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SPARK OF THE CORPORATE

Long before entrepreneurship became a popular career choice and start-up and women entrepreneurship were a thing, a young mom with no business links and no inherited wealth embraced the risks of entrepreneurship determined to see her dreams materialize. A visionary in the beauty, health and fitness industry, Vandana Luthra fought gender-based challenges, criticism, judgements and all societal odds and grew her little single basement salon to a major name in the beauty and wellness sector, VLCC with 323 locations around 150 different cities and in 11 countries in South Asia, South East Asia, GCC Region and Africa. A path breaker, she wants VLCC to be a professionally-run organisation and a one-stop search for everything, from top to toe - fully ready for the demands of the current generation. VLCC is getting ready for an initial public offering. Her journey from a young homemaker to the businesswoman who built one of the biggest empires in the wellness industry is really inspirational – a journey of ambition, insight, determination and hard work. “Success has no magic formula. Hard work and the ability to take the knocks are a given”, she says. At a time when there weren't many lady business visionaries to look up to, she became the role model that other women could look up to. Considering her exceptional contributions in the field of Trade & Industry, she has been felicitated with Padma Shri, one of the highest civilian honours in India in 2013.

The beginning...

As a child, Vandana, who is from a middle class family in Delhi, was passionate about personal grooming. Beauty and fitness always caught her attention. In college, she came across many friends who wanted to lose weight and look beautiful. Vandana had accompanied her dad on some of his work trips to Germany. The young fashion enthusiast was fascinated by the holistic health and wellness centres there and wanted to introduce the concept in India. At 21, she got married to a very conservative family. She did not lose the focus on her ambition. She completed a series of advanced programmes in beauty-care, fitness and food and nutrition from Germany, the UK and France. After spending a few years at home, she took the first step towards bringing alive her passion and well-nurtured dream in 1989.

In 1989, Vandana availed a bank loan and started operating her first ‘transformation’ centre called Curls and Curves, from a salon that had closed down, in a basement in South Delhi’s Safdarjung Enclave with an aim to promote health and fitness. The name was later changed to Vandana Luthra Curls and Curves and then was abbreviated to VLCC in 1994. Though the centre offered scientific weight management programs and cutting-edge skin and hair treatments, majority of her clients signed up for the slimming program. She broke even in the first month of operations and repaid the loan she had taken within eight months. The positive feedbacks from her clients boosted her confidence. The next centre emerged within a year and a half.

Challenges...

Starting a business comes with its share of hurdles. But for this woman entrepreneur trying to scale up in a highly unorganised industry domain like beauty & wellness services in the 80s, everything right from raising capital to finding manpower was challenging. The banks were apprehensive about investing at initial stages of a start-up single handedly managed by a woman. Sexism in the workplace, the glass ceiling, and the taboos associated with the wellness industry and many other factors constantly tried to pull her down.

The growth...

The concept of holistic care was new to India. It quickly gained popularity and was an instant success. She could build a great clientele and started working with doctors on a regular basis. Though it took her half a decade to convince the medical fraternity about wellness’ increasing domain and its required bundling with beauty, health and fitness expertise, it worked in her favour. Today, 60% of her clients come from the doctors.

In 2000, her husband, Mukesh Luthra, who is the Chairman now, officially joined the company. She incorporated weight management also into VLCC in 2001 when the concern about obesity was rising in India. Another milestone of 2001 was VLCC set up VLCC Institute of Beauty & Nutrition, its first training institute for beauty and nutrition to equip youngsters with skills for a career in the beauty and wellness industry. She also expanded her business by selling skincare and hair care products through VLCC Personal Care Limited in 2002. In 2005, VLCC expanded overseas by opening its first ever VLCC centre in Dubai, then in Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. VLCC acquired Malaysia’s Wyann International in November 2012 and Singapore-based Company, Gvig in July 2013. It has been scaling up aggressively. Today VLCC offers a range of services from scientific weight management solutions to beauty and spa treatments to skin and hair treatments through a network of specialists including doctors, nutritionists, psychologists, cosmetologists and physiotherapists. The little neighbourhood salon has expanded to VLCC Health Care, VLCC Caregen, VLCC Online Services, VLCC Personal Care, VLCC Wellness Research Centre etc.

Personal life...

A graduate in psychology from Lady Shri Ram College, Delhi University and mother of two adult daughters, Meera and Pallavi, Vandana stays balanced and focused by practicing yoga and meditation, eating healthy and staying happy. She has authored two books, Complete Fitness Programme and A Good Life, on wellness and fitness. A keen educationist and a social worker, Vandana actively supports the community of underprivileged and the physically challenged by providing them scholarships for free education. She is a vibrant part of many NGOs and is the Vice Chairperson of the NGO, Khushii. An avid reader, Vandana draws inspiration from Shikha Sharma, Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw, Azim Premji, Dame Anita Roddick, Estée Lauder, Ela Bhatt and Ratan Tata.

Leadership style...

Vandana is well connected with all employees, no matter how low on the hierarchy. She often drops in unannounced at VLCC centres for a casual chat. She regularly takes feedback from her employees to know if they wish to make any changes to the current system and from her clients to improve her services.

Her two cents for the future women entrepreneurs...

Stay focused and determined.
Believe in yourself. Always look for motivation from within.
Never lose faith when the hurdles may seem infinite.
Regularly give yourself some 'me' time.
Be prepared to give the business your all and don’t abandon your dreams mid-way. Stay after them till they are realised. The farther you are willing to stretch yourself, the greater could be the degree of success that you may end up achieving.

Associations and memberships...

Chairperson of the Beauty & Wellness Sector Skill Council
A General Body Member of the Morarji Desai National Institute of Yoga
A member of Steering Committee and the Sub-Committee formed by India’s Ministry of Skill Development & Entrepreneurship on the Pradhan Mantri Kaushal Vikas Yojana
A trustee of the National Children’s Fund, constituted by the Government of India’s Ministry for Women & Child Development
A patron of the Amar Jyoti Charitable Trust

Awards and accolades...

Featured in the Forbes Asia 2016 list of 50 Power Business women in the APAC region
Featured in Fortune magazine’s annual listing of the 50 Most Powerful Women in Business in India for five years in a row–from 2011 to 2015
Awarded the Padma Shri in 2013
Awarded the Asian Business Leaders Forum Trailblazer Award in 2012
Awarded the Enterprise Asia Women Entrepreneur of the Year Award in 2010, Rajiv Gandhi Award in 2008 and the Amity Woman Achiever Award, 2006

Quotes

Set your goals and work towards it. There is no stopping anyone from reaching the pinnacle of success if there were firm commitment and dedication.
As a leader, it is first important to have a vision for the organization and articulate the same very succinctly. It is this articulation that will ensure that all constituents of the organization are fully aligned towards the goal.
One of the key qualities of a good entrepreneur is the ability to balance the head and the heart. Women do that effortlessly—as they manage relationships and homes. They are great team builders.
It is important to take all criticism constructively. Keeping an open mind allows us to make better and well informed decisions. Doing so also helps us stay updated and ahead of competition.
To be a successful entrepreneur, one has to have an indomitable spirit, boundless enthusiasm, tremendous self-belief, be a bit of a visionary and have the ability to take the knocks. People management skills are also very important.

Hope readers caught up the spark...

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