She was always “abundance conscious.” “I always thought of abundance, of prosperity. This moulded my thinking process. When the girls around me were talking about saving money, I was asking myself what can I do to earn more and not have to live on my savings? I think the quality of your life depends on the questions you ask yourself. If you ask yourself, ‘How do you change your reality?’ you’ll do anything in your power to seek the answer to that and in the process change your reality to something you’ve desired and dreamed of.”
This thinking, complemented by her innate passion to “do something different,” pushed her to learn graphology – the art and science of understanding an individual’s personality from their handwriting. “I thought, ‘How do I combine my knowledge of computer engineering with graphology?’” The result was a software which she designed to analyse people’s handwriting within a few minutes. She set shop in a popular multiplex in Pune, where curious people would visit and give her their writing samples. She would use the software to analyse the writing and provide a 3-page, detailed analysis of their personality, with tips to make targeted changes in their handwriting to bring about a proportional change in their personalities.
“My business became very popular and I was earning Rs. 2 lacs every month. My entrepreneurial journey had started!”
As destiny would have it, her biodata reached Piyush Somani, who was already one of the most eligible bachelors in town, having set up ESDS. “I guess, Piyush liked the fact that I had an entrepreneurial streak and was already earning a substantial amount of money from my venture. He saw the spark in me,” she laughs.
“I am a voracious reader,” says Mrs. Somani. “I am hungry for information, for knowledge. That has led me to explore subjects beyond my conventional stream of studies and has benefitted my vocational expertise.” She is a passionate student of human psychology and has used her deep insights into creating marketing strategies and the near-legendary human resources practices at ESDS that has led her to receive prestigious awards, recognition from the industry and praise from her peers.
“When I came to ESDS, I was completely green. I wanted to get into the HR department, but Piyush insisted I enter Marketing, from my previous entrepreneurial experience.”
“I was never the ‘Boss’ Wife.’ I was my own person and that made it difficult for me in the initial days.” She had very clear notions about how to do her job and was extremely confident of her abilities. Her first role at ESDS was as a marketing executive and she was asked to handle affiliate marketing. While she knew nothing about what affiliate marketing was and how it worked, she learned about it and within a short span of three months, was already generating 60 sales per month for the company. “I think that opened a lot of eyes. People started to take me seriously.”
Mr. Piyush Somani took serious note of her achievements and decided to give her a position in the HR department. “This transition was not smooth. I joined as a junior, reporting to the HR head. However, when the HR head left and the position fell vacant, I put my hand up.” But the management was not comfortable placing a novice, who did not even have a degree in human resource management, to head the important department.
Mrs. Somani then threw herself a challenge. She told the management to give her a chance so that she can take a shot at placing ESDS in the “Great Place to Work – India” list. Great Place to Work Certification is the ‘Gold Standard’ that organizations around the globe aspire to achieve, to enhance and to endorse their Employer Brand. Many an eye rolled and many members secretly scoffed at her audacity. Even Mr. Somani wasn’t convinced this could happen. But they all decided to give it a try, nevertheless. After all, there wasn’t anything at stake for the company, apart from maybe Mrs. Somani’s career.
“I felt I was under a microscope. Every action I took was being observed minutely and dissected. That added to the pressure.” But she enjoyed it a lot as she prepared to streamline her company to be counted among the best workplaces in the country. “I studied incessantly. I was relentless in my pursuit of the goal.”
When the results were out, ESDS had broken into the list of the Top 100 Great Places to Work, the annual list of the Great Place to Work Institute, at No. 98. The atmosphere at ESDS was electric. This was a vindication of Mrs. Somani’s conviction and belief. But she was not satisfied, as was expected. She wanted to get ESDS into the Top 50. So she again put her head down and got back to the drawing board.
The second year was even more remarkable as ESDS climbed a whopping 85 places to be adjudged as the 13th Great Place to Work. This time, ESDS was invited to the event and was felicitated.
In the third year, ESDS was placed 8th and the following year, it was placed 2nd, an achievement that is spectacular by all counts. She then decided to expand her wings and in the fifth year, ESDS was named the 15th Great Place to Work in Asia, an achievement that is both enormous and unprecedented for many reasons; most for the fact that an individual with no background in HR went on to get the company on to a prestigious national and international stage.
So what makes ESDS a great place to work?
“We believe in absolute fairness. We have always treated our employees with equality and fair-mindedness. The security guard is as important as the managing director. No work is less important.” This behaviour has imbibed the employees with a sense of accountability and ownership. “The company belongs to every single employee equally. We have always gone out of the way to see to it that our employees are happy and contented.”
“There is this saying amongst most of the global workforce, ‘Thank God its Friday.’ As a leader you don’t want your employees wanting it to be a Friday so that that can escape from their routines to enjoy the weekend. You always wonder, ‘What can I do to change this popular phrase to Thank God its Monday!’”
Her study in human psychology has helped her immensely to create a conducive and supportive work environment at ESDS that makes her employees wait for Monday. “I want them to love what they are doing. When work becomes play, people become more productive and powerful creativity is unleashed.”
“We’ve had individuals turning down offers from global leaders and choosing ESDS instead. What we cannot offer in monetary compensation, we more than reimburse in terms of job satisfaction and limitless opportunities for personal development and professional growth.
“I know my employees are happy. This happiness translates into single-minded determination, focus on their work and a high degree of loyalty. I’ve had engineers and other team members work for 40-60 hours straight without sleep and enough food to resolve client problems. This has a tremendous effect on the company’s brand perception. When you go out of the way, over and beyond your call of duty, your clients start respecting you.”
“At the expense of sounding cliched, we really have tried to empower our employees. But rather than just jumping on to the corporate bandwagon of “empowerment” as we know it, we have done it quite subtly and organically.” Mrs. Somani goes on to explain the rationale behind truly empowered employees. An empowered employee is productive as she can take decisions at the right time and does not create a bottleneck by following a rigid corporate hierarchy. This leads to better client outcomes and happy clients, resulting in an enhanced brand value and in turn, more business. It’s a win-win for all.
Now that she has achieved for ESDS that most major corporate houses spend years trying to, what keeps Mrs. Somani going? What drives her?
“The passion within never lets you rest on your laurels. You keep asking yourself, ‘How can I better myself? What more can I do?’ There is nothing to prove to anyone, not even to yourself. But deep down you know you are capable of more and that is what keeps driving you to go and find newer pastures.”
“I wanted to help other companies create a cohesive, conducive and productive work culture. That fired the idea behind The Happiness Infuser.” The Happiness Infuser is a subscription-based activity box sent to subscribing companies. Each box, sent once a month, contains three activities, which the company can do at any day of their choosing. “We carefully curated the activities that all the employees can do at a time. This became a rage and we have had amazing feedback about how the activities helped build teamwork and camaraderie, reduce absenteeism, increase productivity and enhance the Happiness Index.” Unfortunately, the activity came to a forced stop due to the global pandemic halting the economic engine. “But now that the companies have started again, we are getting request to restart the Happiness Infuser.”
However, all was not bad during the lockdown; the pandemic also threw newer opportunities. “The pandemic saw a lot of overhauling of people’s priorities as well as changed perceptions, more so in the way businesses are conducted. People wanted to market their goods and services in novel ways. I decided to launch a full-service marketing firm that caters to some handpicked ventures.”
Great Ideas in Action is a boutique marketing studio that helps create a brand through a holistic deployment of targeted brand messaging campaigns using creatives and content – branding, digital marketing, lead generation and website development. “My aim is to accelerate the business growth of over 1000 organizations by 2025.”
“In the short time that we’ve been operating, we’ve already amassed some great clients and have brought in substantial revenue. So in a way, we are one of the fastest growing digital marketing firms out there. Now, we are choosing which clients to work with rather than the other way round.”
As Chief Marketing Officer for Resvera Wines, India’s first Jamun wine, Mrs. Somani’s contribution in its success cannot go unnoticed. Right from the bottle design to creating awesome marketing campaigns, Mrs. Somani’s deep marketing insights and creativity shines through. “We’ve sold almost all our stock,” she exclaims. “And that too without any formal launch. Everything we did was digital and the results are for all to see.”
Creative Catalyst 2019, Most Innovative Woman of the Year 2018, Nashik’s Best HR Leader 2017, 50 Most Innovative HR Technology Leaders, Women Super Achiever Award, 25 Most Innovative HR Tech Leaders, Maharashtra Nari Ratna and getting ESDS into the envious list of Dream Company To Work For. What do these awards mean for Komal Somani?
“While these awards feel like just rewards for all the hard work I have put in and it feels good to be appreciated by the industry, the community and your city, I believe my true reward, which I hold extremely dear and close to my heart is the fact that I was able to create a diverse and inclusive workplace. As a woman, it is my solemn duty to appreciate and acknowledge the hardships other women face in the workplace and it is my responsibility to provide them with the right set of tools and opportunities to show what they are capable of.”
This invariably takes us to the topic of the proverbial “glass ceiling” for women achievers. How important, and, in a way difficult, was it to break it?
“The funniest, and ironical, part of the glass ceiling is that it is just that – glass. You can look beyond, but something always holds you back. I think the glass ceiling cannot be broken. It can however be shifted. In the words of Indra Nooyi, ‘women need to find their own coping mechanisms.’ It is a given that the field is biased in favour of men and as a popular cartoon has so nicely depicted that in a 100-metre dash, the woman’s track is littered with household things, while the man’s track is clear of any hurdles. I believe that the woman who really wishes to achieve greatness has to take it for granted that even if she is a corporate leader, she will still be expected to take care of her house, her children and her spouse. So instead of cribbing about the challenges of being a woman, she has to find ways to balance her home and workplace. And she already has the inherent strength to do that.”
Komal Somani is an unstoppable force. She cannot be ignored, such is her presence. But her actions have always spoken louder than her words. “Although I am a people person, I am not a social party-types person. I have a very small circle of people I call friends. My family means the world to me.”
How does she find time for the family, with all the work that she does? “I have created a habit to stop all work at 5 pm. That is the time I go home to my kids. From 5 onwards till they go to bed is my time with them. It is extremely rare for me to be away at work at that time.”
Does she still do household chores? She laughs. “By God’s Grace, we have enough to have house help. But I still cook breakfast and dinner for my kids. They deserve that much from me. Plus as a mother it is my duty to inculcate the right values in them if they are to become decent human beings when they grow up.”
Any advice she wishes to give young aspiring women who want to achieve success in their endeavours?
“I think the most important thing for a woman to succeed in a workplace, or in any endeavour outside her home, is to believe in herself, believe in her abilities and her inherent strength. She has been endowed with all that she needs to succeed, she just needs to tap into that great reservoir within.”
“As a woman, you will always be watched closely. You will always be under a magnifying glass. People will wait for a single sign of weakness, of failure, to pounce on you. All your actions will be scrutinised. And you have to be prepared for that. You have to, and you will, succeed despite that.”
“I think most people mistake our empathetic nature for weakness. I believe that is our greatest strength. We look beyond the façade and see the real person and that helps us put the right people in the right positions. Because we see what they are really capable of, rather than what their resume says what they are good at. We are fair and just and this helps us to take informed decisions that are beneficial to all around us.”
“Above all, have unfailing integrity. Make it a defining characteristic of your persona. Never compromise on your ideals and your ethics. Always aim to do the right thing no matter what.”
We’ve demystified Komal Somani. Below the exterior is a resilient person who is both fierce and passionate. Supremely confident and yet extremely compassionate towards her people, she is a true leader. Her story is nothing short of fascinating and serves as a template for any number of women to emulate and seek inspiration from.