Mantra, a firm manned by women

Nearly 10 years since its inception, it is with a heartfelt surge of pleasure and gratitude that I look at Team Mantra. It has been a matter of chance, and sometimes choice, that we have only women in our management team.  Some of them have been with me since the time I started business. Some have joined me as recently as last month. And each of them has contributed uniquely to the making of Mantra.

I believe that women bring a lot of intensity to their workplace. Sincere, hard working, loyal and committed, they have a sense of purpose at work which is akin to their sense of purpose in looking after their homes or in bringing up their children. I have been extremely blessed to have such women who have stood by me like a rock during difficult times, who have believed in my vision even when I was dangerously close to losing it. They have supported and strengthened me, comforted and cheered me on, along this entrepreneurial journey. I raise a toast to this team of amazing women, for nothing would have been possible without them.

Let me start with Simi.  Simi has been with me almost from the very beginning. I don’t remember doing anything significant without her by my side. She started as a production assistant, doing everything from snipping threads to ripping seams. Her boundless energy and eagerness to learn, paved the path for her growth. Today she manages our production team. And that is no mean task. Our big team of cutting masters, tailors, line supervisors, quality control team, finishing workers and embroidery artisans report to her. At the time that Simi joined us, our unit was a chaotic place and it was difficult to decipher a method in our madness. I had barely started business and was doing most things myself. Alternating between being absent-minded and flying off the handle, I could not have been an easy boss to work for. But Simi pulled along. With a smile that almost never left her face.

A couple of years ago, I made an elaborate plan to overhaul everything, including myself. I designed systems for every activity at Mantra; forecasting  demand , planning, designing, sampling, cutting, tailoring and finishing. Many months of research went into the plan. I was very influenced by management guru, Stephen Covey’s theories and I christened my plan, ‘Operation Covey’.  In the last months of 2009, while the plan was still on the drawing board, I promised everyone that things will change soon. But it still didn’t prepare them for ‘Operation Covey’ when it was unleashed on them on 1.1.2010. Production was hit first. Every member in the production team had a file, every task was to be measurable , standards had to be adhered to, every scrap of fabric that was used had to be accounted for, the list was endless. Once we started the process, it was scary for everyone, most of all, for me. There was rebellion all around. Resistance was unanimous.

Simi tried for a while to understand what I was trying to do. She tried hard to comply with the new methods.  But every day was a challenge. Most days saw tears and tantrums alike. I nearly gave up. I was tired of the tension and the stress levels at the factory. But somehow we held on. Simi and I. And then, slowly, seven months into ‘Operation Covey’, things started looking up. Work moved smoothly, quality improved dramatically and costs were reduced drastically. And Simi started smiling again. More than two years down the line, everyone vouches for the new systems in place. It has made their tasks simpler. Change has been painful but beneficial in the long haul. Many people left us, but I’m so thankful that Simi stayed on. If she hadn’t, I wouldn’t have forgiven Covey or myself.

Shalini James


June 27, 2012


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