Business Today

Princess of Plastic

The Tupperware India chief has nurtured several women entrepreneurs.
twitter-logo Taslima Khan        Print Edition: Sep 15, 2013
Asha Gupta, Managing Director, Tupperware India
Asha Gupta, Managing Director, Tupperware India Photo: Aditya Kapoor/www.indiatodayimages.com

She probably has one of the most challenging jobs in India Inc: convincing Indian women to ditch stainless steel and use plastic containers instead. But Tupperware India Managing Director Asha Gupta clearly understands the mind of her customer. Which is why she was top boss of the Indian unit of the US company known for food storage containers at just 33, barely seven years after she joined. "Often I was the youngest MD at CEO forums," says Gupta. "A business like Tupperware, which required building a strong direct selling model led by women, required a lot of EQ … The softer side of me grew very, very fast."

Gupta has used her business savvy and understanding of the mind of the Indian woman to make Tupperware India into one of the global company's fastest growing markets. It ranked among the top five countries in terms of size of business in the last year calendar years. But it hasn't been an easy ride since the first Tupperware party in India in 1997. The company didn't make money until 2006, mostly because of the reluctance of Indian women to abandon stainless steel. "Time and resources were limited and I had to take strategic calls and people decisions," says Gupta, who has a master's in marketing management. "A well-heeled direct selling model was the only bet to drive sales."

ON THE GLASS CEILING
It is a disappearing ceiling. We have ample examples of women who have broken it.
Ironically, the economic slowdown in 2008/09 helped lift Tupperware India's financial fortunes. As more middle class families needed dual incomes, an increasing number of women became Tupperware distributors and earned up to $6,000 a year. Today, India has about115 Tupperware distributors across the country, women from different social backgrounds who have achieved some degree of financial independence - without stepping out of their homes. "The task at hand was to pick and train grassroots women on the ABC of direct selling," says Gupta.

The women weren't the only ones making money. Tupperware India has also grown at a rapid clip the past few years, even outstripping the US parent's pace of growth on occasion. The Indian unit logged 38 per cent growth in 2012, much higher than the 6 per cent global growth. "More people are ready to spend Rs 50, 000 to Rs 60,000 on modular kitchens than before. Women want to show off their kitchens," says Gupta, under whom the company has expanded all the way to southern cities such as Chennai and Bangalore.

But Gupta measures her success with the number of people she has build and not just conventional financial indicators. With over 114 women distributors, fuelling entrepreneurship has been at the heart of Tupperware's strategy under Gupta's leadership. "Entrepreneurship needs to be developed because our society doesn't teach women to become entrepreneurs," says Hina Shah, Director of Ahmedabad-based International Centre for Entrepreneurship and Career Development. Shah is the leading face of 'She Can, You Can', Tupperware India's television campaign which encourages entrepreneurship among women by sharing the success stories of other women. 'She Can, You Can' is also the title of Gupta's book, a compilation of 12 stories of woman entrepreneurs who pulled themselves out difficult emotional and economic situations by becoming Tupperware distributors. 

Her all-women sales have plenty of role models. Chhavi Rajawat, an MBA graduate who went back to head her ancestral village as sarpanch, and Saloni Malhotra, who set up India's first knowledge process outsourcing company Desicrew Solutions, were leading faces of the campaign in 2012. Gupta believes these women reflect her grassroots style of leadership. And that's what gets her adrenaline going. "Work is a calling - something that makes me wake up each day with great anticipation and go to bed every night with a sense of fulfillment," she says.

Has being a woman ever been a disadvantage in doing business? No, says Gupta. If anything, it has worked to her advantage. "The glass ceiling is disappearing. There are living examples of women who know how to equip themselves and move to the C-Suite or top tier," she says. And there are thousands of Tupperware distributors in India who can vouch for that.

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