Putting the building blocks in place

Sonya Hooja — Co-Founder, Imarticus

Sonya Hooja is the Co-Founder and Chief Operating Officer at Imarticus  (http://imarticus.org/), a leading professional finance and analytics firm. At Imarticus, she works extensively on business strategy overseeing the implementation of various products. She has launched placement and knowledge based programs and developed and managed training design and curriculum to match the industry requirements.

Prior to Imarticus, she worked for over a decade at Accenture (Management Consulting), Goldman Sachs and the erstwhile Lehman Brothers. She has worked across US, Singapore and India and her primary roles comprised of strategy development and project management across diverse industries such as financial services, education, tourism public sector and pharmaceuticals. She has also conducted workshops with the Prime Minister’s Office in Singapore, to teach key consulting, problem solving and project management skills, which could be applied in their advisory capacities.

A Bachelors in Economics from Rutgers University, USA and an MBA from INSEAD, Sonya is also a painter by hobby and has exhibited at a few exhibitions across US and India.

High point in career

“Undoubtedly, Imarticus Learning! I cofounded this company in 2011. To say that the last four years have been the most path-changing, interesting and rewarding years of my life is an understatement. The firm has grown from 200 students in the first year to over 10,000 today! And also with 150 employees working across various divisions.  As for the high point- I believe I still have to reach it”. 

Most challenging assignment so far

At the cost of being repetitive, it is again Imarticus Learning.  Each day brings a brand new challenge.  We have grown at an amazing rate and each center, each initiative comes with its own challenges. Establishing a company in an Indian environment with no previous experience is no mean achievement.”

Greatest inspiration

“I don’t particularly have a single role model or hero. I have been surrounded by people who are achievers in their own right. My older brother for instance, is someone I look up to. I admire his sense of focus, discipline and far sightedness.  He believes that success is becoming better than the day before, every day. Working with him closely, I have come to believe in that too.” 

Most important milestone in life

“My decision to return to India! After being educated and having worked in the US, UK and Singapore, returning to India was a major turning point in my life.  It was a much-debated move on by family and friends but I am happy I made the decision. My subsequent involvement with the education domain has a certain feel good factor about it. We help students realize their goals and when they come back to us with their success stories – it makes it all worth it.”

Women are the better halves. What does it mean?

“Although it would be nice to believe that we are the better halves, I don’t entirely agree with the statement. Women have certainly come a long way but so have the men in their mind- sets and attitudes.  I believe that for any relationship to really sustain and grow- it has to be a joint venture.  I have been very fortunate in that department, having a supporting husband and family.”

Setting milestones in the school of life

Meenakshi Menon — Founder, Spatial Access

Meenakshi is an advertising, media & marketing expert with a track record for building successful businesses in new niches. She launched Spatial Access (www.spatialaccess.com) in 2003 – a company providing audits, advisory & analytics across all areas of marketing investments. They are currently working with over 120 clients across India and the ASEAN region, evaluating the efficiency & efficacy of marketing investments.She has also co-founded Social Access – a communications practice that focuses on NGO’s and non-profits and helping them build strategies and communication plans for scale and impact.

According to Meenakshi, she had the best education possible in the University of Life! Graduation in Sociology from Mumbai University followed by a diploma in Marketing & Advertising was just the start of her education, then Life took over. Over the years she has shared these lessons with hundreds of students in colleges across the country as a guest lecturer. She is part of the Board of Studies at St Xavier’s College, Mumbai, for the Bachelors in Marketing Management program ensuring that the curriculum reflects the need of the student & not the institution.

Meenakshi loves teaching but still considers herself as a student. Her passion for scuba diving began four years ago & has become an integral part of her life & travels. Despite over 250 dives, she still considers herself to be a student. She says — “Every time you slip beneath the waves it’s like the very first time you experienced the wonders beneath the sea. The awe makes you a permanent student, eager, anxious & ready to learn.”

High point in career

Too many high points in my career to list and sometimes I think there are many more to come. Professional success was mine at an early age. I was a GM of a division at age 29, a MD of a listed company at age 36 (a rare feat for a woman in 1995) but what gives me the greatest pleasure is the people I have trained and mentored. When someone who has worked with you 20 years ago still looks up to you despite being a CEO of a large corporation, you know your journey is not over!”

Most challenging assignment so far

“Undoubtedly it was setting up Spatial Access, my audit & analytics practice. It was an innovative idea in an industry that fights innovation and change.  Resisted by the big agencies who fight transparency and accountability tooth and nail. For these guys no trick is too dirty. From legal notices, luring away staff to attempting data theft they have tried it all. I think it was my inability to surrender that made me hang in there and fight the good fight. What also helped was that I was my own boss and had built my business on my money & my principles. So external pressures could not make me disappear. It’s been hard but worth every bump. Today the global marketing industry is waking up to the reality that there is an urgent need to ask the inconvenient question. Agencies who believe they are not accountable to clients do so at their own long term peril. We would really like to see the priest defrocked. Because what is currently out in the open on digital has been going on in traditional media for decades!”

Greatest inspiration

“Nature is my greatest inspiration. Nature gives tirelessly but does not reduce in the giving. Nature treats us all as equal creatures & species. That equality is what we need to emulate in life. We need to understand that each creature on this planet has its role to play & that man is not the top of the pyramid, just a small piece of the puzzle, albeit a highly destructive piece.”

What is that one milestone in your life that makes you happy?

“There are so many things that make me happy but at the top of it all is the fact that I have been very fortunate to have the freedom of choice. The ability to exercise your choice with no fear or favour is a giant privilege & I think that is one milestone that defines me & which I am eternally grateful for.”

Women are the better halves. What does it mean to you?

“I don’t like this phrase because it is sexist. Why should one gender be better than another? I also have a problem with the concept that it needs two halves (man & woman) to make a whole. So keep this one away from me please.”

Person of many milestones

Charulata Ravi Kumar — CEO, Razorfish India

More than just an achiever, Charulata Ravi Kumar is a leadership figure in her field. As the CEO of Razorfish India (www.razorfish.com), she takes on the role with in-depth understanding of the India market. Her main goal is to ensure Razorfish India remains the destination for smart, curious, creative and entrepreneurial-minded people, and to further strengthen Razorfish India’s existing core competencies.

She is an avid speaker and has spoken at various events, including The Wharton India Economic Forum (WIEF), Philadelphia. A successful entrepreneur, she is also a Corporate Leadership coach and teaches at eminent institutions in India. Charulata has been a consultant and regular columnist for The Indian Express – a leading Indian daily newspaper. A regular speaker and jury member at Leadership, Digital and Women’s forums in India, she was recently conferred with the “Pillar of Hindustani Society” by the Trans Asian Chamber of Commerce. She was awarded the Linkedin Power Profile in 2015.

It has been a transformational journey of 27 years for her from Calcutta to Mumbai via Middle East and London with stop-overs in US, Europe, Singapore, Australia, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. With global experience in Business Transformation across the best Marcom groups – Publicis Groupe, WPP and IPG with agencies such as JWT, Lintas, Bates, Grey Worldwide, she set up the first Integrated Marketing Agency in Middle East and India.

With a penchant for treks, sports and wine trails, she loves cooking and writing is her biggest passion. In her free time, Charulata teaches social skills and “science through play” at Anchorage, an NGO for adults with down-syndrome.

High point in career

“Not one but many. Each milestone has been the high point relatively until it took me to discover the next one. However, my time in the Middle East was quite transformational in life and career lessons.”

Most challenging assignment so far

“Setting up “Product of the Year” in India – The challenge to set up from scratch a totally new concept that no one had heard of. To start with, it was me and my laptop! Finding an office, finding a tea boy, an assistant, legalities around setting up the office, trade mark and the processes around it, the largest ever consumer research on innovation in the country et al was all a daunting task. And with just six months to roll out in the first year, the whole thing seemed impossible. But I was determined to and resulted the first year in success, from a performance, profit and sustainability point of view.”

Greatest inspiration

“I draw inspiration from all around me. Every person I come across brings a deep insight I learn from. Amongst them, I wish to mention my mother and 10-year-old son – my strongest support and inspiration – who have taught me the lessons of perseverance, patience and the biggest lesson – to smile through all adversity and find new joys every day.”

Most important milestone in life

“Living by just one milestone is not me. I find happiness in many things and believe in setting up many milestones of joy along the way.”

Women are the better halves. What does it mean?

“Both men and women complete the circle. Yes I am proud to be a woman but undermining the importance of men is vanity. And vanity is a cover for the inferiority complex one suffers. Women must follow their heart and passions and drive towards excellence and not waste time trying to pacify themselves by terming it “Better half”. Being a woman has to be much more than being a comparison one way or the other to a man. It is important for women to come together and raise the bar and opportunities for each other.”

Simplifying dining out payments

Natasha Jain — Founder of Ruplee

Out to revolutionize people’s lives by making everyday technology work for them, 27-year-old Natasha Jain, a Masters Degree Holder in Management Science Engineering from Stanford University, is the Founder of Ruplee, an avant-garde payment app designed to ease dining-out woes.

A self-raised entrepreneur and a thorough professional, Natasha earned her Bachelor’s Degree in Industrial Engineering from Georgia Institute of Technology. In her previous endeavour, Natasha commandeered operations and supply chain management of four manufacturing plants that shaped her entrepreneurial capabilities. Previous to setting up Ruplee, Natasha managed the much-successful FreshMentors initiative that she initiated in 2012. FreshMentors is an online college mentoring platform that helps students get live one-to-one video interactions in the form of thirty minute video chats.

High point in career

“When we introduced Ruplee and received our first feedback. The user mentioned that she was quite adamant to download the app as it seemed like a pretty cool way to pay for her bill compared to other apps. The innovative concept where the user could select a restaurant, dine in and pay the bill through his / her phone within a few taps was very attractive. Further, it enabled the user to make the payment without getting into any hassle for cash/card payments and got her discount on the bill as well!”

Most challenging assignment so far

“Creating an app that changes payment behaviour is very challenging. Given the large percentage of people still paying with cash, it’s difficult to create a concept that would digitize payments. Thus, you have to be forward thinking and have faith that this is going to be the next revolution in payment. You need to stay motivated by the fact that when the acceptability of the concept increases, you would be part of the reason the change happened.”

Greatest inspiration

“I come from a business family background. That has definitely helped shape my outlook towards work. However, a huge inspiration for me was the entrepreneurial peer group at Stanford. It was great to see so many people around me working on concepts that would make a global impact in the future. That has been the most appealing part to me about being an entrepreneur, trying to create a product that will impact our everyday lives.”

Most important milestone in life

“It’s the time when we did our first Ruplee transaction and the customers loved the concept. Seeing an idea come to life and getting positive feedback on it is really fulfilling.”

Women are the better halves. What does it mean?

“Women are the support system in the relationship and similarly men should also be the same given the world we live in today.”