7 Questions with Shahwar Shohrat
Name: Shahwar Shohrat
Current title: CEO
Current organisation: The Luxe Story
Shahwar Shohrat is an enterprising woman leader with extensive experience building businesses from the ground up along with humanitarian outlook on life. She has over the years set up and successfully run multiple businesses in India as well as abroad. A NIFT and AMU alumni, she has multiple first to her name which defies social constraints. She started her fashion line - Shayve and did the first and still the largest fashion show her city ever had. She continues to hold fashion close to her heart, as a fashion designer, stylist, and blogger.
She ventured into hospitality with a multi cuisine fine-dine restaurant. She continued with her enterprise while being in Africa for 9 years and set up a successful events management company, Nash Events, utilizing her multinational experience in business analytics and training with world's biggest IT company, IBM.
Her most recent entrepreneurial venture, The Luxe Story, which she is the CEO and co-founder of, has a vision of reviving the handicrafts and rejuvenate them through use of innovative technology and giving them a global marketplace.
The juxtaposition of successful business with social benefits for the community drives her day in and day out. She actively advocates not only the cause of women empowerment but also women entrepreneurship.
Her own social trust India Talent Treasure Trust is focused on enhancing the livelihoods of artisans and craft persons working on multiple handicrafts across various parts of the country, to support all the crafts and also to save the endangered handicrafts.
1. What have you found most challenging as an Entrepreneur?
The journey of being an Entrepreneur has been an incredible mix of trials and triumphs. Since I had multiple businesses spread across hospitality, event management, and manufacturing, the challenges in managing them were unique. One of my all-time favorites was in the manufacturing industry, where I had to drive new product design with generational artisans.
I took pride in their handicrafts, which was the core offering of my company, yet I wanted the designs to be in line with the market trends. A complicated case of change management in balancing the thousands of year-old traditions with state-of-the-art technology.
It took me time to align it, and therefore I consider it as a unique challenge where productivity and people-centricity had to go hand in hand for the success of a product line.
2. How did you become an Entrepreneur? Can you please briefly tell the story?
It's a very amusing story to narrate to anyone now, but it all started with a deluded impression of what an Entrepreneur is. I was working as an Analyst with IBM, and my daughter was about to turn two and therefore started asking questions about my absence from home, while I was at work. It led me to think about my priorities and how I could balance parenting and profession. I got deluded by the time my father, a successful businessman, used to spend with the family, and I built the notion that if I become an Entrepreneur too, leaving my 9-to-5 desk-job, I would be able to spend more time with my daughter in her growing years. I started a fine-dine restaurant and while it was successful - the core belief was shattered beyond reprise that Entrepreneurship is more relaxed than a job.
I later was enlightened by my father that what I saw was the result of a challenging journey of three decades, and I might be able to achieve the 'relaxed' state if I am lucky after toiling for a decade or two. I am much more enlightened now as an entrepreneur and the journey now as an Entrepreneur is driven by the vision of building an enterprise that is able to add value to the community where it works by returning the resources it has taken from the community but many times over. It's a balance between commercial viability and social responsibility.
3. How do you structure your work days from waking up to going to sleep?
The structure is simple to say but it requires discipline and tenacity over years such that it becomes part of the lifestyle.
My day starts before going to bed where after doing a quick summary of the day as it went by I align my work and priorities for the next day - This covers every aspect and not just the calendar.
Being a fashion stylist and a fashion-school graduate - the clothes to wear, what to accessorize them with is taken care of on the basis of the engagements for the next day. I am of the group of people that believe that one dresses for success and it is an important aspect of one's overall personality.
After waking up, one of the most important elements of my day is meditation and exercise for a fit body and a fit mind. Once this is done, I spend quick but quality time with the kids and see them off to school. Then spend time appraising current affairs and news.
Then the workday starts and it is driven by the calendar. However, one thing that I have made another habit of is to have an hour of office time to spend with people within the organization spontaneously without the barriers of teams, roles, and function, sometimes blending it with the lunch or breaks. It's this habit that keeps me grounded and connected with the team always. It's my official happy hour.
The evenings are spent with the family with a focus on the age-old tradition - a family that eats together stays together. This time is one of the most distressing and precious times of the day for me. Thereafter, the cycle starts again for the sun will rise again tomorrow and I get to make a difference to a few lives, if not more.
4. What's the most recent significant leadership lesson you've learned?
The world has changed because of the pandemic shattering many of our beliefs. I witnessed it very closely, and as a humanitarian and social activist, even after doing all that I could from my Not-for-profit organizations, I felt helpless and insufficient. The business suffered and many export orders were abandoned, and their payments stopped, and the inventory piled up with no buyers.
The fear of the future was evident in the voice and eyes of the workers in my company, whose survival was dependent on their wages. We kept paying their wage, even during the downtime, but their fear continued to increase, as they believed that a business would stop paying soon to limit losses. When we didn't stop the payments after more than nine months of no work - they started coming to me with ideas on how to restart, how to reinvent ourselves, and how to find ways of building products that would be more relevant in a pandemic prone environment.
The lesson for me was that while we did suffer significant financial losses yet compared to the significantly higher gain in employee loyalty, commitment, and innovation - we didn't lose much, we gained. My belief in social good, and the power of human experience were validated for good.
5. What's one book that has had a profound impact on your leadership so far? Can you please briefly tell the story of how that book impacted your leadership?
I chanced upon Primal Leadership: Unleashing the Power of Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman, Richard Boyatzis & Annie McKee and it was a great read which helped me to establish EI in a business environment.
I believe that the book has some particularly good insights. It places relatively less emphasis on values like intelligence and strategy; and more on "Emotional Intelligence" - Empathy, Enthusiasm, Relationship Management, and Intuition.
The part Goleman emphasizes the role of mentors, coaches, and teachers in the real world setting instead of seminars and lectures to achieve resonance in the relationship resonated with me the most. Leaders who are "emotionally intelligent" will use leadership skills and styles that are "resonance-building" and will create more positive environments.
I am now a certified Emotional Intelligence coach, and it has helped me work more closely with the community and within my company.
6. How do you build leadership capacity in your Organisation?
Ralph Nader so appropriately summed up my thoughts on leadership, "The function of leadership is to produce more leaders, not more followers." In my organization, I have tried to build a culture of collaboration not just within the teams but overall.
I have come to the belief that when you show your trust in your people, and extend their area of influence, backing them where required; they outperform your expectations. This one experiment of creating an inspiring, collaborative culture has helped me nurture future leaders.
7. What is one meaningful story that comes to mind from your time as an Entrepreneur so far?
Success is a big satisfaction, and Entrepreneurship has brought me several successes, but as I have said previously, my chariot of Entrepreneurship is pulled by two capable horses - Commercial Viability and Community Development.
The most meaningful story is from the Pandemic lockdown when the business was most affected. One of my artisans, who resisted the changes in the design processes, called me and sought time to discuss. While we were paying all our employees through the lockdown, I thought maybe his family would be under financial distress and he may want financial support. We met. and to my surprise, he told me that the pandemic had been the toughest time in his not so easy life. He had understood the underlying reason for us insisting on changes and in his own words said, "Change is the only constant." Not only did he express it, but he also showed me a couple of rough designs of products that he believed are apt for the pandemic - we do copper products. This was an eye-opener for me, I had almost given up on convincing him to change but he did change himself due to the pandemic. It made me realize that we need to connect at a very 'individual' and 'humane' level with our people, especially people with exceptional talent to align them to our vision or, more importantly, seek to change our vision with their feedback. Businesses are not run by bots or banknotes, it's by the people, for the people and with the people. People matter!