Our world shines with stellar examples of women who have torn down masculine stereotypes and achieved startling success in domains that were until recently presumed to be strictly for men. There are now women presiding over corporate empires, driving megabuck businesses, setting the pace in research and redefining cutting edge in areas as wide apart as finance and fine art. Our new series entitled “Women of Substance,” is a level-headed toast to such extraordinary women, one of whom quite definitely, is Shailja Dutt, founder and managing director of Stellar Search and Selection. Put simply, Dutt has blazed a fiery trail of achievements and set an example for countless other women.
|Ms Shailja Dutt
Founder & MD, Stellar Search and Selection
Shailja holds a BA Honours degree in economics from Lady Shri Ram College and an MBA from the International Management Institute in Delhi. She started her career in management consulting, moved to research, and had a brush with academics before moving as a consultant to Amrop, an international search firm. She says she learnt everything about the search to search business from Preety Kumar, her boss there. Shailja informs us, “Amrop was also my window to global search practices, which I learnt and utilised to build Stellar.”
Shailja’s entrepreneurial journey began in 1998. “I started Stellar after spending almost three years with Amrop. I had my first baby in 1996. Over 1997, the pressure of travel in my job became too much, which was what prompted me to leave my job – where I was doing exceedingly well – and stay at home. After a couple of months, my husband goaded me into considering becoming an entrepreneur and lent me the `50,000 that I used as a deposit on my first office. I borrowed a computer from my brother, a telephone line from my neighbour in the office building and Stellar was born.
|Shailja Dutt with her two sons|
“I was extremely fortunate that my goodwill from my earlier job was tremendous and many erstwhile clients came to Stellar with their talent requirements. We were busy from day one. By our sixth month, we had touched a turnover of `10 lakh and we closed the year with `24 lakh. It was all quite beyond my comprehension. There was just me and a
front office assistant and an MBA school part-timer and we had managed to get the company going. (Both these ladies now run successful independent search firms of their own).
“In the second year, my brother joined me in the business, and after that, there was no looking back. We grew from strength to strength, using our complementary skills to build the organization. In 2001, we had 40-odd people working with us and were experimenting with a career portal as well.
“However, in 2002, my brother and I fell out and we came close to shutting shop, with no money and no people in the company. I was confined to my bed with a very difficult second pregnancy at the time. I came back after Arsh was born to a company with five employees, no billings, low morale and just no money.
“I always feel 2003 was the year of rebirth for Stellar. The five of us restarted the business and I paid salaries and bills from credit card withdrawals and personal loans. By July 2003, we were back in the game.”
Today, Shailja says she wakes up early in the morning because she loves to watch the sun rise. And she greets the sun with a big beam on her own face. She has good reason to smile. After all, she heads one of the best known human resource search organizations in the country.
As with every entrepreneur, Shailja, too, has some regrets. In 1997, her brother and she had started working on a career portal. She wishes now that she had devoted more energy and effort to that venture. “We had the idea before Naukri, TimesJobs and Monster. It’s one of the very few regrets I have about my career,” she says wistfully. She says she believes firmly in the saying, “Pain is temporary, but quitting is forever.”
Shailja says the biggest challenge every women entrepreneur faces in her day to day life is finding the right work-life balance. She says, “Being a working mother, I think I have aced that completely and I guess my kids are the best testimonial to my success.”
Ask her for her take on Indian women entrepreneurs and she replies, “I highly recommend a strong mentorship programme for women wanting to take their entrepreneurial venture to the next level.”
Remembering the initial challenges she faced in her venture, Shailja reveals, “Challenges have been plenty, from being taken seriously to raising funds, but in hindsight, they just seem incredible learning experiences or opportunities and really don’t seem like challenges at all. Other than that, the usual start-up hiccups of lack of funds and good people to work with you. But it’s really all behind me. Now the challenge is geographical expansion and taking the company to the next level.”
While there are many women who find cooking an unwelcome chore, Shailja says, “I find cooking very therapeutic and it is my favourite way to de-stress after a long day at work. I am an eclectic cook and cook and bake often. I find it deeply satisfying to see my family enjoying a meal I have cooked. Currently, I am experimenting with several ‘clean eating’ recipes.”
She is quick to say she could not have achieved all that she has without the support of her family – her husband, Sunir, and her two sons, Ishaan (14) and Arsh (8). She says, “My truly better half, Sunir, has been the wind beneath my wings. I have known Sunir for 19 years now and we have been married for 17 years. We have two brilliant boys, Ishaan and Arsh. Both of them are avid soccer players and swimmers. My family lives in Singapore and I shuttle between India and Singapore. I have a very supportive and close-knit maternal family, and my mom and brothers have been a very strong influence in my life.”
Shailja loves shopping, whether in malls, high streets, boutiques, flea markets or even weekly street bazaars. “My family will testify that I am a compulsive shopper!
China remains my all-time favourite shopping destination,” she says with a laugh.
|Shailja Dutt with her team at Stellar Search and Selection|
She is also a fitness enthusiast and swims and practises Yoga regularly. She is fond of reading too, managing to get through a magazine a day and at least a book in a week. She is an extremely informal person and lives in jeans and T-shirts round the year, but when it comes to work and formal occasions, her dress of choice is the sari. Shailja says she loves wearing a sari. She truly believes that women look their most graceful in a sari.
Shailja is a beachaholic when it comes to holidays. Any beach is the perfect vacation spot for her, but she puts Lakshadweep on top of her list because of the fantastic dives it offers. She goes there every year, she says, and adds, “No phones, no Internet, no TV, no radio and no people. Just white beaches and the sea. There are days that go by without me talking to anyone other than the dive team. It’s the perfect way to connect with one’s inner self.”
An inspiring woman indeed!
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