SmartPeople: Kavita Oberoi
Kavita Oberoi OBE, founder and managing director at Oberoi Consulting, puts her success down to her mother’s insistence she receive an education – a taboo at the time
Being an entrepreneur means you are on the job 24-7. My late father was a very successful entrepreneur and built a business from nothing that is now third generation, so I suppose it was always in my genes. My training started early at the age of two when I would accompany him on his business calls; I was a born salesperson and started selling and transacting before I was 10 years of age.
I loved working in the family plumbing business, forever in the office on the typewriter driving my father crazy. My favourite task was serving customers their 15mm copper elbows and sockets. My first paid job was a Saturday job as a 15-year-old sales assistant at fashion retailer Richard Shops, a job I continued to do throughout my education and university until I landed my dream role as a medical sales representative after gaining a first class degree in applied chemistry.
I am an early riser and have a personal trainer three mornings a week – diary permitting – who generally arrives at the house between 7am-7.30am. Before that I have usually spent a few hours catching up on emails and delegating pressing matters to the team, as well as responding to any outstanding client mail.
Eating is not a priority when you are busy but following a bout of illness last year, and learning the hard way, I now focus very hard on nutrition. Breakfast – a vegetable smoothie with a little fruit – is now top of the list.
The time I get to work can vary depending on if I am in the office or somewhere around the country. If I’m working from the office I am usually at my desk by 9.30am.
As a serial entrepreneur, looking for or creating new opportunities are always on the daily agenda and, since setting up Oberoi Consulting, I have invested and sold various companies in different sectors and have a growing commercial property portfolio.
My day consists of keeping on top of the huge amount of internal and external communications and spending large amounts of time on teleconferences and in face-to-face meetings.
This is on top of people management and ensuring we are delivering against our operational plans across the different businesses. However, as you’d expect in such a dynamic business, contingency plays a big part in my day as new opportunities suddenly arise. This often means I need to re-set the priorities. Every day brings new challenges and opportunities – just how I love it. Most weeks also involve delivering motivational keynote speeches to varying audiences across different industries, as well as pharma and the NHS.
Philanthropy has played a big part in my entrepreneurial journey and I have been involved with numerous charities in various roles; charity work is an important part of my daily life.
In 2010 I took on a global voluntary role to chair the fundraising of £10 million for the Global Girls Fund, which was delivered in just three years. This involved significant personal cash giving, which was absolutely key when asking other people to donate and support our cause. Charity is very much like business, it all starts with the person heading it and trust in them.
In conjunction with Burton and South Derbyshire College, we launched the ‘Kavita Oberoi & BSDC Enterprise Academy’ – this brings together the business potential of students with the project needs of local companies, offering learners the opportunity to experience ‘real life’ business for the first time and the chance to sharpen their own entrepreneurial skills. As a result of the Academy a number of students have now secured full times roles in companies they demonstrated their flare too.
Other charitable roles include Patron for both the Derby Women’s Centre and BODY charity, an organisation that helps to raise self-esteem and improve personal body image. Currently I am working on a local project with our council to ensure no local child goes to school hungry.
The time I leave work can vary depending on where I am in the country. On the days I am in the office I like to leave in time to collect my youngest daughter from school (my older daughter is now studying pharmacy at University College London). As a mother of two daughters, a wife and a daughter-in-law, my evening is spent running a very busy family home. My mother gave me some excellent advice – “make sure your food is on the table every single day for a peaceful life”. So ensuring a home cooked meal is on the table every single day is paramount even though I am usually back on the laptop after the household duties have been completed. Some evenings can also involve client dinners or attending various events. I am lucky enough to now have a part- time chef on the days I can’t physically be in the kitchen to make sure the food is on the table.
Throughout my career my parents have been my role models. My father, of course, for his entrepreneurial spirit but I owe the vast majority of my success to my mother, who empowered me to get an education and fulfil my potential although this was very much a taboo at the time. Getting an education and going to work was not the norm for girls from an Asian background. She is an amazing earth mother who has supported me throughout despite the retaliation following my father’s early death when I was 15.
It’s important to have mentors and people who see you have potential. I believe everyone has the ability to progress and do more with the right guidance, coaching and good leadership. The push for me came when I missed out on a job promotion and from there I decided I would never work for anyone else again and let someone else decide if I was good enough or not. Once I made that choice, failure was never an option.
How long have you worked in the industry?
I set Oberoi Consulting up in 2001 and prior to that spent eight successful years in the pharmaceutical industry as a medical representative for Bayer HealthCare.
What do you love and hate about your job the most? Why?
I love everything about what I do but most of all the varied opportunities that arise every day. Hate? Nothing at all!
What qualifications/personal skills do you need for your job?
What’s the best career advice you can give?
My advice and motto is JFDI (just ******* do it)! No one is going to do it for you so you have to take control of your own development.
If you had to swap jobs, what would you do?
Nothing – this is my perfect job.
What is your tip for good work/life balance or meeting your career goals?
Making sure you pencil in downtime and to be surrounded by talented personnel who you can trust and delegate to.
How did you get to where you are today? What would you put it down to?
A lot of it comes down to hard work, commitment and sacrifice – you have to give up a lot when you run your own business. Above all passion, dedication and complete focus for a cause are absolutely paramount to achieve anything in life.
Why should someone join the industry?
It’s one of the best sectors – like no other. I owe my success to the skills and insight I learned from joining the pharmaceutical industry.
Honours and Awards
2014 – Order of the British Empire for services to Entrepreneurship and Start-up Businesses
2013 – Honorary Fellowship – Burton & South Derbyshire College
2013 – Honorary Doctorate for Business and Entrepreneurship
2013 – Beacon Fellowship for Philanthropy Advocate
2010 – Princess Benedikte Award for Philanthropy
2009 – Named by RBS as one of Britain’s hundred most entrepreneurial women
2009 – Short Listed Lloyds TSB Jewel Awards
2007 – NRI Pinnacle Award – The Business Empress Honour
2005 – NRI Institute international ‘Pride of India Gold Award’
2005 – Commendation in the Entrepreneur of the Year section of the ‘Asian Women of Achievement Awards 2005’
2005 – Fellowship of the RSA (The Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufacture and Commerce)