‘The Engineering Sector Is Opening Up To Women Globally’

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Khushi Palkhiwala, Chairman and Executive Director of Ideal Sheet Metal Stamping & Pressing Pvt. Ltd.

Ideal Sheet Metal Stamping & Pressing Pvt. Ltd. is one of the largest bobbin manufacturers in India. Under the able leadership of Khushi Palkhiwala, Chairman and Executive Director, the company has covered many milestones. In an exclusive interview with Textile Excellence, Khushi Palkhiwala talks about the challenges of being a woman entrepreneur in the textile engineering sector which has traditionally been a male-dominated bastion.

We have very few women entrepreneurs in the textile machinery and accessories domain. How did you venture into this area and how has been the journey so far?
The roots of IDEAL were laid by my late grandfather, Mr Ramanlal Shah, in 1956. My sister and I were raised in a very non-conventional, non-stereotypical way. My grandfather used to take me along to many textile exhibitions, meetings, industry visits, from a young age. Since then, I had the passion to join business and a dream to take it to the next level. I joined the business in 1997. I added new products – tubes and bobbins in 1998. Today, we are one of the leading bobbin manufacturers in India.

What are the challenges that you have faced as an entrepreneur in a men’s bastion? Is engineering sector a challenging arena to venture into by women?
My home environment always encouraged me to pursue science and engineering. We were treated as equals among the males in the family. We grew up with a very open and liberal mindset.  I was always encouraged to be independent, bold, determined and disciplined in whatever I wanted to do and most importantly I was given the freedom to take my own decisions.

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There is a tremendous gender gap that haunts the textile business community. There are very few woman engineers in this industry and number of women in leadership roles is much smaller. It was initially slightly difficult to be taken seriously by our workers, competitors and clients. Fortunately the Ideal brand name and goodwill along with my expertise and knowledge about my business, went a long way in changing male mindsets for the better. I was warmly welcomed by our clients, business associates and agents. I learnt from mistakes and never looked back. I had the confidence to succeed in a male-dominated profession.

The engineering sector is opening up to women all over the world. Universities encourage girls to apply for engineering and I think that since women are inherent problem-solvers with an eye for detail, they would make great engineers. More girls need to enter the engineering academic and work space and make their mark in society.

While talking about women entrepreneurship in textile engineering sector, how can we encourage more women entrepreneurs in this field?
The process has to begin at a school level and from childhood. Girls need to be shown that STEM is not to be feared and that they can successfully pursue a career in engineering. Parents must give equal preference to their sons and daughters with respect to studying mathematics and science.

In schools and colleges, guest lectures and speaker series should be organised with women entrepreneurs in the engineering field, visiting girls and talking to them about their personal entrepreneurial journeys and the way they successfully found their calling in a male dominated space.

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These women leaders would make excellent mentors for girls interested in engineering. The government should encourage women engineers by subsidising their education, giving them credit when they start their own entrepreneurial business.

Ideal is a very successful brand today. How are you managing the business from your shop floor to customer’s production floor?
Ideal possesses an excellent brand name and goodwill in the textile industry. We have a committed and hardworking technical and marketing team and a very qualified and efficient team of staff members.

Our infrastructure and in-house facilities for all pre and post production operations gives us an added advantage. We have our in-house R&D and NPD departments continuously working on developing new products and constantly trying to improve and update the present products.

We also have a very efficient network of agents nationwide and across the globe. Our aftersales service team ensures that all our clients are fully satisfied with our products. We encourage our clients to send us their feedback, positive and negative, through our service team, which in turn helps us to improve our products.

Additionally, we have incorporated systems and processes to ensure speedy and effective communication between all the departments ranging from the shop floor to the sales department and the dispatch section for smooth and prompt processing of orders. We ensure that there is team work and discipline among our employees so that there are no internal problems leading to poor execution of any orders. These systems ensure that our business is managed very well at all levels.

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You have taken keen interest in professionally managing the business be it product development or sales management or capital investment. How do you infuse professionalism in each of the functional areas?
As an entrepreneur in the business since 25 years, my experience tells me that for any job to be executed well, the person in charge needs to be educated in that field and have the capability to do the job. When my business grew at a rapid pace, the challenges and workloads simultaneously increased. I interviewed and selected professionals who were not only educated and efficient but also experienced in their respective fields so as to manage key positions in the company. Each department is managed well, helping the company to grow and giving me the time to develop new products, widen our horizons and look towards a more profitable future.

The system that I introduced was that each head of department works independently with his team and reports to me once a day. Once a week, I conduct a meeting with all the heads of the departments to constantly review our methods and systems, improve on them and resolve problematic issues swiftly to avoid miscommunication between departments.

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