She may have been the first woman in their family to go to college, but Ashni Biyani was trained for entrepreneurship by ‘KB’ ever since she was 8
Ashni Biyani is the first woman from her family to step out of home to attend college, for she grew up in a Marwari joint family. And yet, she was bred to broach the line of fire in business. For instance, while summer breaks for most eight-year-olds are about playing outdoors with friends, for Ashni, they were spent observing her father work at launching their stores in various cities. “The basics were learnt intuitively and everything came to us as we did it. More importantly, I saw what it takes to give birth to an idea,” she says.
Even as a student in Class 9, she would sit at Biyani’s meetings without saying anything. Being the offspring of a first-generation entrepreneur meant she could see the making of a business, as compared to one that already existed. “We interacted with KB (that’s how she addresses her father) like adults. He would often bring the merchandise home and we would talk about it,” says Ashni. “I never studied business and I was simply applying what I had seen or heard, thereby making sense of consumer behaviour,” she adds.
Setting up Future Ideas was luck by chance and had never crossed Ashni’s mind as a student at Bengaluru’s Srishti Institute of Art, Design & Technology, from where she graduated in 2006. This was followed by courses on scenario planning at Parsons School of Design in New York and a course in general management at Stanford Graduate School of Business. Upon returning to India, she was still indecisive about her future course of action. But when Biyani was looking to set up an innovation team, his daughter joined in seamlessly.
The big moment, though, was repositioning the larger Big Bazaar stores into family centres, one of Ashni’s concepts. The transformation that started in late 2009, saw large Big Bazaar outlets, with an area of at least 70,000 square feet, converted into family centres with an area of 100,000 square feet.
A good part of Ashni’s working hours is devoted to Future Consumer Enterprise Limited (FCEL), where she is a director. Positioned as a sourcing-to-supermarket food company, her immediate task on hand at FCEL is to create multiple brands, with the foray into atta being one that she speaks of passionately.
In 2009, she got married to Viraj Didwania, who is Vedanta Group chairman, Anil Agarwal’s nephew. The couple had a daughter last April. “I do not view motherhood as a burdening role, but as one that is actually a lot of fun,” she sums up.