as the “Program on Enterprise Training for Women” organized by NMIMS as early as 1997 in collaboration with “Scottish Enterprise Foundation, University of Sterling and SIDBI” and during this period also coached for business acumen, the Women Entrepreneurs of “Agakhan Development Network” in their native languages. I and my husband set up an “E – Cell” in 2007 in JBIMS in collaboration with NEN and in 2011 launched “BizOrion” the flagship initiative for mentoring the B – Plans for Start Ups as Chief Mentors.
Today my multifaceted experience is found extremely valuable as a mentor and coach by the youngsters and women in Entrepreneurship Schools, Start ups and E Cells of universities. Also now that the Gennext in family is getting ready to take over and the business has expanded considerably I mentor and coach actively at Chempro Exports as well!
- Which are some of the biggest challenges you faced as a woman entrepreneur… how did you tackle them?
Entrepreneurship itself is a challenging journey. Women do face some additional challenges.
To begin with, legally they may have equal rights however in reality they always come second to their male counterparts in family, society and workplace. However the blessing in disguise here is that this constant realization of thought of being ‘second to the top – no matter what’ always pushes them to aim for higher. This position of disadvantage makes women tireless workers with a never say die spirit.
Next, having to spend the day away at workplace; they have to regularly work doubly hard and invest their personal time of rest and recreation at home to fulfill their familial obligations and once back to work they have to consistently show initiative for taking on responsibilities and not shy away from clocking in extra hours to prove that they mean business. A working woman is permanently under scrutiny at work as well at home and has to constantly prove her professional competence and personal commitment.
Secondly the Nature has also loaded women with greater responsibility of childbirth and motherhood!
Since a woman’s life is filled with multiple priorities, never ending struggles and conflicting responsibilities, she evolves to acquire high EQ, becomes more resourceful, collaborative and tenacious. Along the way she learns to prioritize her efforts and time more effectively to ably merge her personal and professional goals.
In long term she is rewarded generously by respect and love of her people in addition to professional recognition.
So I see the challenges faced by women entrepreneurs as the very foundation of their success. Every disadvantage in the beginning of a journey becomes eventually a source of empowerment. There is a lot to be grateful for behind those unwanted obstacles, rejections, limitations, non appreciation and sheer toil which seal her will to succeed no matter what!
- How did you aim for your company to stand out?
I will say it was an unwavering customer focus, service orientation and constant learning to deliver the customized solution with the latest and the best practices to ensure that a customer gets the highest and sustainable value proposition while never compromising on ethics and the excellence in execution.
An experience as an employee as well as an employer, working for a massive corporation and later starting my own company with only one person that is me, working through the public sector culture to later with multinationals as well as MSMEs AND having ‘been there everywhere and had done it all’ I could understand the customer expectations with precision. My client list also read as diversely as it could! Indian Navy, KUONI Travels, BARC, SIEMENS INDIA, ONGC, Jet Airways, Nuclear Power Corporation, CEAT Tires, Department of Atomic Energy, ABN Amro Bank, Bombay Stock Exchange, Rustomji Constructions, Maharashtra state Electricity Board, RPG Group, SMERA, US Vitamins, Wallace Lifestyle, IDBI, Aga Khan Development Network (AKDN) etc have been my major clients over the last two decades.
During this journey the list of collaborative association with prestigious professional bodies of “The Winning Edge” has been equally long which enabled me to network and showcase my capabilities well in professional circles: All India Management Association, World Trade Centre, National Academy of Customs, Excise & Narcotics, Indo German Chamber of Commerce, Maharashtra State Women’s Council, Bombay Chartered Accountant’s Society, Institute of Management Consultants of India, Indian Society for Training and Development, Confederation of Indian Industry and Indian Merchants Chamber. Currently I am also serving as Honourary Secretary of Bombay Management Association.
As an educator I constantly learned the global best practices through research and get reverse mentored by the youngsters. These kept me updated, competitive and relevant through the rapidly changing business environment and deliver my best; while dealing with customers, students, mentees and colleagues.
- What typical skillsets & attitudes do you look for while hiring a team for your company?
Good character and old fashioned values of taking responsibility, hard-work, cultured demeanor with a desire for continuous learning and being accountable are the basic traits we look for our teammates apart from the requisite professional qualifications. It is always possible to mould a person to fulfill the job requirements if these basic qualities are present.
- How do you see your company grow in the next 5-6 years? Any new product offerings in the wings?
At this juncture at “The Winning Edge” our main focus is going to be on developing more and more people in the areas of Entrepreneurship, Leadership, Teamwork, International Business Creation, Work-Life Balance, Relationships, Health etc. We wish to give special priority to groom the entrepreneurs, intrapreneurs and business owners into creating Scale ups from the Start ups considering a majority of start ups fail to scale. Also the focus with our mentees will be on sustainable business building by promoting Green Entrepreneurship and frugal innovation, Socially Responsible Initiatives, coaching and guiding women entrepreneurs and family businesses.
In our family business our focus continues to be the development of new Entre-leaders for the Chempro Group to head different businesses from within the family as well as independently hired professionals.
In short- Our major focus will be on generating Happy Business Creators in future; both within the Chempro Group and in Society at large.
At “Chempro Exports” we plan to develop several chemical raw materials, Specialties, Bulk Drugs and Pharmaceutical Formulations for the Global markets. In the area of Services we plan to develop global linkages with large corporations for developing and managing efficient supply chains out of India. In addition we plan to help underdeveloped countries set-up their own manufacturing capacities to ensure balanced development and employment creation around the world. In short, our focus continues to be exports except more services are getting added over the next five years.
- Do you have a person that inspires you? Who would that be and why?
There are many inspirations around; however my first and last inspiration in my personal life is my mother. She personifies the ideals of commitment, sacrifice, integrity, working hard quietly and a ‘never satiated spirit’ for personal growth and accomplishment. I find her ability to give her best to everything she undertakes; devotion to family and socially responsible initiatives and humility extremely inspiring.
In the external domain I am inspired by the optimism, genius and enterprising spirit of Dr. R. A. Mashelkar. He is a true nationalist and a scientist with amazing business acumen. Our past president Dr. Abdul Kalam’s brilliant accomplishments as a scientist, his simplicity and dedication to the cause of country are worth emulating.
In the corporate world I admire Tata Group for its commitment to philanthropy, Mayo Clinic of USA for its financial supremacy without sacrificing ethics and values; Sudha Murthy for her versatile talent and wisdom and Japan as a country and society for its values and becoming a world leader and developed nation in shortest time despite complete destruction during the second world war.
- How do you unwind… what are some of your favourite hobbies?
I am blessed to be living my passion. I love my work and the opportunities for growth, interaction and engagement with youngsters, women and colleagues it creates. This however demanding the day might have been I may only experience the physical fatigue and I unwind while listening to music and watching dance, dramas, movies or any cultural activity.
I love animals and indulge my children, family and friends by cooking for them.
I enjoy and look forward to travel and discovering the places of historic importance, natural beauty and wonder! Exploring the museums, local culture, food, handicrafts is really rejuvenating.
- Is there enough impetus to support and nurture young entrepreneurs in India. If not, can you tell us 3 things that are the need of the hour?
There is impetus but our country’s needs are more. Employment and job creation is far from what is needed. We have the youngest population as a country and this could become our strength only if they are productively employed. The need for generating business creators today is enormous-like never before. Hence, much more needs to be done.
3 things that are needed are:
1- Basic education starting with primary education needs an overhaul with more focus on application than memorising. Focus on building good value system is the topmost need of our society and this should begin early on in primary schools. This overhaul is also needed at senior schools and college levels. Technical education needs to focus more on promoting innovation. An attitude to be the best in terms of technology at the global level needs to be nurtured in our youth.
- Our women entrepreneurs need a very special support from both family and society. This will bring a huge percentage of potentially good entrepreneurs in the main stream and will do wonders to our GDP too.
- A better eco-system of good mentors and coaches needs to be created with more emphasis on business experience. An absolute focus on real value creation and generating profits on sustainable basis with a priority to conserve and nurture the environment and humanity is needed.
- What advice would you give to someone in the age group of 30-40 years, starting out as an entrepreneur today?
You are around at the right time with so many opportunities and a supportive business environment which is so conducive for entrepreneurial experiments! Go for it while being abreast of the latest technology and collaborating with the youngsters as they will define the future needs and trends! They provide the necessary energy and idealism and you have got the experience and wisdom of years to carve out a vision and execute it such that everyone’s dreams will fulfil while doing good!
Keep your focus on protecting and nurturing the environment and societal good with ethical practises as sustainability is the key to success.