Decision Maker: How did you come to be an entrepreneur?
Sunita Kohli: I became an entrepreneur, quite serendipitously. In my generation the word entrepreneur was not part of the English lexicon. Mine was “a slow boat to China” story. I came to entrepreneurship through studies in English Literature. During my Masters in the subject, I also started studying the history of English furniture styles as I had grown up in Lucknow which used to have many dealers of old English furniture and other fine artefacts. One was always visiting these shops and travelling around India with our parents. In short, I became a furniture manufacture and an interior designer because of the parents one had, the cultural influences of the city I grew up in, the travels across India and the deep reading habits that were encouraged and inculcated in us from our childhood.
Decision Maker: Throw some light on your business and its offerings/services.
Sunita Kohli: K2India is a New Delhi based multi–disciplinary design and architectural firm constituted, in 2010, by Sunita Kohli (Padma Shri, 1992) and her Pratt Institute educated architect daughter, Kohelika Kohli. It was established as their brand, to bring all the design disciplines practiced by their various companies under one umbrella. These are ‘Kohelika Kohli Architects’ (est. 2004), the Architecture and Project Management cell of the company, known for its creative and contemporary buildings; ‘Sunita Kohli Interior Designs Pvt. Ltd.’ (est. 1972), the Interior Design cell of the company, research-based and concerned and sensitive to the physical context of public and residential projects and their cultural milieu; ‘Sunita Kohli & Co.’ (est. 1971), the Furniture Manufacturing cell of the company, whose range extends from the classical to the contemporary. From July 2021, Nidhi Choudhari is an associate partner in K2India.
Decision Maker: How is it different from other companies?
Sunita Kohli: I have absolutely no idea.
Decision Maker: 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?
Sunita Kohli: In India one cannot generalise the situation of women……. it differs vastly across economic and educational classifications. It is challenging for anyone to start and establish a successful new company. Much depends on one’s vision and hard work. I think the situation is tougher today, particularly for women architects. In many instances, for mega architectural projects there seems to be a prejudice against women, with the exception of just a few women architects.
Decision Maker: How do you achieve work-life balance?
Sunita Kohli: Is there such a thing as work-life-balance? This is a new age concept. We just got on with it! As a working mother one was always filled with guilt, whether at work or with one’s children. Personally, my innate calmness is owing to the fact that I am not a multi-tasker. I have always had to deal with diverse work, writing and four-generational-family commitments on a daily basis. However, generally I have always only concentrated on one task, at any given moment.
Decision Maker: If you could describe yourself in a few words, what would they be?
Sunita Kohli: An interior designer, an interior architectural conservator, a furniture manufacturer, an author and an occasional essayist who is also a grandmother, a mother, a wife and till recently a daughter who believes that all those less fortunate than oneself must be helped.
Decision Maker: How are entrepreneurship and working women important for India?
Sunita Kohli: They are the foundational bedrock of India.
Decision Maker: Define a perfect business leader. What are the qualities you think a great leader possess?
Sunita Kohli: Great leaders have great empathy and compassion; they lead by example, in terms of hard-work and value systems; they are constant learners; they have a sense of humour; they are passionate and enthusiastic about causes; they are unafraid to be their own authentic selves.
Decision Maker: What is the road map of your organization?
Sunita Kohli: To add more architectural and design projects is a given. To grow KOKO by K2India into a global brand of furniture, known for its design creativity and fine quality of craftsmanship.
Decision Maker: A brief description of the major awards won by your company.
Sunita Kohli: With God’s Grace there have been many awards in this over fifty year long journey. The most important have been the Padma Shri, awarded by the President of India in New Delhi, the Mahila Shiromani Award by Mother Teresa, now St. Teresa of Calcutta, and the National Designer of the Year Award by the Swami Narayan Sect in Ahmedabad – all in 1992. One has been awarded many Lifetime Achievement and Designer of the Year Awards. Consistently since 2013, Kohelika and I of K2India have been given the AD50 and the AD100 Awards.
Decision Maker: What advice would you give to other businesswomen who want to thrive in a male-dominated industry and deal with the typical and stereotype people?
Sunita Kohli: One should never presume to give advice to anyone, irrespective of age, gender and circumstance. Rather one should constantly learn from others.