Women used to be a rare sight in the industry until a few years ago. However, with time, the industry has started giving recognition to women and realised that gender does not play a role; only knowledge, work ethics and experience does, opines, Smita Vijaykumar, Co-founder and CEO, reNNovate.
We finished the interiors of a celebrity home at Lokhandwala which was creatively very fulfilling because we completely changed the walls, rooms and used new finishes to give it an exclusive appeal. This was also our biggest project to date with an eight-figure budget. The project was unique in many ways since we produced high-end veneer finish on marine ply in our factory, which resulted in substantially higher quality and fortunately, that came out as an amazing piece of art.
Has your career given you opportunities to feel proud of yourself?
Indeed, I have had a great journey so far. My career started in the USA with the architecture firm Skidmore Owings & Merrill (SOM) known for landmarks such as Sears Towers, Burj Khalifa and the Mumbai International Airport. When I moved back to India, I worked with Hafeez Contractor on many prestigious projects in Mumbai. From there on, I was the design head of an interior designing firm before founding reNNovate. So looking back, all these companies and the countless projects I have worked on have made me feel proud on numerous occasions. But if I had to pick one, starting my own company and the overwhelming response that we have received from our customers is something that is heart-warming and gives me the greatest sense of pride.
How have you surprised yourself in your career so far?
I come from a family of professionals where all my relatives have worked for the government. Coming from such a background, it was ingrained in me that I, too, would be a professional all my life. But along my career, the right opportunity came for me to start my own company with the right team and partners and I decided to take it with both hands. I am also pleasantly surprised by the rapid pace at which reNNovate is growing in terms of team size and the number of completed projects year on year, and we hope to continue doing so with customer focus being of prime importance.
What do you think is the general perception of women in real estate?
Whenever people think of the real estate industry, the first thing that comes to mind is construction-related activities carried out mostly by men and supervised by engineers who are men. But, things are rapidly changing. When I entered this industry, women were a rare sighting, but today, you can see women engineers, designers, supervisors and managers. The industry has come to realise that gender does not play a role; only knowledge, work ethics and experience do.
In the interiors space, being a woman is an advantage since most of the women are end users at home and hence, it becomes easy to relate with them. A woman plays numerous roles of a mother, homemaker, kitchen user and a person maintaining the home – this gives us a keen insight into the customers' needs and uses that go beyond the conventional sizing and placement.
Who/what has been your pillar of support?
My husband has been a pillar of constant support throughout my journey. His expertise has helped me set-up reNNovate. Before launching reNNovate, we thought that if we hire the right team, it would be our biggest pillars of support. We worked extremely hard to secure the best teams and trained them regularly on the latest designs, software, materials and construction practices. This has indeed turned out to be our best investment as the results we achieve with our team have even surpassed our wildest expectations.
Our customers have also supported us a lot. Their constant referrals and testimonials have helped reNNovate grow. We truly appreciate the faith they are putting in us every time they recommend us to one of their relatives and friends. We understand this responsibility and are encouraged to work even harder and give our best on each project.
What are the challenges you have faced as a woman in a male-dominated industry?
Women face challenges on two fronts - firstly because they are women, and additionally, these get compounded when they become mothers. The challenge mostly lies in the perception that woman may not be able to deliver the project, that controlling labour and materials may be a problem because our workforce is completely male with a low literacy level. Fortunately, with all the support I got, I have managed to conquer the difficulties and march ahead.
Is any tip for women just venturing in real estate?
If the real estate industry is your calling, do not let anything or anyone come in your way. Be thorough, be brave and improve constantly. Our industry is evolving constantly and it gives so many wonderful opportunities to women in a wide array of fields to express themselves.