Taking the road less travelled, they paved their way to success – these four women manufacturers are true inspirations

These women took on a crude, male-dominated sector, manufacturing, and despite the doubters and naysayers, they managed to build

How surprised will you be if you get to know a woman leads a manufacturing company? After all, it is a very male-dominated sector. Perhaps it is not easy for women to make a mark in this field. But as the founder of famous bags brand, Baggit Nina Lekhi says, “If a man can do it, then why can’t a woman?”

Lekhi was in her college when she realised the manufacturing industry was the place she wanted a career in. It sounds easy but the journey was no cakewalk for her. It all started with a jolt when she was informed that she had failed her first year in college. The result left her in shock. “I saw my friends moving on. I asked myself what was I doing with my life?” The first year of college is usually the time when all the kids ponder about what they want to do ahead. Lekhi started to attend her remedy classes, and one of those classes had a small course on tailoring. That’s where she picked up her love for textiles from. She learned more about the industry and moved on to working as a sales girl. “I tried working in different fields. But after a point I knew I wanted to enter manufacturing so I took some classes stitching classes from my neighbourhood institute, and block printing classes at college,” she says. Manufacturing is not easy, especially when you talk about designing bags, one needs a creative hand.

Lekhi started working with three people from her neighbourhood who helped her with designing and producing the bags. It was initially a team of three that started this iconic brand. “My family was very supportive when I told them I wanted to start my own business. They were just happy that I would be earning and not wasting time,” she laughs. And finally, in 1990, she launched her brand which now is available in over 1000 large retail stores and 50 exclusive outlets.

Lekhi remembers instances where in her initial days her mother used to accompany her to the market to buy the required products. “I did not know how to bargain with the shop guys and what material to buy. My mother was my go-to person whenever I visited the market.” The real struggle she feels started when she became a mother in 1983. She says that she used to carry her four-month-old daughter everywhere she went. “Those were the times my husband and in-laws supported me a lot,” she says. Those were the days when women faced real hurdles before they could convince their mothers-in-law to let them work. All this support has helped Lekhi building a company that clocked a revenue of Rs.160 crore last year and is hoping to grow by 25 per cent in 2019.

That is the story of Lekhi, but just like her there is another inspiring name in the industry, the founder of Agatsa Software Neha Rastogi. Agatsa Software, founded in 2013, launched a device named Sanket 1.0, in March 2016, that can do an ECG to show your stress levels. While an ECG machine costs anywhere between  Rs.40,000 and  Rs.200,000. Sanket, on the other hand, is priced at  Rs.9,999.

She started her journey with her husband Rahul, perhaps she never thought she was going to step into a field dominated by men. “I thought of an idea and not that I would be working in manufacturing.” Rastogi claims that there have been numerous instances when she was reminded time and again of how male-dominated the industry was. “This problem is not restricted to India, I have faced this while dealing with Chinese clients too. There were times they refused to speak with me because they thought I would not be well versed with the field.” Rastogi recollects that at such times of despair in her initial phase she used to return home and think if this field was the right choice but her husband was of great support, and became her motivation too. She says at times she could not even depend on her own employees and it was really difficult for her to seek help. But the journey has been a fruitful one. “I started off with an idea, and today our device is being used by everyone. From doctors to people in remote areas we get orders from all over and it brings us great joy,” says Rastogi.

She admits that since the beginning, she has been the brain behind the making of software and Rahul has been the one dealing with development.

Starting your own manufacturing company is certainly difficult but is it any different when you enter a firm that is run by your own father. Akshali Shah of Parag Milk Foods knows more about this. Growing up she always had an interest in business, “I was in my 20s when I had started reading on business and spending time with my father Devendra Shah’s company.” Business enticed her and she joined her father in 2010.

Her corporate journey began when she decided to get a degree in Family Business Management at S.P Jain University after which she joined Parag Milk Foods as a management trainee. “I spent my formative years in sales, brand management, customer marketing and understanding the dynamics of the business in order to hone my skills to grow and shoulder bigger responsibilities in the company,” she says. Being the youngest in a field, one is always seen as someone who is incapable of handling big responsibilities. Shah too faced the same problem, the management had seen her since her childhood days and she had to prove it to the seniors that she deserved the position. “New-age women entrepreneurs are growing rapidly and are facing the society in all aspects every day. Women today are walking hand in hand with men, be it as a homemaker or everyday working women. I have and will encourage every aspiring woman entrepreneur to have the passion to make a difference.” She started eight years back and she handled the launch of Pride of Cows, farm to home fresh milk business from strategising to launching the products in the market.

“I am proud to have started my career with Pride of Cows, handling it solely from deciding the packaging and launching it in the marketing.” Today, Shah is the Vice President of Sales and Marketing at Parag Milk Foods and she still enjoys every bit of her work the way she used to eight years back. Some of the major initiatives that she took was organising the ‘Only The Best’ campaign on digital mediums which in turn helped in boosting the brand name. Another initiative carried by Akshali was the summer intern campaign where the company hired over 100 business school interns who were sent on field to create awareness for Pride Of Cows.

She just want to come back home and start working here in 2007. Not in her wildest dreams did she envisage that she would create an iconic brand and a name for herself in manufacturing. But Hemalatha Annamalai of Ampere Vehicles did both making her a role model for many young women entrepreneurs.

Annamalai holds a degree in engineering from the Government College Of Technology, Coimbatore and worked for six years at Wipro. And her experience came in handy when she wanted to venture out on her own. “so I faced some problems when I started out but I really wanted Ampere to be a success so I didn’t let the initial teething problems deter me,” says Annamalai . Her idea was validated when Greaves Cotton decided to pick up a majority stake in Ampere. The company will pick up a 67% stake in Ampere by December 31, 2018 for Rs.77 crore in its first phase and another 13% in a span of three years at Rs.75.5 crore at its discretion. The company produces 60,000 EVs per year and is now targeting a capacity of more than 100,000 vehicles in the immediate term.

Hardworking and zealous are two things that describe these ladies perfectly. They all faced their own set of problems but never gave up. With changing times, there is a sea of opportunities and possibilities for aspiring women entrepreneurs. “Nothing comes easy, so be open to learning, even if it means learning from the junior most in your company. I started as a management trainee in this organisation and have always learnt from my peers and seniors,” Shah signs off.

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