Faiza Seth is not your usual CEO. She has flowing black hair, 40+ pairs of Louboutins and she frequently shares beauty secrets in fashion magazines.
But the Hyderabad-born executive has more to her than meets the eye: After a stint at Lehman Brothers in Hong Kong and obtaining an MBA from Stanford University, Ms. Seth, 33, moved to London where she set up her own business, the architecture and luxury interior design firm Casa Forma in 2007.
Ms. Seth spoke to India Real Time about the Indian market for high-end interior design, shared tips for young female entrepreneurs and explained how beauty and business don’t always go well together. Edited excerpts.
IRT: What made you decide to expand in India?
Ms. Seth: I am Indian so I can understand the country culturally, it is easier for me to work here than in the rest of the BRICs. My family is based in Delhi so I have a network to start off with that I don’t have in Brazil, Russia or China. Also I find people in India have been exposed to global design and trends. Here there is a demand for an international design aesthetic which offers high quality, bespoke design, luxury, and value.
IRT: How does India’s luxury market compares to London’s?
Ms. Seth: In London there is a high demand for property. There, I get requests like crazy for second homes from clients in Russia, China, the Middle East and India. The Indian market is a little bit more price sensitive. At the same time it’s hard to differentiate between locations because people who want that service want the highest quality no matter where they are.
IRT: How are you adapting your design concept to the Indian market?
Ms. Seth: The broader concept is a global design aesthetic. But we have to adapt our designs to make them more doable in India: We have to take into consideration environmental factors like weather and dust. For instance, you can’t use light colors in Delhi because they will be very hard to maintain with the dust and pollution. We pick darker shades.
IRT: What is the design concept behind the New Delhi showhouse?
Ms. Seth: It’s basically modern colonial with some Art Deco and contemporary influences. This includes high ceilings, dark woods like mahogany, marbles and antique doors.
IRT: What tips do you have for young female entrepreneurs in India?
Ms. Seth: Young women need to follow their passion and do what they enjoy … this ensures the greatest probability of success. It is critical that young women entrepreneurs get outside work experience in a large professional set up to bring in discipline, work ethic. Finally women entrepreneurs should start small with low costs and build their businesses up step by step.
IRT: What are the main challenges of doing business in India?
Ms. Seth: Doing business successfully in India can be challenging because of the lack of infrastructure and inertia in the approval processes. Therefore it is crucial to have a strong compliance person who can help manage the environment and ensures adherence to local laws.
IRT: You never leave your house without…?
Ms. Seth: My Blackberry, which is my lifeline to Casa Forma. It’s the first thing I see in the morning and the last thing I see before I sleep.
IRT: Can beauty be a disadvantage in a business environment?
Ms. Seth: Beauty can sometimes be a disadvantage in business because people tend to think beauty and intelligence are often mutually exclusive. However, good educational and professional qualifications can often mitigate this stereotype.