How did you come to be an entrepreneur?
My role at TID was initially on Business Development but as I grew with the Company in India (it’s a Global firm with Partners in Singapore) and took on more responsibilities in running the Company be it accounts, HR, I started taking decisions for the Company growth and ran it almost independently. You could say I grew into the entrepreneurial shoes as we grew as a Company. Post 2018, I then took over full responsibility.
Throw some light on your business and its offerings.
We are a specialised Interior Design firm and while we do all types of projects, we started with our niche in hotel design in 1995 (in India) and then a decade later we started branching in to other types of spaces for interiors. We were the first Multinational hotel interior design firm to set up in India.
We then grew to do all types of spaces such as Retail, Commercial and Residential building common areas – lobby, corridors etc, Clubhouses for Residential towers, Showflats/villas, airport lounges, Food Courts, etc Our passion is hospitality and we have worked across segments of star categories and brands and typologies – business, leisure, service apartments etc
We provide Consultancy services from start to completion of the project thereby giving Clients Design Solutions and not just design drawings.
The best part in our firm is we have always had more or equal number of women working in our India office and I am very proud of them.
How challenging is it for a woman to start/ or associate with any company? /Have you faced any unusual situations doing business in India as a female entrepreneur?
If there is a will there is a way so even a Woman can do it though she may have to deal with more men in various steps be it at government offices or along the way setting up a company.
When I first started BD and the Company, I was mainly talking to men in the 90s. One of the challenges was that the genre of Interior Design as a speciality was not heard of much and I was asked why they even need an Interior Designer when the Architect could do it ? So the challenge was not about being a woman but about first educating on the Genre and need itself !
I have faced many situations such as being the only woman at site or being the only woman at a negotiation meeting or the only woman at a Client gathering as they invited only the Business heads ! I didn’t even realise I was the only woman around till someone pointed it out. I think many successful women don’t even work with this in mind about dealing with men or women. Its about the work and approach itself and the gender is secondary.
How do you achieve work-life balance?
I have been very fortunate to have had family and domestic support when my son was young. Furthermore since we practised a 5 day week, my weekends were dedicated to home . We also took family holidays from time to time. Now, even though my son is an adult, I keep the evenings for myself to unwind and catch up on reading. I focus on my health more through yoga and walks which I could not do before when time was given to my child and work.
The most difficult thing for a Leader be it man or woman, is to be able to mentally switch off after work, especially in tough times.
Did you have a mentor to guide you through your professional journey?
Yes and No.
My father was a hospitality professional and introduced me to the founder of TID and so he played a role in the Company as an Additional Director and was my Mentor in a way. Our founder for India operations , Gregory Pong groomed me and taught me about Interior Design and much more so he mentored me in that aspect.
However, some say that a Mentor should be a neutral person so by that definition, no I did not have a neutral Mentor, but I can’t say I missed it as my support from both my Father, Gregory Pong and also Audrey Ma who was our Finance head and taught me about handling Company Finances, all have played a huge role in my work education and I would not be here today without them.
How are entrepreneurship and working women important for India?
A country that recognises equality ensures a well educated and accepting and progressive society. It also ensures Respect for women. If women are running businesses (big or small or independent, any type) and also are at workplace, then they should be respected for their decisions and they will in turn give opportunities to other women. A working woman brings a different perspective of the community, people, conversations etc to her children. Children seeing their mothers work and play a role beyond the home, would understand and respect women more. Their upbringing horizon is widened.
Please understand that home-makers are equally important and can play the same role, but the importance of women in workplace has its positive continued effect on society and therefore the growth of the country.
Define a perfect business leader. What are the qualities you think a great leader possess?
Humility, consideration for the team, trust, team spirit, inclusion, giving each individual an opportunity and recognising that opportunity. Keeping an open door, giving a listening ear and always being available . The employee may switch off after 6 pm, but an entrepreneur has to keep the option of being “available”.
Stepping in when the team needs help (esp. in difficult situations, the most difficult eg being the pandemic) , discussing timelines rather than imposing deadlines.
While a leader cannot be everywhere and must delegate the work and let the respective Managers / Team Leaders do their work and take their decisions, but a leader should still have an overview of what is happening in various projects / departments of the Company.
I love this quote and have mentioned it many times “There go my people. I must follow them, for I am their Leader” To this effect it was first said by Alexandre Ledru-Rollin.
A brief description of the major awards won by your company.
We haven’t won direct awards but some of our hotel projects won overall hospitality awards at different platforms. We believe that our work, relations with others and deliverables should speak and be our recognition and not just an award recognition.
What advice would you give to other businesswomen who want to thrive in a male-dominated industry?
Be your own person and don’t wear feminism on your sleeve. Work and live with your Principles and Values that you believe in and let that be your recognition. Yes,you may have to work harder to climb the ladder but don’t give up.
Have a mentor.
One word that describe you the best…
How would you like people to remember you and your company?
We believe in values and relationships be it with each other, our clients, associates, or vendors. We believe in professional work ethics. We don’t compromise on quality. No work is too small for us and we prefer that the Clients we work with should be in sync with our values, design wavelength and professional in approach.
Honesty is the best policy.
What is your favourite metaphor for describing entrepreneurship?
Life is a Highway