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Rachna Sharma

Ms. Sharma is a conscious leadership and strategy entrepreneur. She is founder and managing director of Magnum Opus, a leadership consultant brand creating exclusive progammes in authentic leadership and mindfulness in leadership.

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Kalpana Saroj’s Journey From Mumbai Slum To $100M Empire

This is the story of a woman who went from earning 2 rupees to running a 100 million dollar empire in the cut throat city of Mumbai.

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Photo Credit : LinkedIn,

Born into a poor Dalit household, Kalpana Saroj was the eldest daughter of a Maharashtra police constable in Akola. She lived in a small chawl for dalits, the lowest Hindu caste, the untouchables, with her parents and 5 siblings in Akola.

Under family pressure, her father was forced to marry off Kalpana at the age of 12 to a man who was 10 years older than her. Kalpana Saroj’s husband took her to Bombay where they lived in a slum with his family. As the youngest in the household and an outsider, she was forced to work at home. Her husband’s family would physically and mentally abuse her at every opportunity.

Six months after her marriage, Kalpana Saroj’s father visited Bombay. He was shocked to find his daughter emaciated and living in a slum. Against his family’s wishes, Kalpana’s father took her back to their home in Akola.

Being a dalit and a married girl who had left her husband’s home, Kalpana faced social ostracism every day. She had to even give up going to school after Class IX. People would shame her for having brought dishonour to the family name. Depressed, Kalpana Saroj tried to end her misery by consuming poison.

Fortunately, Kalpana’s aunt spotted her on time and rushed her to the hospital, where she spent several days in the ICU. Following this incident, Kalpana has never looked back and she never let her determination and perseverance be affected by social and gender constraints. She started work as a tailor in Akola and earned 2 rupees for her work. She then convinced her father to let her return to Bombay, the city where she was tormented, to earn a better living so that she could support the family.

In Bombay, Kalpana worked as a seamstress in a sweatshop and made a paltry 5 rupees for her work. However, this did not let her ambitions die. As her father lost his job, Kalpana asked her parents and siblings to come to the city of dreams and live with her in a small rented apartment for just 40 rupees.

As the family began a new life in Bombay, her sister died of a curable illness as the family could not afford the treatment. This is when Kalpana realised that money was important. She resolved to make enough to take care of her family. Running from pillar to post through bureaucratic corridors of India’s financial capital, Kalpana took a government loan to set up a workshop that made first copies of high-end furniture. She worked 16 hours a day to ensure she could save money and reinvested it into buying a property that was stuck in legal quagmire.

Her dogged determination, helped her win the case and then she ventured head on into the dangerous world of real estate of Bombay, what was then renamed Mumbai in 1995.

Not giving into threats from the underworld, Kalpana made some money in real estate. Then she saw her opportunity when the debt-ridden Kamani Pipes was about to be liquidated. She took over as chairman and through restructuring turned the company’s fortunes around. Kamani Pipes is now worth over a 100 million dollars.

She has been awarded the Padma Shri. Her personal mantra, according to is: Hard work is not overrated. It is fail proof. What you want - whatever it is, you shall only get if you apply yourself wholeheartedly and work towards it with single-minded vision.

Kalpana Saroj has shattered the social and gender glass ceilings as a woman and an entrepreneur.

Kalpana Saroj is a shining example of an authentic leader.
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Disclaimer: The views expressed in the article above are those of the authors' and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of this publishing house



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