Making a mark in a male dominated field is no more an uphill task. Four decades ago, however, the scenario was quite different. Let alone entrepreneurship, but even the thought of a woman working shoulder to shoulder with her male colleagues was a taboo. “I do not believe in bowing down to destiny,” says sexagenarian Gauri Vadhavkar, who dared to step into the field of packaging, then largely a male domain. “I was willing to face any challenges that came my way,” she adds. True to her word, the managing director of Oshiva Polypack stuck to her fight and emerged a winner.
Today, Vadhavkar is a leading manufacturer of automatic Form Feel Seal machinery. Life for her however, has not been a bed of roses. Neither Vadhavkar nor her husband Uday had any formal training in engineering. Their innate qualities however, complimented each other, when it came to their business venture. A brilliant scientist and mathematician, Uday was the brain behind the innovations. But Vadhavkar had business acumen and also an engineering bent of mind. “I can repair any of the machines manufactured at our plant,” she proclaims confidently.
Vadhavkar’s entrepreneurship story finds its roots in Pune. It was during her first year of bachelors that she received a call for an interview with Phillips. “The job involved making spare parts for radios that they manufactured,” she reminisces. About 1500 girls had applied for the job.Vadhavkar was among the 10, who were finally selected. It was her stint at Phillips that paved the way towards what was to be her life’s mission.
Vadhavkar’s journey from Pune’s Sadashiv Peth to Mumbai’s New Prabhadevi reads like a Bollywood script. Early years of marriage were a struggle. Her husband was still a student. “And women were not allowed to work outside the house,” she recalls.
A feisty woman, Vadhavkar looked for alternative ways of adding to the family income. From starting a Tiffin service to making photo frames to learning interiors and gardening, Vadhavkar tried being entrepreneurial wherever there was any opportunity. Those were the days of the Sayunkta Maharashtra movement. Inspired, husband Uday decided against working as an employee. So when he came up with the thought of starting a venture, Vadhavkar decided to support him completely.
Vadhavkar had to surpass numerous obstacles. She had to manage everything- from dealing with workers and clients to looking at export opportunities and even understanding legalities of setting up a factory. Recollecting the time she had to make a judgment call regarding her business, Vadhavkar says, “That was the defining moment. I decided to play an active role. There was now no looking back.”
She recounts an incident when on an international assignment a worker refused to follow her instructions, and even refused to do the job. “We were in Mauritius to repair a machine which packaged soap bars. A little adjustment of timing of rolling and sealing was required,” she says. “Without any help, I struggled for three days and finally got the timing right,” she reminisces adding that she had tears of joy when the client appreciated her work.
Vadhavkar talks about the years that were hardest. Due to brain atrophy Uday suffered prolonged illness. This was also the time when their small workshop graduated into two factories – Onkar Enterprises and Shivram industries. “For 12 years I had multiple roles to play, run the factory, take assignments, make sure deliveries were happening on time, respond to clients’ complaints and also focus on my family,” she says.
Vadhavkar has now withdrawn from the day to day business operations. The company now known as Oshiva, an amalgamation of Onkar and Shivram, is now managed by one of her sons. She feels younger generations need to be given a chance and enough support and encouragement by their seniors to progress in life.
“The new lot of entrepreneurs has immense potential,” she says.
“They are tech savvy. They should make good use of all these aids,” she advises. You can catch up with her at her shop, a sweet mart franchise, where she helps other women entrepreneurs vend homemade delicacies. Who knows over a cup of chai and some yummy bhakarwadis you might find inspiration too to turn an entrepreneur!