She should have become an accountant. After all Smriti Sekhsaria was born in a “traditional Marwari family in South Bombay” and that’s what the family understood the best. But it just wasn't for her. “I just didn’t want to study accounting at all. I preferred economics and that’s what I ended up studying for my bachelor’s degree,” she says of her college days at St. Xavier’s in Mumbai.
After stints at Philips in Amsterdam, a risk advisory role at Ernst & Young and Starbucks India, Sekhsaria joined the luxury brand Moët Hennessy India as its marketing director and with that has come a whole new learning and a new way of thinking.
“Starbucks in India is a premium brand while Moët Hennessy is a luxury brand and a completely new sector — liquor. Learning about luxury brands and liquor has been a big part of this job. From my years in Starbucks, I already knew how to build a brand but 22 luxury brands in our India portfolio made me think about everything in a very different and new way. At the end of the day a marketeer is a marketeer and it’s their passion for communication that makes them successful,” says the 40-year-old who says she has been trying out a lot of new drinks since joining Moët Hennessy India.
Sekhsaria feels that the Indian audience is becoming a lot more discerning about what they are buying as far as luxury and spirits are concerned. “Everybody is upgrading a little but and that’s a sign of India’s prosperity,” she notes.
Sekhsaria, who has an MBA from Insead in France, speaks to Lounge about balancing aggression with assertion, how being a mentor is like being a Sherpa guide, and how knowledgeable India is about the luxury market.
Who do you consider your mentor?
I’ve had multiple mentors across my career, who have been an inspiration… from global business leaders to my past bosses.
One major insight you worked on with your mentor’s guidance?
Two key areas: Using vulnerability as a leadership strength and balancing aggression with assertion. I have also learned the art of staying calm during tough conversations.
What does being a mentor mean to you?
A Sherpa, a guide and a friend who understands you, pushes you and shows you what lies beyond the horizon. I pay it forward, with the same approach at work.
Describe your morning schedule?
Mornings are for affirmations, spending time with my kids and setting the tone for what I want to achieve that day.
What’s the one positive work routine you have developed during the pandemic?
Setting aside some time for affirmations is what I developed during the pandemic. I do it all the time… in the mornings, in the middle of a busy day or at the start of what I know will be a tough conversation.
Anything you would recommend about mentorship and workplace growth?
A book called Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol Dweck which talks about the concept of “growth mindset” and an app called Positive Intelligence by Shirzad Chamine, which focuses on mental fitness.
How do you unwind? Do you pursue any serious hobbies?
Running, reading and spending time with my children.
What are some of the productivity principles you follow that have improved your professional and personal lives?
I use the Pomodoro technique for deep thinking work. The technique was developed in the 1980s which involves breaking down work into intervals of 25 minutes typically using a timer or alarm.
Do people actually buy luxury products in India or prefer to travel overseas to shop for that segment?
Indians are buying luxury products across the globe. Homegrown luxury brands are becoming more mainstream in India and becoming a key part of consumers’ purchase repertoire.
What makes a luxury product different from a high street or premium product?
Craftsmanship, storytelling and, in some cases, the differentiation from the clutter. Luxury brands also need to do a better job of anticipating consumer needs.
What percentage of India actually understands luxury and can discern between premium, high street and luxury?
Indians are very well aware of global and local luxury brands and with a booming middle class, we are noticing premiumisation across the board.
Monday Motivation is a series featuring founders, business leaders and creative individuals who tell us about the people they look up to and their work ethics.
Shrenik Avlani is a writer and editor and the co-author of The Shivfit Way, a book on functional fitness