“My Philanthropic work has remained the nerve centre of my entrepreneurial success’’

Share some details of your schooling and childhood
I was fortunate to have a broadminded, Oxford-educated father, Chief Justice N.U. Beg, who put me through schooling in an Irish convent (Queen Mary’s in Allahabad) and instilled in me a love of poetry and English literature. I loved poetry and still do. My favourite is Keats. At the age of 12, I used to recite 52 verses from the Life and Death of Abraham Lincoln. I used to take part in poetry-writing and essay competitions. I remember that I won an award from the Governor. I used to take part in debates and dramatics, while I was at school. But, in those days, we were not really allowed to carry out inter-school activities, as we used to go to school in a curtained car. I was a very diligent student and very serious about my studies. Belonging to a conservative family, I was engaged to be married while I was still in school. My father met the Mother Superior and asked if I could appear for my Senior Cambridge examination, as I was engaged. She agreed and I jumped classes and appeared for the exam. I surprised everyone by topping the class in English.
Who inspired you to become an entrepreneur?
I think it was my independence of spirit that made me become an entrepreneur. It made me determined to emerge from a sheltered and secure life and venture into a totally different world of entrepreneurship.
My father also inspired me to follow my dreams. When I opened my first herbal clinic in my own home, it was my father from whom I borrowed Rs.35,000. Behind my success lies my father’s faith that I would succeed. He was a constant source of support. Also my family’s encouragement, support and understanding made me what I am today.
How did you start your journey in Beauty?
I never planned it this way. My life was on a very different course. I was married at the age of 15 and by the time I was 16, I had become a mother. Life seemed perfect, but I was bored with the drudgery of endless routine. Then the mental upheaval began. I was always interested in beauty and in making others beautiful, so I decided on beauty as a career. I was determined to get the best training possible and decided to work my way to the prized institutions of the West, to learn cosmetic chemistry and cosmetology. My husband was posted in Tehran at the time, as head of foreign trade with the State Trading Corporation of India. I was not a college graduate, but I loved to write, so I started writing articles for the Iran Tribune. Somehow, I was convinced that if I was highly qualified in my field, I could have the world at my feet. So gradually, I worked my way to leading institutions like Helena Rubinstein, Christine Valmy, Swarzkopf, Lancome and Lean of Copenhagen.
Why did you take up Ayurvedic Beauty Care?
While training in London, I came across instances of damage caused by chemical treatments. In a way, this changed the course of my life and career. I wanted to find a natural alternative that was safe and without risks. My study of Ayurveda was convinced me that it could offer the ideal answers to modern cosmetic-care. I came back to India and started my first herbal salon in the verandah of my home in New Delhi, in 1971, in a very small way. I adopted the concept of “herbal care and cure.” It was a totally unique, path-breaking concept. I rejected the existing salon treatments and devised my own. I also began to formulate my own products using plant ingredients and natural substances, based on the Ayurvedic system. Today, the salon treatments and products have become breakthroughs in natural beauty care. We have become known, not only for our treatments for general beauty care, but also for our therapeutic products and salon treatments for problems like acne, hyper-pigmentation, scars, premature ageing, dandruff, hair damage, hair loss, etc.
How did you take Ayurvedic beauty care abroad?
I began to extend my salons on a unique franchise system. I trained ordinary housewives and gave them the Shahnaz Herbal franchise. It was the beginning of my franchise system and beauty training academy. The fast paced extension of the Shahnaz Husain Salons and other ventures is due to our franchise system. Today, the Shahnaz Husain franchise has become a successful business model, with tremendous international goodwill and demand. Today, we operate in more than 100 countries, with our franchise ventures and direct product distributors. From one herbal salon to a worldwide chain of ventures, it has been a phenomenal journey.
I believe you are a Subject at Harvard Business School. How did you achieve that?
Even at a time, when the demand for the product is sustained through commercial advertising, I did not rely on it. So, I was invited by Harvard Business School to speak on how I established my brand without advertising. I became a Harvard Case Study on Brand Creation and now I am a Subject at Harvard and part of the Business History curriculum on “Emerging Markets,” in recognition of the international market for Ayurvedic beauty care created by me.
What did you learn from this experience?
I learnt that obstacles and hurdles come up in life, but one should meet them as challenges, as I did, with my desire to excel, my relentless determination to succeed, an iron will and sheer hard work. I believe that one should never stop trying. If you never stop trying, you cannot fail. I also believe that nothing is impossible. You can be what you will yourself to be. You can make your own destiny.
How is the Shahnaz Husain brand unique?
“Shahnaz Husain” is not a faceless brand name or corporate. The image that is foremost in the mind of clients and consumers is that of a real, answerable person, who is herself trained in cosmetology and cosmetic therapy. Every label has become a symbol, not only of my understanding of herbal beauty care, but of my vision and philosophy. The mere mention of the brand name evokes the image of the person and her personality. This is because my name has become the brand and I am the brand ambassador. To that extent, I am the reality behind the brand.
You have received several awards. Tell us about a few prestigious and recent ones.
I became the first woman in the world in 104 years to receive the “World’s Greatest Woman Entrepreneur Award” from Success, the New York based business magazine and was also honoured with the Padma Shri Award. Recently, I received two prestigious awards in the British Parliament for “Pioneering Ayurveda Worldwide” and the “Ayurveda Excellence,” as well as the 2020 Kotler Excellence Award from World Marketing Summit and the New York based IWEC Foundation Award for Global Woman Entrepreneur, also in 2020.
What place does Corporate Social Responsibility hold in your life and career?
I wanted to make a positive contribution towards empowering the less privileged and physically challenged. So, I started my free beauty training courses for the speech, hearing and visually impaired, as well as acid attack survivors, to make them financially independent and self-reliant. I also wrote a book on beauty, which has been put into Braille. We have contributed to Government Skill Development projects by training and certifying over 40,000 under-privileged women and also distributed free tool kits. I also formulated the Chemoline Range for cancer patients, based on Ayurveda, to alleviate the effects of chemotherapy and radiation on the skin and hair. The products are given free of cost to cancer hospitals in India and abroad. My philanthropic work has remained the nerve centre of my entrepreneurial success. It cannot be measured in material terms.