My interview with Devita Saraf is off to an interesting start. We have connected over a call, a couple of days after she has made it to the ‘IIFL Wealth Hurun India 40 & Under Self-Made Rich List of 2020’. She is the only woman on the list, and I say that I’d like to talk about how she balances style with substance. “I think of it more as ‘blend’, not ‘balance’,” says Saraf. “Balance feels harder, blend is more effortless.”
This is only the beginning of a conversation that is peppered with plenty such interesting observations. But then, Saraf, 37, is an interesting entrepreneur. The CEO of VU Technologies, which she founded in 2006 at the age of 24, is known for doing things differently. One of the few women in India leading a tech company, Devita Saraf has made Vu Technologies a $130 million company today, whose expertise is in premium, affordable televisions — it holds the distinction of being the largest-selling across e-commerce platforms in India, and is available in 60 countries.
But that’s not all. Where Saraf also differs is how she positions the brand and herself. Featuring in the brand’s advertising campaigns led Forbes to call her ‘India’s ‘Model’ CEO’ in 2016. She has featured in Fortune‘s Top 50 Most Powerful Women in India (2019) list, and at the same time graced covers of lifestyle magazines, walked the ramp for Indian labels, and featured in campaigns of jewellery brands. She is passionate about fashion and style, wearing Balmain, Balenciaga, Off White, and Gucci to work and events. “I bring what I love – my hobbies, what I enjoy – into the brand, and create what I like.”
Excerpts from my conversation with Devita Saraf –
You are unlike most CEOs – you are the face of your brand, part of advertising campaigns. You have graced covers of magazines. Where does the glamour aspect fit into your work?
You can’t be successful if you change who you are. I take pride in being a woman and feel that there is nothing more powerful than wearing a blush pink suit to a meeting. I have always enjoyed fashion, style, and luxury. Why not own this beauty, colour, fluidity?
Women in business have the pressure to fit in. The tech industry is male and competitive. As the face of a female-owned and -created business, I wanted to send out an important message to young women: We are seen as having intellect or beauty – it’s either-or – and it shouldn’t have to be so. You have to change the status quo and create opportunity for other women.
I read a piece recently where you talked about the pre-conceived notions about you because you love style and fashion. Is this stereotyping still prevalent?
The stereotyping still happens — family businesses have a more traditional thinking – but the younger generation is encouraging. Most women get offended when something is mansplained, but a strong approach would be to use that information against the same people. I love going to tech shows, getting information, and using it. If you think pretty equals stupid, then let me show you. Just because you come from a family business and look good, doesn’t mean you are ignorant.
Style and fashion are an integral part of who you are. Where did this love for fashion begin?
Right from childhood. Being a girl’s girl, there has always been a fascination for makeup, jewellery, and playing dress up. I even got a diploma in jewellery design at the age of 13! This is me — I love getting ready for work and have a battalion of stylists.
Power dressing — you enjoy making a statement. What’s your style like?
Feminine sharp. Give me colour, texture, solids, and a great cut, but nothing that overpowers or distracts. Standing in front of a couple of 100 people, I want to feel my best.
Your go-to brands for power dressing?
Balmain is a favourite. It fits well and exudes a certain power. It’s westernwear for work for me, so there’s Alice McCall, Off White, Gucci, Roland Mouret, Balenciaga, The Attico, and Dolce & Gabbana in my wardrobe. Agolde has perfect denims. Among Indian designers, it’s Amit Aggarwal.
How do you make a statement with accessorising?
Jewellery is a passion. Arundhati De Sheth is my jewellery advisor, but when it comes to my jewellery style, it’s edgy designs all the way. Zoya, Jaipur Gems, and Studio Renn are preferred brands. People say fine jewellery is boring, but that’s not the case. For work, there will always be one piece of fine jewellery. Nothing noisy, but a statement-making piece nevertheless.
Costume jewellery is made either in China or Korea, but India is known for fine jewellery. So, I always encourage women to invest in it. That way you support local too.
Women CEOs you look up to?
Gender shouldn’t play into a list like this one, and neither should designation or title. More than CEOs, entrepreneurs command my respect. So, it’s Sir Richard Branson, Steve Jobs, and Elon Musk.
Mindfulness and self-care is being talked about a lot these days. What do you do for this?
Running, swimming, cycling, dancing, and being outdoors work perfectly for me. I recently took part in the Sohfit challenge as well. And meditation is something I have started trying.
The personal and the professional – how do you walk the tightrope?
Growing up in a business family, these aspects have been quite fluid. My approach is to not draw a strong line between the personal and professional. Being good at time management and not stressing is key. Also, if you are happy with who you are, then it’s easier to manage things. At the end of the day, what matters is connecting to yourself – making sure you work out, keeping up with friends, travelling.
Key lessons you have learnt through the course of your career?
- Keep your eye on the big picture
- Understand your market
- Make a profit
- Your business has to constantly adapt