By Shivi Verma
Nina Lekhi, founder and chairperson of Baggit, a premier handbag brand, believes in learning, playing and sharing as the keys to attaining commercial success, says Shivi Verma
When one thinks of Nina Lekhi, founder and CEO of Baggit, a famous handbag manufacturing brand, one thinks of success, enterprise, growth and creativity. I had seen this flagship store in many malls, and had noticed many women proudly carrying the brand. I also knew that it was a 100-crore company. What one does not think of, and yet which is pivotal to her success, is her spiritual approach and attitude.
As I trudged uphill to the fourth floor of her apartment in Dadar (the lift was out of order), I entered an open lounge with a clear view of the skies and the sea behind.
Lounge chairs were scattered around the place, and the walls were adorned with paintings of the Buddha and other spiritual themes. As I went closer, looking for the mistress of the house, a chubby and energetic looking lady called out from the window of the open kitchen. She wore an apron, and her hands were dipped in the batter of a cake she was in the process of whipping up. Dressed in pyjamas and a blue top, she identified herself as Nina Lekhi – the CEO of Baggit.
Describing her living space is difficult. I was shown into her bedroom. Though the interior was chic, there was no bed, while papers and other objects were strewn around, making me wonder for a moment if it was a workstation. The walls of her cupboards were pasted with pictures of Nina and her husband Manoj in their younger days, and many to-do notes.
“It is my home. And I love it. What‘s the point of living lavishly? Human needs are not much. And I love my space,” Nina explained, giving me a glimpse into her philosophy of life.
I was facing a woman who had no airs or graces about being the founder of a 100-crore company. I watched her as she interacted freely and informally with her colleagues, who too had come to her house for the purpose of the interview. Her joyfulness, energy, cherubic good looks and childlike enthusiasm made it a delight to interact with her.
“My success is directly proportionate to my inner growth. Everytime I have gone within for inspiration, motivation and answers, I have grown in life,” she says. “Everything that God does is in our higher interest, but often we do not take it in the right spirit.”
Her skyrocketing journey to success was kickstarted by failure at the age of 17.
“I failed in the first year of my design course at Sophia Polytechnic. I was so badly hit that I wanted to prove my worth to the world. I borrowed Rs 7,000 from my mother and started a small unit by myself.”
That “small unit” today has 700 people working for it, with 200 outlets all over India, and 30-40 shops of their own. She adds in wonder, “When I look back I wonder how could someone like me who could not pass her drawing test, and was not good at commerce or accounts, have CAs and lawyers working for her, and has become a 100-crore girl?” She answers her own question by adding, “I think it is all related to self-esteem. Luckily my self-esteem was high. You start walking because you get kicked in life. ”
Spirituality was the manure that tended the growth. She says, misty-eyed, “I attribute all my success to the inner work that I have done with my guru, Rishi Prabhakar. When I married my husband Manoj Lekhi at the age of 23, we were a pub hopping couple who used to return home after 2 am in the morning. At that time my mother-in-law used to be very ill and unable to sleep. My mother casually told her about a programme run by Siddha Samadhi Yoga (SSY). The three of us went for it. It used to be at six am in the morning. Waking up at five am to do yoga and pranayam, used to be like waking up at midnight. But my mother-in law-became well after that. My husband took it very seriously. He quit his business and devoted himself full-time to SSY.” Today, after Rishi Prabhakar left his body, Manoj Lekhi is a key member of the team that runs SSY.
“SSY transformed our lives. We have done so many programmes together and it astonishes me to see my own growth as an individual and as an entrepreneur. When you see how spirituality enhances your inner power and capability, you feel so exhilarated. Whatever I learnt at the ashram I implemented in my business with astonishing results.”
Nina talks about the bonding exercises she and her colleagues undertake. “I have such a loyal dedicated team working for me simply because of the inner work we all do together. Our top people go for silence camps together every three months. This is unheard of in other places. The kind of bonding which happens when you see God in each other is remarkable. While undergoing the process, one often breaks down. Perhaps they write a letter to a team member about an issue. As these things happen, you break barriers, and notions, and come closer. Even if people leave the organisation they leave with a warm feeling. That bonding is always going to be there.”
|Team Baggit at a silence camp|
Swapna Shroff, executive assistant of Nina Lekhi, adds, “Because of this we rarely have communication issues. When we do so much inner work together, we naturally see the space the other person is coming from, and have fewer doubts.”
Adds Kanchan, the HR head of Baggit, “She knows what her role is and what she wants. She empowers us to take decisions. You can argue your point to her. You can tell her what you want, and how you want it. At the same time, if you do not deliver on your promise you can be sure that you will be pulled up. Her style helps the productivity of the company. Many companies give professional training but very few give spiritual training, which helps people stay calm and composed. Because of this we can retain people. Nina is so high on energy, that despite seven to eight meetings a day, still stays fresh.”
Nina rolls her eyes, and says, “Oh, I am getting to hear such nice things about myself today. Talk on. I am enjoying it!” Everyone breaks into peals of laughter.
She add with a serious look , “Actually there is another reason for creating a spiritual culture in the organisation. As in other companies, the focus on cost, overpayment, and employee overload forces you to make tough decisions. However, because of the culture, I am reminded of my higher purpose.”
Does the love-filled environment make it difficult to instil discipline and obedience in the workers, I ask.
Swapna responds, “Nina is kind…but she is also firm. She never loses sight of her goal and we know that we have to deliver. She is also very understanding.”
Nina adds, “My friend Meera Mahadevi saw me hugging my colleagues in the camp and asked me how I managed to pull them up if the work was not up to the mark. I told her that it is was possible, because they understood me. On a personal front we may all love each other, but when it comes to work, all of us have to think just Baggit. The positive changes in employees is so evident, that their own families marvel at their transformation.”
Does she feel bad if people quit Baggit hoping to start their own business?
Nina exclaims, “No! I feel happy. It is a compliment to me. I want them all to grow.”
What is the source of her high energy and creativity?
Nina says, “My guruji named me Prempurna, maybe that is working for me. My dream is to give people freedom, togetherness and love. If teams grow like this, India can grow. Through the SSY culture, I am converting industries into universities. Swapna is today working with me, but I will shortly put her in charge of a new project where she learns something. And when she is loaded with work…I’ll give her an assistant so that she can learn how to lead, and continue the learning curve. For me the fun of life is learning. It is not money only. One of Guruji’s principles was to be ready for the unknown. The unknown is fun. I am heavily into cycling. Last month, I was out surfing in Orissa. I love sports. I go bungee jumping, and scuba diving with my group of friends. I have done all kind of crazy things. I think this is a very important key to business success. If you are constantly learning and teaching your people, if there is excitement in your life, then that is what you are going to transmit to people.” Nina’s authenticity is indisputable. It is hard to imagine that she is doing anything for money or ego. For Nina living life full tilt is her motto, and if it brings her money and fame as byproducts…so be it.
“The whole idea is to be a nobody. Everytime you carry this load of being a CEO, you are screwing up your own life. We are working as a team. Finally, it is about not taking yourself too seriously. My guru says you may be playing the role of Ravana on stage but stop being Ravana once you get off the stage. I am a boss in the office, but I do not carry the baggage home.”
With a bag brand that involves no animal slaughter and minimum factory waste she is both championing the cause of the environment and animals. Sixty eight per cent of their waste material is sent for recycling. The smaller bits are sent to villages to be converted into patchwork. Only one per cent is wasted.
In addition to her demanding work schedule, Nina spends three days of the week at a school run by the SSY trust where her daughter studies. “I do sports, I swim in the lake, I read mails, I see all reports of the factory. I see things over there from a far perspective, come back, meet, and get things done. I also donate 10 per cent of my earnings to charity.” Nina Lekhi is a woman who has not left any aspect of life untouched or untasted. One might find it difficult to match her level of energy, but if we could feel even half the love she has for life, perhaps we too can create something as big as Baggit.
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