Story and photos by Samantha M. Novick
Significant financial reforms in the 1990s set India on a course toward a freer, more open economy ripe for entrepreneurship. I traveled to five cities in India to meet Thunderbirds who have ditched the corporate world to strike out on their own. All across the country, Thunderbirds are leveraging their global mindset and corporate business acumen to take advantage of the booming environment. Here is the second installment in a seven-part series on how they did it, and how you can too.
Bengaluru: Profit from your passion
Eka is an upscale home décor and art store that would look more at place on the ground floor of a SoHo skyscraper than on a hectic Bangalore street. The contemporary showroom boasts treasures from across the Indian subcontinent: modern handmade furniture from Nagpur, Whitewood carvings from Jaipur and intricately linked bells than once hung in temples. It’s the type of collection assembled with such attention to detail you’d expect it to be done by an artist.
Yet before Kimiko Thakur Menzies ’94 launched Eka in 2000, she was more familiar with heavy machinery and mining than embroidered textiles and high-value antiques.
“I was following the trajectory of the Indian student who wants to get an MBA from the United States and get a good position at a Fortune 500 company with a great package,” says Menzies, who was hired after graduation by Caterpillar, the world’s leading manufacturer of construction and mining equipment.
“But you work in that long enough, and you sometimes realize that it just isn’t the type of life that you want,” she says. “I had a need to do something different, and to do something my own.”
So after five years in the corporate world, Menzies started a company more closely aligned with her own interests: Eka, which in Sanskrit means “singular” or one of a kind.
Now she spends her time traveling to source inventory, attending export fairs and building her business, which sometimes surprises her male vendors.
“If you are a woman entrepreneur in India who is trying to do something different, at first people sometimes look at you a little hesitantly,” she says. “But then they admire your guts for doing that — traveling on your own and not having the hesitation to do so. It can be difficult, but it becomes easier when people see what you’re doing and want you to succeed.”
Menzies says India’s retail sector has been greatly influenced by the rise of online and mobile shopping, and many opportunities await retailers who can make it in e-commerce.
“India has seen a huge transition, primarily because we have opened our eyes to so much of what the rest of the world is doing,” she says. “It’s not just your little market anymore. Now you can go online and see what the rest of the world is offering, and that has forced businesses to speed up — in terms of product, quality and prices — the overall value proposition.”
Menzies has big plans for the company in 2011, including the possibility of opening more stores across the country, building a stronger online shopping platform and focusing more on exporting internationally.
India Catches Its Stride
Part 1: Timing Is Everything, Andy Khandwala ’92
Part 2: Profit from Your Passion, Kimiko Thakur Menzies ’94
Part 3: Pursuit of Inclusive Growth, Harsha Moily ’97
Part 4: Taking Advantage of Opportunity, Vijay Anand Jangiti ’88
Part 5: Riding the Technology Wave, Samarth Sangal ’08
Part 6: Bursting with Optimism, Narasimha Reddy ’11
Part 7: Recovering from Setback, Krishna Chilukuri ’10
|India Catches Its Stride: Thunderbird School of Global Management alumnus Kimiko Thakur Menzies talks about entrepreneurship in India. View the video on YouTube (2:51).|