Ms. Sanjam Sahi Gupta, Director of Sitara Shipping and the president of WISTA – Women’s International Shipping and Trading Association – speaks to us about the Indian maritime space, the women in the industry, and how they can rise together with WISTA in place for over a year now. Young, Beautiful, Humble, Ms. Sanjam Sahi Gupta, fascinates us with not only her personality but also with her simplicity of thoughts . Instead of bragging or boasting about how she brought Sitara Shipping to where it is today or how she decided to provide Indian women in Shipping an internationally recognized platform – she is busy seizing opportunities of remembering people along the way! Right from her father, to her school Principal, to many other luminaries and dignitaries, Ms. Sanjam doesn’t forget to owe it to the people. Let’s take a sneak peek into the lady’s very own views.
Q. How did you start your entrepreneurial journey? Like, what is your academic background and when did you decide to join your family’s business?
Well, I completed my graduation from HR College of Commerce and Economics. And while I say this, I must also state that there I was very influenced by our Vice Principal then, Dr. Indu Sahani, I really really looked up to her for an inspiration, a very strong lady she is.
Then I did my MBA from SP Jain – the family managed business program. It was a specialized course for people in family business. In the duration of the course we attended classes and did projects based on our own businesses. So it was like a live laboratory.
Along with that I did my 2 years’ Diploma in Shipping Management from Narrottam Morarjee Institute of Shipping.
I joined Sitara Shipping in 1999 as a part time trainee – and it was in June 2001 that I joined full time.
Q. So it was your interest from the childhood, or you wanted to do something else but since it’s a family business you were kind of obliged to do it, or how it is?
No, I was hooked! My father was in Merchant Navy; and we grew up hearing the fascinating stories of life at the sea, cargos, ships etc. So there was no here or there, I was very certain from the beginning what I wanted to do. It was either for love of the sea, or ships, or whatever. I knew I wanted to do this.
Q. Lovely! So how easy you think it is for women to get into the Shipping Industry?
I think it’s easy for women to get into the shipping industry – the problem comes while accepting them at higher positions. There are a lot of women today in the industry, but more at customer service level, or at lower operational levels. But when starts to rise above the managerial, or GM level, or onto the directors of a board, that little bit of ego comes into the picture.
Like, me and my sister joined at the same time. And we were being trained under a manager then, and soon we realized that somewhere there was a problem of sexes. Had we been sons, he would have easily accepted us as his future Directors, but now that it was contrary, it was little difficult for him to digest the fact. So much so, that eventually we had to part ways. It’s a different story that both me and my sister, happened to prove ourselves over the period of time and have been able to earn everybody’s respect.
Also, a lot of times when we go to sessions or meetings or events, we have been into the situations that me and my sister are the only women there in the entire gathering.
Q. I see. Has the situation changed now?
To a marginal extent. It’s much better than what it was years back, yes I have seen a marked change but then there’s a long way to go. Shipping is still a male dominated industry. Many a times, women executives still struggle to assert their rights, or struggle to find at least their basic recognition for the jobs they are into, per say. And that is why WISTA. Individually, we can only do so much about this, we realized; but collectively we can have our voice. We hope that WISTA would change the situation for better.
Q. So how WISTA? Tell us the story behind WISTA India.
In 2002, in the light of all these that we have been speaking about, after a very frustrating day at work, I came home and googled “women in shipping”. I actually googled. And that’s when I first came to know about WISTA. Handful women were there in the Shipping industry those days. We had Ms. Neera Sahi at JNPT and we had Ms.Rani Jadhav at Mumbai Port Trust. I found about the WISTA and a thought was injected into my mind. And I gave it a first shot in year 2002.
Q. Sure. And the first effort failed due to a lack of response from other women. What made you give concept another try and how are the results this time around?
Yes. I was not successful to launch it in the year 2002. Probably it was ahead of its time to do that! But the passion still remained somewhere at the backburner, and after 10 long years, I decided to give it a second try.
This time around, the response is over-whelming, and I hope it remain this way!
Q. So what is WISTA, really?
WISTA is a platform for women in Shipping industry to come together, network, learn, contribute, share.
WISTA, having its members from 33 odd countries, is answerable to all its members and WISTA International.
We plan to bring together like minded women from not only Mumbai but all other cities in India. Recently we have launched our Delhi chapter last month and I am very excited about it. Our initial plans are to have regular events, talks by industry leaders, seminars and training programs.
Since women are in the minority with respect to their male counterparts in this industry, often they are sidelined and not adequately represented. WISTA, as platform, shall help them sharing experiences and probably help overcoming the challenges. Also, there would be a lot of networking and new business opportunities, since our members will have a chance to come together with members in over 30 countries.
Q. That’s wonderful! But don’t you think the logistic sector over-all is going for a bit downfall?
Oh! On the contrary, I would be little optimistic! I think it’s changing for better.
Probably the people who are yet only shipping the traditional ways, it may be true. But those who are able to move with the time, able to cope up with the technologies and advancements, I guess they are doing good!
But yes, we need to attract young talent. We need the young people to come forward and bring a change in the industry.
Q. So you think a lot of awareness is required about Shipping as an industry, overall?
Certainly. Last month, I was addressing the students at S P Jain. And I asked to the audience as to how many of them were looking to pick Logistics as a career, and well, no one hand was raised.
Shipping is a wonderful industry. There is so much to learn, so much to contribute! I highlighted this at S P Jain – the world trade – everything that you trade, the food on your plate, the shirt that you’re wearing, the fuel in your car, everything – if shipping stops, hypothetically speaking, imagine world trade is going to cease. And India being energy deficient country, we have some 80% of goods imported.
So we do need to spread awareness. Again, it’s a vicious circle – we are not attracting the right kind of people and then we talk about industry going for a down fall.
WISTA is also going to go to colleges and speak to students about making Shipping as a possible career choice. We are planning to go to IIM Ahmedabad, we are also thinking to come up with internship courses for students.
Q. And why do you think we really need to go out of the ways and spread awareness? Why younger generation isn’t really driven by itself to make careers in Logistics?
So there are two things to it.
One is that it’s not considered lucrative, it’s not glamorous.
And the other is that our government itself has been giving a step-motherly treatment I would say, to this industry. For example, if the plane is hijacked, there is a lot of noise we hear of; but have you really heard of the stories when pirates are on board in ships? It’s sad but true that Indian Shipping industry isn’t really given the due importance it deserves. Handful organizations like INSA and others are doing a good job, however, Indian government I would say, seems to have marginalized the concerns of Indian maritime space really.
So the industry along with the policy-makers have to make a change.
Q. It’s observed in the Logistics Industry that they don’t do a lot of Marketing. So how do you spread awareness about your services really?
Well, Marketing is at the heart of any business. And it was my favorite subject in college.
You do really need to know the pulse of your market. But I am so much also of a believer of giving good services rather than doing a lot of marketing, per say. You take care of the service, and the customers would automatically come. It’s an equation of direct proportion.
Like, we are selling general products like containers, there are no frills attached. But our services speak for ourselves. Credit goes to Dad. They had lost everything in the partition. My Dad and my Uncle started from a small town in Shahbad, and out of nothing, my Dad has created what we are today. He is like a true entrepreneur, and I take inspiration from him. I can’t otherwise even imagine getting a contract for American Army. At 65+, he went and lived with the soldiers of US army to personally setup a thing for them there – a real time example of Service. So I think all we have to do is to give customers a good service, and they come again and again.
Q. So what are your views on Entrepreneurship, irrespective of the industry?
I think there has to be something from within. You can promote, you can encourage, you can cultivate; but this “junoon” has to be there, inherently within him/her.
For example, I remember JAM magazine, I was in college when Rashmi first launched it and I was one of the first few volunteers. She and her husband Yatin, they had a very small office there at Marine Lines, and look at what they are doing today.
So at an end of the day, some people have it and some do not, that’s what I believe.
Q. So does WISTA provide funding to entrepreneurs?
As of now, No. We have just started. But we will take baby steps. At Narottam Morarji Institute of Shipping, we are planning to provide scholarships for studies to female students.
Q. Being an Entrepreneur, supposedly if you quit Shipping, what other industry sector you think you would venture into?
Okay, firstly, I don’t think technically I am qualified to be an entrepreneur, I am 2nd generation. Into the family business. The Spirit of a true Entrepreneur is measured when they are 1st generation change makers.
But yes, I think I wanted to get into the field of Education. With my marketing professor at S P Jain; Prof Murthy, I had done a project study and wanted to start a chain of schools. My father did say he would sponsor me. But I did not want somebody to invest in me, probably I wasn’t yet confident? I met someone overseas and this lady was into specific MBA in Shipping. So that’s something that too can be thought upon. Education I think is a booming Industry in India .
Q. So even if you think that you’re not an Entrepreneur, technically speaking; we see that the Entrepreneur in you is really ready to come out with your idea of chain of schools. So what message you have for young Entrepreneurs?
If you have a will to succeed, sky is the limit.
And I think I would be little biased towards women here. Women are so much better at the juggling act – more dedicated, organized, multitasking! I do a lot of multitasking – I too wear many hats –home maker, wife, daughter, sister ,mother and proud WISTERIAN!
But a lot of women refuse to believe in themselves. They doubt. They don’t realize their potential. So what I would say to the women out there in the country – Believe in yourselves, follow your dreams, and work hard. We can do it, and do better.
Story as Shared by –
Sanjam Sahi Gupta | President | WISTA India