On the verge of launching her first experiential store in Bangalore with seven to follow in the south, the head of Vu says that life should be a good mix of hard work, shopping, dancing and travel. By Jackie Pinto
Devita Saraf is refreshingly candid. About her insatiable taste for luxury, her strict fashion forward dress code at work, her notoriously short attention span, friendly sibling rivalry or even her goal of becoming Prime Minister some day. A successful single woman, Saraf lives with her father Raj, mother Vijayrani and big brother, Akash, in
Mumbai but moves between her offices in USA and India, and also explores potential markets all over the world to expand her brand of luxury customised televisions – Vu (pronounced view). “We live together as a family, but with separate spaces and individual goals. My father is the chairman of Zenith Computers, my brother is the CEO of Zenith Infotech and I am the CEO of Vu Technology, ” she begins.
Pursuit of happiness
My father taught me to always dress like top management. I have a strict dress code in the office — anyone wearing jeans is fined `500. I have been known to send shabbily dressed or badly groomed employees home.I love limited editions and buy expensive things that make me happy. But I never waste anything.I document all my clothes so that I don’t have to waste time searching for stuff. When I hit 30, I gave away most of my wardrobe. You have to reinvent your fashion sense every couple of years. I love Aruna Seth shoes, Monisha Jaising, Ritu Kumar, Dolce and Gabbana, Christian Dior, Burberry, Karen Millen I find women who dress like their teenage daughters and men dressed in pink or red trousers highly inappropriate.
Saraf grew up in Mumbai, studying at Queen Mary’s school and later at HR college, but found the Indian educational system ‘very limiting’. “I hate studying but I love learning. I find exams an insult to intelligence. I once bunked my accounts exam to attend a Nasscom conference,” she tells us. Saraf went to America at 18 to study business administration and marketing at USC in Los Angeles because her dad believed the Americans were the best in the business. She also studied Game Theory and Strategic Thinking from the London School of Economics, and took lots of b2b marketing and e-commerce classes in between. “This March, I addressed the Wharton India Economic Forum. Which was a big deal, since I was the only young woman amongst their top panelists,” she says, describing how she returned home after her studies to head marketing for Zenith Computers and a couple of years later, co-founded the US-based Vu TelePresence and Mumbai-based Vu Technologies.
The big picture
Vu TelePresence is based out of Pittsburgh and provides tele-presence solutions for small and mid-sized businesses. “Our USP is affordable solutions with Fortune 500-level service,” she clarifies. Her Vu product line includes intelligent large-screen LED TVs, 3D video cameras, video walls, customised television panels, waterproof LCDs, car TVs and different touch-screen products. “Customisation is key. We start from 32 inches and let customers build up their TVs up to 84 inches, adding in Windows 8, Apple, Linux or Android operating systems and data storage of up to 500GB. It also comes with a remote and wireless keyboard with a range of 33 feet. You can choose your own frame — a simple wood or mirrored look or a Swarovski bling affair designed by Tarun Tahiliani exclusively for us. Prices range from `9 to 15 lakhs,” she explains.
Saraf admits that some of her entrepreneurial ideas did not make the cut. Like her plan to roll out Vu cars. “I was too young and inexperienced to carry it through but I certainly hope to some day,” she adds. But her customer philosophy has always been clear. “We are the only ISO 9000 customer service center in India. Quality to us is most important. We also offer a great in-store experience. After Apple, Vu has the best tech shops in the world. I have often positioned myself as a sales assistant and interacted directly with customers to get valuable feedback,” says the down-to-earth entrepreneur.
Based on her own loyalty club experiences, she introduced the Vu tech concierge club which offers members privileges, discounts, customised accessories, digital design consultancy for homes and exclusive invitations to Vu events. “We just did a trunk show at the Four Seasons that was quite a hit and are planning the same in Bangalore,” she says.
Big boss theory
Saraf’s management style is a mix of hands-on engagement, round table staff meetings fuelled by lots of pizza and a fair amount of delegation. “My first store was a disaster
before completion as the architects ditched us. So I went to hardware markets and finished it myself. One of the hardest things about running a business is hiring and firing people because you have to depend on skill and instinct. When I do have to fire someone, I do it discreetly, face to face but honestly”.
In my space
The last book I read for fun was The Mahabharata Secret by Christopher Doyle.
I enjoy learning Odissi every week to de-stress, getting creative with Ikebana, and designing silver jewellery.
My favorite website is India.wsj.com – I wrote for them for two years.
I like to plan my birthday bashes months in advance, and they always rock.
I pamper myself at new spas.
My comfort zone is the Willingdon Club.
I use Luxe Guides to help me find hidden gems in boutique stores across the world.
I always take first time visitors to the edge of Marine Drive. Sitting dangerously over the ledge just above the tetrapods is a special kind of experience.
My fitness regime includes yoga in the morning, gym at night and a dance class every Sunday.
Saraf feels that being a woman in the world of business has distinct benefits. “While I am clear about breaking sexist stereotypes, I also find being a woman gives you the ‘soft advantage’. And you no longer have to dress like a man to prove yourself. But being a CEO is also relentless hard work along with the perks. After work hours, add on travel, late-night conference calls, business networking, endless Chamber of Commerce events and award functions. Lots of eating out and sleeping less. Plus, you have to look fresh and energised the next morning,” she laughs. Moving back to India at 21 and living with her parents after being totally independent in America was quite the culture shock and one she is still coming to terms with. “We are a business-oriented family though and that helps. I remember sitting on my granddad’s work table at home and learning the basics of business at age 7. By the time I was 11, I was reading Handbook to Marketing. My brother entered the business at 16 and I followed suit. I still say that he is excellent at four things while I’m really good at 14,” she candidly confesses.
On a personal note, Saraf admits that it is not easy finding a man to measure up to strong role models like her father and grandfather. “He should be business savvy, yet very family-oriented,” she insists. In the meantime, she has her sights set on becoming the Prime Minister some day, launching a perfume and working closely with children in the very near future.
Location courtesy: The Park, MG Road
Picture courtesy: Nagesh Polali