SCHAUNA CHAUHAN SALUJA
Smart & 'Appy
The young CEO of Parle Agro, Schauna Chauhan Saluja packs in quite a punch in that lithe, petite frame of hers. Behind that happy, chirpy exterior is a sharp and savvy professional, completely rooted to her 12-hour job. The company may be a legacy to her and other two sisters, by their father Prakash Chauhan, but it was not handed to them on a platter. Initiated very early on, the girls work hard at their respective posts. For them, Appy is being happy.
The brands that Parle Agro has out there in the market, in addition to Appy, are popular and well-known products such as; Bailey, Frooti, Saint Juice, Hippo, LMN.
Schauna who went to the International School at Kodaikanal, went away to Switzerland to get a Bachelors degree in International Management studying at Franklin College in Lugano for two years and then for two more at the Business School in Lausanne. She also went for a two month stint to the UCLA, for Summer School, but came away having learnt nothing! , , , .
“Really, it was so difficult to concentrate on any kind of learning at that fantastic, fantastic place. All I was doing was having a good time, enjoying my life, making friends, going eating out, seeing life. But I guess that was learning of another kind.”
Oh yes, we agree, what is life if the good life is not a part of it. There is so much one learns about food and drink that comes so handy when you are a top honcho in a successful organisation.
So, from the very first year that Schauna was inducted into her father’s business, when she went through the rituals of understanding the company policies, its products and value system, at age 21 to today at age 35, she says she loves working. As time passed and she got more confidence she also got more comfortable in her business environment. Her core job within the organisation is what happens in the back-end. She handles the purse strings; Finance. And Legal, HR, Manufacturing and Operations. Quite a handful of serious portfolios but that’s what makes her tick. She is aware these heads are not what most people enjoy, but she simply loves them.
She leaves homes every morning at 7.30 after she kisses her dog Brando, a handsome Bull Mastiff, and her even more handsome husband, Bikram Saluja, the hazel-eyed Bollywood actor, though not necessarily in that order.
On the way, she yaks with her mom, Meera and does the same when she returns home from the head office situated at Andheri. This is a system which keeps mother and daughter stay connected.
Obviously Meera has had a great influence in moulding Schauna’s life. “Oh yes, Mom’s our conscience-keeper, she makes sure we are grounded, that we have our personal value system in place. She makes sure we remain good human beings, above all!” says Schauna, bubbling over. What’s nice about this young executive is that she is always smiling, even when she is speaking.
At work, she first gets down to clearing her email, replying, deleting etc. And then she says the craziness begins. There is so much energy and excitement at work that it is easy to lose track of time.
But lunch hour is on the dot of 1, when she meets up with dad, Prakash Chauhan, and Nadia, her sister who looks after Branding, Sales and New Product Development, at the company cafeteria, where they discuss all issues that are currently burning up in their private lives or at the work place. Alisha, the third sister is busy being a young mum at home at the moment.
Schauna travels a fair amount. Goes along with her technical and quality team to eight of their manufacturing units flung across the country; Uttaranchal, Orissa, Ghaziabad, Silvassa, Ahmedabad, Chennai, Hyderabad and Mysore.
When quizzed if Dad is pleased with her output, she retorts with, “ If he is not saying too much, that’s good, it must mean he is happy!”
Schauna is a spunky girl. When she was introduced to Bikram at a party at the Leela hotel, it was she who made the first move; got his phone number and asked him out for coffee. It was a friendship of three years that culminated into an engagement and then marriage a year after. But it was a mature Schauna who made Bikram make up his mind, the one who got the ‘let’s get married’ ball rolling.
Well, two weddings happened in Indore for the couple. A Gurudwara one for Bikram and a Saat Phera one for Schauna. And for both, a reception in Bombay.
When told that it was very impressive she took the lead, but what if Bikram had not accepted her invitation for coffee? “Oh, it wouldn’t have mattered,” she replies, matter-of-factly, “If I feel something, I just do it. I don’t like to have regrets later on. And if he had refused, fine. I would not have felt bad. And since at that stage I did not know him well, his opinion of me would also not have mattered!”
Seven years on and the two are blissfully happy. And Schauna, ever the driver, has worked out a unique holiday system for themselves. Every year they go away for the New Year to some interesting destination. The year before it was spent on Champs-Élysées hooting away with all the Parisians, last year it was spent watching the fireworks at the Sydney Harbour, where they went at 3 pm to grab seats! We’ll let you know where they spend 2011, in 2012.
A Fantastic Manager
Walking into Debailleul, the spanking new Belgian patisserie recently opened in Prabhadevi, I am greeted by the charming managing director of the chain that has just opened its 13th outlet worldwide for its supremely high quality goodies.
Growing up in Belgium, born to a family in the meat business, it would only be a natural progression if
Hans Pauwels was to join them. But knowing his mind at an early age, Pauwels rebelled and studied literature and linguistics. His thesis, ‘Relationship of literature and art in 1950 Europe’ was probably as far as you could get from exporting animal flesh. More interested in reading and sports than business, Pauwels was a self-confessed ‘introvert’ in his younger days.
No matter how hard Pauwels tried running away from the meat business, Fate had other plans. “I became involved by coincidence in the food business and became a minority shareholder in a meat import-export company from New Zealand, handling their entire European marketing operations.” This company ultimately became one of the largest food companies in New Zealand and was subjected to a hostile takeover, where Pauwels was forced to sell his stake. Looking for a new project, Pauwels stumbled into Debailluel.
“The company had existed for 21 years and lay dormant, with absolutely no evolution. The founder himself was tired. He was a chef by profession, and chefs have a very different way of handling businesses and tend to be micromanagers. The company was run in a top-down approach where growth and evolution was limited to the capability of the person at the top making decisions. In this structure, I saw a great opportunity to add value.”
Pauwels and his wife, Reinhilde Gielen jointly bought the company in two stages. First they acquired joint share holding with five other partners, but then bought them out within a year, as he chuckled impishly “I’m a difficult man to work with apparently.” The first thing he did after acquiring the company was to restructure the management in such a way that people can take initiative to define their own role. Then he spent most of his time on the brand packaging and presentation of products. They were essentially changing Debailleul from a production company to a branded company.
“This required a serious change in the employee mindset. The focus was changing from production efficiency to brand value and it was difficult trying to find a middle ground.”
With Pauwels responsible for the overall management of Debailleul and its commercial interests, Reinhilde is the creative brain behind the brand. “Twenty years ago we would not have been able to work together because of our headstrong nature,” explains Pauwels. “But today we both have mellowed down. There is a lot of confidence between us. She will challenge what I do, but I won’t challenge her work, as I know her work is par excellence. My wife is brutally honest and I truly value her unbiased, external point of view.” His primary weakness is that he is not a man of great detail.
“Finishing off everything with the required amount of
detail is not my piece of cake. This is where my wife steps in and completes it.”
Pauwels is a staunch believer that passion is key to his success. “If you love what you do, you tend to do it well. Success automatically follows passion.”
For Pauwels, working in an international atmosphere with big cultural differences gives him the greatest high. “I’m never going to get tired of it despite how complex and difficult it might be. And to work with a product that I love in a new environment is also hugely satisfying.” Anything of beauty interests him. “I love anything to do with art, literature, travel, nature and food.”
Pauwels and his wife love travelling, and in many ways, destinations are not as important to them as experiences are. They shun the uber luxury that the world amply provides to people in their privileged position and tend to lean towards achieving experiences that are real and authentic. “These places,” Pauwels laments, “are extremely hard to find, but when you find it, it is an absolute treasure.” During one of their quests skiing in Northern Italy, they stumbled upon such a place. To reach the hotel, one could drive up 1400 meters, but the remaining 400 meters could be reached only on foot. There was no television, phone or any connection to the outside world. They would get only one kind of freshly cooked meal a day that would be eaten in a communal fashion, with everyone eating the same food. “It was absolutely beautiful. The vegetables were all from the area surrounding the hotel, and the wine was from that particular region.”
Hans Pauwels is a fantastic manager as apparent by the immense growth his company has achieved in the span of a few years (more than 50% per year), but being in the food business the real question one wonders is, can he cook? “I enjoy cooking and find it therapeutic, I used to cook a lot more. What I cook is very simple but requires a rather large amount of money spent on the right ingredients. With some basic knowledge of cooking and being patient and attentive, you can cook something wonderful. I make a mean curry as well.”