In only four years after she joined the family business in 2005 as a 21-year-old, Lavanya R Nalli drove more new initiatives than had ever been seen in the 83-year-old retail chain, known worldwide for its six yards of silk.
She coaxed Nalli Silks to diversify into newer products, opened new formats, set up stores outside India, and even got the business, now in its fifth generation, to corporatise. And then she did the unthinkable, she left the 550-crore firm, deciding the time had come to step out of the family cocoon, gain outside perspective and then come back in.
Nalli Silks roped in Kamal Tandon as COO and freed Lavanya to go to Harvard Business School in 2009. Next, she interned atMcKinsey and is joining the firm this October as a consultant in its strategy practice. She intends to work there for at least two years.
“People who have been with Nalli for 20 years know what it is to run a business the way they know it,” she says explaining her decision to study and work outside. “That is a fantastic skill. But the drawback is you don’t get a new perspective,” she adds.
Lavanya has broken tradition in more ways than one. She is the first woman in business after four generations in her family and the first to work outside the group business. And, unlike many scions in South India who first do their Harvard and McKinsey stints before signing up for the family business, Lavanya, mentored by her grandfather Kuppuswami Chettiar and father Ramnath K Nalli in her early years, did things the other way around.
“Harvard gave me a new approach to thinking that I have brought back with me,” she says. “The way that I’d look at a problem before might have been a little more internal, because you are a product of the environment you are raised in. Harvard allowed me to look at the same issues from a different angle.” Lavanya has Harvard’s punishing schedule of over 600 case studies to thank.
Lavanya worked with a retail client during her McKinsey internship. The buzz is that she was involved in an acquisition deal. Lavanya, however, wouldn’t disclose any details. “I thought there is some merit in working there for two years and then coming back,” she says. “Right from the beginning, I was particular I wanted to handle a retail client, because there are lessons that you learn from a mature retail industry that are quite applicable in a developing market.”
It’s going to be a while before Lavanya comes back to Nalli, but her mind is already weaving Nalli’s new design for the future. “I have recognised that there is a certain way business has been done for the past 80 years, which works for the company right now.” But then, “what works for a company when it’s small and growing is different from what works for a medium-sized firm”.
Source – The Economic Times