Interview with Ms. Pallavi Jha, Chairperson & Managing Director at Dale Carnegie Training India & Walchand PeopleFirst Ltd
Pallavi Jha grew up in Mumbai and graduated from St. Xavier’s college here. After that she went to study in Syracuse University in New York.
When she completed her MBA , Pallavi started her career with Procter & Gamble in Marketing. She had a lovely stint there and the experience with a great multinational laid a strong foundation for her professional journey.
Shortly she got married and moved to New Delhi. That’s when she decided to take a plunge with a set of very bright IIM Ahmedabad graduates and joined their startup in the space of market research.
Shortly circumstances demanded Pallavi move back to Mumbai and as new mother she took a break from work.
This is when she began to get involved with her family business, the Walchand Group. The conglomerate had diversified businesses in infrastructure, heavy engineering, automobiles, agri-businesses and ancillary businesses and included companies like HCC, Premier Automobiles, Walchandnagar Industries and Ravalgaon Sugar.
In the year 1993 Pallavi formally joined HCC and cut my teeth on the Calcutta Metro project; the first Metro rail built in India.
While there she had naturally gravitated towards Marketing and HR as these were relatively under-focused areas in HCC in those days.
That is when she discovered my passion for the people side of the business. Eventually she went on to join the Board as Executive Director.
However, there were rumblings of change and in a few years the Walchand Group was totally restructured post a family settlement. And her journey as an entrepreneur began then and Pallavi haven’t looked back since.
Share your entrepreneurial journey
Pallavi Jha: Upon restructuring I inherited a non-operational investment and leasing company by the name of Premier Construction Company.
It was for me to figure out what I need to do with this business and with the help of well established management consultants,
I decided to start my journey into retail finance, and kick-off new NBFC operations. This was in the year 1998.
As you know, the 90s were very very bullish for the financial sector and the non-banking financial sector particularly.
However, by the time we reached 2000, it had already seen a couple of scams and sudden regulatory changes.
It was becoming very challenging to establish and compete meaningfully in such an environment. So by 2000 I took a call to look at other opportunities as well.
The flavour of the season then was dot coms and along with my husband, I launched two dot coms. One was in retail finance – as a natural extension of our ongoing operations and the other was more fun – in the area of cricket.
The latter, known as CricketNext.com. became a popular brand and was very promising. Eventually we sold it to Network 18 who still runs the same brand.
At the same time, we were trying to find ways for our finance portal to survive and we realized that the investor education segments of the website were really popular.
At the time everyone expected free services online and we decided to offer the same programs in real classrooms and began to charge customers.
Our market shifted to the corporate sector and the financial training business began to grow. Soon our clients started asking us for soft skills like customer service training or training to improve staff productivity.
That is when we looked around and we realized that there is a real vacuum – this was an unmet need with just a few individual or loosely networked groups that were servicing this opportunity.
We realised that as a corporate ourselves we can be the game changers. That’s when we partnered with Dale Carnegie and brought them to India for the first time.
This totally changed the face of the L&D industry forever. This was in 2003 and we are close to completing 20 years.
The business has grown from a single operation to an all India presence today. We have trained more than 6 lakh people over these years from CEOs to aspiring graduates, police constables to top political leaders.
It’s been a wide range of experience and expertise. Today, we not only deliver Dale Carnegie training, but we also do OD consulting, skilling and employability programs, CSR projects on livelihoods and play across the entire spectrum of the learning and development space.
Tell us about your services.
Pallavi Jha: At Walchand PeopleFirst, we have two divisions which cater to completely different customer segments but are aligned in their focus on people development.
The first I have already mentioned is Dale Carnegie, who began our journey in this space and is a global market leader in the space of behavioural skills.
This is a business that helps people in realising their potential and organisations to improve their businesses through enhanced behavioural skills like leadership, communications, presentations, human relations, influencing, employee engagement, sales effectiveness, customer service.
The second division is called Walchand Plus, which is very local, and it’s very focused on the great the opportunity to impact the young Indian population.
India has one of the largest working age populations with millions joining the workforce every year. Our goal here is to build upon the original financial training experience that we had and continue in the space of domain training, which has now, fortunately, got a huge fillip thanks to the Skill India Mission and the National Skills Development Program.
Here we offer programs for skilling, entrepreneurship, employability and design and implement CSR projects on livelihood.
What is unique about your brand?
Pallavi Jha: The interesting part is that while both the businesses have started new and from the scratch, in the year 2000-03 by us in India, we draw upon the powerful brand legacy we have.
The Walchand brand draws from the heritage of Seth Walchand Hirachand, himself a prolific entrepreneur.
Whereas the other side is the global brand Dale Carnegie, who we all know is the original though leader who is said to have shaped American society with his powerful book and programs How to Win Friends and Influence People.
We have been able to start and build a brand new business with the goodwill of both these brands which are more than 100 years old.
It’s a unique start up story in that sense.Today the brand stands for high quality and a promise of personal and business transformation. A dependable partner in our clients’ success.
What made you choose this type of business?
Pallavi Jha: Necessity is the mother of invention and one thing led us to the next. As a leasing company that I had to build and grow I started a retail finance business.
When that retail business started having difficulties, we moved into investor education which led us to financial training.
Responding purely on customer demand, we moved into behavioural skills. From there we have moved on to OD consulting, employability and skills training and CSR project management.
We remain at core a company constantly innovating in response to the needs of our customers. We could see that clients were hankering for something that was high quality, credible, reliable and at the same time, able to handle scale with consistent quality. This continues to remain our promise.
What was your mission and vision at the outset?
Pallavi Jha: Our goal when we started was simple to try and see how we can help organizations become more globally savvy and help their people become more confident as managers.
Today, we believe that growth comes from inspiring change not only in the minds but also in the hearts of people so that they can do more of what they want to and can do.
Our vision is to be the benchmark in the field of human capital development leading to happier individuals and an empowered society and to be a destination for extraordinary talent, who take pride in what we do and are driven by higher purpose.
Where every customer realizes their own unsuspected power and becomes a champion. We help you with the hard stuff – the things that intimidate you, that hold you back, the skills that really matter.
That’s why we invest our time, energy and skill in helping you bring out your inner voice and channeling it into positive results. Once you work with us, you will never see yourself the same way again – that’s exactly our goal.
How many employees are there in your organization?
Pallavi Jha: We believe in creating networks. While we can partner with our counterparts in 86 countries, in India we currently have a of about 15O trainers and about 60 full time staff.
What are your company’s goals?
Pallavi Jha: Today we have four broad trajectories for growth.
First, we are looking at deeper geographic penetration in tier 2 and 3 cities. We intend to grow this by building a franchise network in the country.
Secondly, we plan to expand internationally through a local presence in SAARC countries as well as global accounts beyond India.
Thirdly, we have launched digital training and a dedicated learning platform for all our training which we believe helps us to reach remote customers.
Lastly, we will be creating Trainer Certifications to power the vast growth of the L&D industry.
Brief about the inspiration behind turning an entrepreneur
Pallavi Jha: Nothing inspires more than rejection. As a daughter born in a traditional business family it was one of the first things that I experienced.
When the family was working on restructuring the businesses and a family settlement, it was just presumed that daughters will have no financial stakes.
In the 21st century we really don’t have space for that kind of a narrative and I had to dig in my heels and put up a fight.
I suspect that I am possibly the first daughter in a family business in India that claimed her space, way back in the early 90s.
It was a bitter fight and I did manage to carve out a space for me and my sisters, but I did notice that at the end of it we did not really inherit any of the businesses as we just got mainly a cash compensation out of this.
While it was a point made and no mean victory in that sense, it drove me to promise myself that I shall build something new and shining and prove that gender doesn’t really define a successful and worthy business person.
What have been some of your failures, and what have you learned from them?
Pallavi Jha: There have been several wrong judgments leading to failures over the 30 years of my career. One that comes to mind was when I got carried away with a large opportunity that came our way in 2006.
We were approached by one of the state governments to set up a Finishing School for them and we got very excited with the government backing and made large investments, including forming a new company, raising funds and making the whole fairly large investment, based on what we felt was a paper assessment of the opportunity banking on a lot of government support.
We were fully invested to scale when we launched this Finishing School. But governments can be fickle and unstable as it suddenly fell mid-term.
Much time was lost by the time a new government came and this was not their priority. Soon the recession hit us all in 2008 and we almost went bankrupt.
Yet some prudent calls helped us scale back and crawl out of the hole we had dug ourselves into. We learnt the mantra of agile growth and lean start-ups the hard way.
What are some of the biggest mistakes you’ve made?
Pallavi Jha: I would say is really one of the biggest challenges in scaling up in the Indian context and in the context of our business, which is largely people driven is, really understanding what is the right hire.
I think the mistakes I made were about how to recruit a great team. It took me a long years to figure out what really constitutes the right person for the right job.
If you had one piece of advice for someone just starting out, what would it be?
Pallavi Jha: The one piece of advice I have for any entrepreneurs starting out is don’t fall in love with your own idea.
Always remember that great ideas will evolve over a period of time into a more reasonable and viable business propositions.
Know that your idea is a starting point. After giving it a reasonable effort, if it doesn’t work out then change direction or you might even have to shut shop.
Never over stay on a course, which will take you all the way down and just hope of the world seeing it the way you see it. There is no ego in business.
Give some advice to new entrepreneurs or start-ups.
Pallavi Jha: In 2020 and 2021, we’ve seen the rise of a large number of unicorns out of India and it’s always very tempting to believe that your startup idea is something that’s going to grow big, that s always our ambition.
What we really need to know is that size is not always about valuation. It’s always about the unmet need that you’re fulfilling, the positive impact that your business will make.
If your purpose is clear to you, and it genuinely fulfills a need, then I think any business can become self-sufficient over a period of time.
And for any business to succeed that is a must. So don’t just go chasing valuations, rasiing ridiulour amounts of cash that is spent recklessly and to drive growth inorganically only to discover that your acquistions don’t align.
Nykaa is a classic example of how experience and astute wisdom actually made itself very profitable, even before it went into an IPO.
So be very careful about your growth. Be very careful about the funds you raise and the timing of the funds you raise and do not grow only on the basis of valuations constantly postponing your profitability,
Your success tips for young and aspiring entrepreneurs
Pallavi Jha: The one success tip that I felt that helped me and possibly helps most entrepreneurs is find your mentors and build great networks.
You can never be doing this alone. You need your mentors, and you also need a great team. So, the bottom line is no matter how smart you are, it’s the soft skills that will take you far.
Your ability to win friends and influence people will hold you in good stead. It is true when you’re hiring your first team members, raising funds or when you’re stuck. Keep your eyes open, stay humble, vulnerable and flexible.
|Are you an
Entrepreneur or Startup?
Do you have a Success Story to Share?
SugerMint would like to share your success story.
We cover entrepreneur Stories, Startup News, Women entrepreneur stories, and Startup stories