--BY NIKEETA GAUTAM
Shailaja Adhikary took the road less travelled and this made her different. Managing Director of IEC Group of Companies, Adhikary is a well-known personality in both education and fashion design in Nepal. She is regarded as a pioneer who introduced fashion and interior design education by starting the IEC College of Arts and Fashion in the country. She is also the promoter of Nepal Fashion Week, the most celebrated fashion extravaganza in Nepal. Adhikary also introduced Euro Kids, an international pre-school chain in Nepal in 2007.
Walking in her 40s, using time wisely is her productivity mantra. Adhikary, who is leading 12 companies under IEC group, has an MBA in Marketing. She completed her BSC from Amrit Science Campus 20 years ago and went to New Delhi for a course in computer science. To escape the burning heat of Delhi while staying indoors, and choosing not to stay idle, she enrolled in a fashion design course at IEC India. The hours which she spent at IEC India served as the starting blocks to becoming a pioneering fashion entrepreneur in Nepal.
Immediately after returning to the country, she started to work as an assistant officer at Grindlays Bank (currently Standard Chartered Bank).While working at the bank, Adhikary started IEC as an institution for computer training and fashion design in 1997.“During that time, people had misconceptions and they were stereotypical regarding fashion education,” she says. Adhikary, who always loved to live on her own terms didn’t enjoy the routine job and started exploring the world of business. “I was just a trainee in the bank when I started IEC,” she recalls. Working at her job during the day and on her business in the evening, she moved forward on her journey to become an entrepreneur.“Afterwards, it became quite difficult for me to give sufficient time to IEC and I left the bank after 10 months,”she adds.“Though I avoid taking risks, my husband who is also my business partner persuaded me to take the risk and aim higher.”
Her story is one of immense courage against all the odds. At the age of 21, she took a bank loan of Rs 2.1 million at an interest rate of 21 percent for her business venture which she had to pay back in three years. The total required investment in IEC was Rs 4.5 million, so she borrowed the rest of the money from her father. “The years 1997 to 2001 were the most low and challenging phase of my life. I had to pay back my loans and simultaneously I had to establish myself. Keeping this in my mind, I worked hard and focused towards the goals. As the computer education was going well, I cleared the loan in time,” she says.
IEC started with a first batch of 13 students. Now, IEC College of Arts and Fashion enrolls over 300 students every year for its BA (Hons) in Fashion and Retailing. Meanwhile, the Bagbazar-based IEC School of Art and Fashion sees around 400 students every month going for the Diploma in Fashion Designing.
Noticing how fashion design was increasingly attracting young, Adhikary decided to take IEC to Pokhara as well. In 2003, IEC Pokhara was started. After that, other IEC schools and colleges were established around the valley. Adhikary who believes challenges are elemental to the consistent pace of hard work, took her next big step with the introduction of the Euro Kids franchise in 2007. “I felt the need for a professional pre-school during a time when I was admitting my son into a pre-school. I always value other people’s money and expect the same level of sincerity from them,” she opines, adding, “I started Euro Kids with an aim to bring systematic child education in the country.”
Since her early years, Adhikary has been really smart regarding her financial matters. Daughter of a father who was a banker turned businessman and a mother who was a banker, she learned the value of money in her childhood.“In order to invest, you need some savings so that it ensures you a level of security to some extent,”says Adhikary. “After you become confident that the amount will be enough for safekeeping, the time will be right to invest.”
Her day starts at 7:30 in the morning and ends at around 8:30 at night. As the nature of her work doesn’t allow Adhikary to be a routine person, she prioritises her tasks and plans accordingly. “Being a woman, it’s very essential to balance your personal and professional life. Though working women say that they are managing time, it is actually very difficult to give a sufficient amount of time to our family.”A mother of a 12 year old son and eight year old daughter, Adhikary only has a few hours to spend with her family in a day. She takes family trips three times a year so that she can spend quality time with her husband and children.
With her notable achievements, she has been honoured with top business accolades in Nepal. She won the Best Women Entrepreneur of 2013 at the NewBiz Conclave and Awards 2013. She was also chosen as the top 12 Nepali entrepreneurs of Nepal by Kantipur Publications in 2012. A woman with a go-getter attitude, Adhikary hasn’t just left her mark in Nepal,but has also made impressions at the international level. Adhikary won the Educational Excellence Award 2012 held at IIT, Delhi.
“It is a proud moment when someone recognises your efforts and felicitates you. Awards give us encouragement to work harder and better,” she views.
A lady who has already proved herself as a successful entrepreneur, she credits her family members for her accomplishments in life. “I would not have learned to be independent if my mother was not there to guide me,” she says. “She instilled in me the thoughts about the necessity of being independent and self-made.”
“It is my father who has given me so many right suggestions that brought me to this stage in life,” she expresses her gratitude. “I was raised as a bold and courageous child by my parents. There were no discriminatory rules and I didn’t face any difficulty due to my personal life throughout my career,” she recalls. “I was brought up in such an environment where everyone around me was fond of reading which influenced me to choose a career in education.”
She is grateful to her husband who always motivated her during her low moments. “I might have lost my track in between, if my husband wasn’t there to encourage me during the difficult days,” she says.
There are around 450 employees working under the IEC group of companies. Adhikary, who also has a dream of empowering as many women as she can, has female staff in all her companies. “There are many employees who are here since the beginning of IEC. I should be thankful to them as well,” she says.
Adhikary also always makes it a point to keep herself updated with national and international events. A voracious reader, she loves to buy books and has a small library in her home. “Yet, I don’t compulsorily need a library for concentration; I can read anywhere, at any time.” Among the genres she reads, she mostly prefers biographies. “I get so much knowledge and inspiration by reading the biography of different kinds of people which gives me more energy to go forward in life,” she says.
She considers herself as a short tempered and a straightforward person. “These habits have been my shortcomings in many places, so I would like to work on anger management and be more diplomatic so that I can effectively deal with the people,” she concedes.
Adhikary has been continuously moving forward taking up new challenges throughout her journey as an entrepreneur. And she is not ready yet just to rest on her hard earned laurels, as she wants to do more in the education sector and has a vision to provide a complete educational solution for students from all levels. She will soon be opening a BBA and MBA college and three more pre-schools in Kathmandu.