Boss of the month: Myra Qureshi- Conatural
- Please tell us about your background, family and education.
My parents graduated from MIT in the USA and moved back to Lahore to set up their architectural practise. I was born soon after this, in Lahore in 1983. My younger sister, my only sibling Rema, who also co-owns Conatural, was born five years later. I went to Lahore Grammar School, Defence from playgroup to A-levels, and then went onto study in London, at the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE). I pursued a career in Investment Banking/ Financial Services. Whilst working, I finished my Chartered Management Accountancy certificate and my Executive-MBA from Georgetown-ESADE (US and Spain). After travelling to over 100 countries and spending 13 years abroad, I moved back to Pakistan. I wanted to do something entrepreneurial with a social purpose; My aim was to set up a company where I had a real passion for the product, something that was good for society, kind to the environment and where we could get more women to enter the workplace. That is how Conatural was born in 2014. Whilst running Conatural, I also act as a mentor to other women through various platforms in Pakistan. This year I was awarded the Laurels of Honour Award by the Women’s Chamber of Commerce, and I am actively involved with “Inspiring Women” and “WE-Net” (Pakistan Women Entrepreneur Network for Trade). My focus for the upcoming year is to get more and more women from Pakistan into trade.
- Tell us about your responsibilities as the business owner?
As the CEO, I play a major leadership role, and am ultimately responsible for all day-to-day management decisions and for implementing the company’s long and short term plans.
- You run your own company and a brand; generally, what do you think are the main challenges when a woman wants to set up and run a company?
Although more women are embracing entrepreneurship, they often face challenges not typically shared by their male counterparts, especially in Pakistan. For example, many female business owners who have attended networking events can relate to this scenario: You stride into a crowded conference or workshop and the first thing you notice is that you can literally count the number of women there on one hand. Then when you start talk business with primarily male executives, it can be unsettling. They don’t take you so seriously. They’ll sometimes even be patronizing. In this sort of situation, women (including myself) may feel as though they need to adopt a stereotypically “male” attitude toward business: competitive, aggressive and sometimes overly ruthless.
Second, whilst I was very lucky and did not have this issue, I have found that it’s much more difficult for women to get access to funding. They really have to go the extra mile. The main reason behind this is that ultimately men are the investors. And to them, making an investment in a woman is riskier than a man because typically women will go on and get married, go on maternity leave, raise children etc. So they feel that they will get more bang from there buck with a man holding the fort. I find this quite funny because if you look at research reports, women are way better investors, fund managers and multi-taskers.
Moreover, many female entrepreneurs find a lack of available advisers and mentors (who are also women) in our society. This limits their professional growth. As most of Pakistani business today still rings true with the philosophy that ‘It’s not what you know; it’s who you know’. This can be a major factor in the ultimate success of your business. Sometimes, for women, knowing where to find the right support network isn’t always easy.
Thirdly, I find there are a lot of social issues at play about the “role of women” as executives. As a female entrepreneur in a male-dominated industry, earning respect can be a major struggle for women. Young women find it very difficult to manage older men, for example. Similarly, the communal, consensus-building qualities encouraged in young girls in Pakistan can leave women unintentionally downplaying their own value and significance. I have also faced this and continue to do so. When I talk about Conatural, I always find myself saying ‘we’ instead of ‘I. I know I have fallen into this pattern because (i) Using the first person to discuss success of the company feels to me as if I’m proud, arrogant and conceited, (ii) and because I am inherently tuned to know that I being judged in some way or the other by some random male, I am petrified that if someone knows it’s just me in control, the value of what we may do will go down. I have really learnt from this, and I am making a major effort to own my accomplishments. You just have to exhibit confidence and ride the waves. Remaining true to myself and finding my own voice has been the key to rising above preconceived expectations.
- Being a boss, what do you think makes a great employee stand out?
I believe a great employee should have a very strong work ethic; He/she should be achieving goals way higher than expected. A great employee also should be extremely dependable and consistently follow through tasks. He/she should have a positive attitude and be self-motivated, and work effectively with little direction.
- What is your vision for women in Pakistan when it comes to becoming their own bosses, or higher level administrators?
Fifty percent of Pakistan is female. And their role in business / entrepreneurship has been very small in the last 70 years. I truly believe than women can only move forward. And women will be the next wave of business success. Pakistan’s success depends on this.
- To what do you attribute your success?
Determination, drive, discipline and being 100% true to myself. Lately, I feel I can’t cope with late nights, taking care of my baby, and the daily grind of work. So I have also started focusing on my personal well-being; For me, yoga and meditation is a blessing.
- If you had one piece of advice to someone just starting out, what would it be?
Here are the 5 top rules:
(i) Always be open to change
(ii) Never stop hustling!
(iii) Build a dream-team
(iv) Learn how to retain your best customers
(v) Remain innovative
- What best motivates you?
I enjoy meaningful work…creating products that change people’s lives, bring awareness and are good for the planet.
- What are your short cuts to successfully handle frustration and success?
By far, yoga and meditation.
- When you’re not busy with work, what are some of your favourite things to do?
Playing with my 20 month year old baby, and travelling!
- On what do you spend the most: clothes, accessories, perfumes or anything else?
Clothes followed by handbags!
- What is the secret behind being so slim and toned? Do you eat nutritiously? How often do you exercise or go to the gym?
I have really struggled with my weight ever since I was a teenager. My daughter was born almost a year and half ago, and I still have those last pesky 10 pounds to lose (which seem to be an insurmountable task!). In light of the above, I am probably the worst person to give diet advice. However, I did gain over 70 pounds when I was pregnant (yes, I know, crazy! ), and I lost most of it with strict diet and exercise. My work out of choice is yoga and I really believe it is the best form of exercise for mind and body! I practise 4 times a week and do daily meditation.
- Any fun fact about you that people are not aware of?
I love animals, especially bunnies! I had two pedigree minilops which travelled with me from London to Lahore when I moved back. Unfortunately both died last year, but they lived to a grand age of ten years. Pets are such a blessing.
- Quick choose round:
- Organic or Junk food? Organic
- IPhone or Samsung? Iphone
- Facebook or Instagram? Facebook
- Karachi or Lahore? Lahore
- Coke or Pepsi? Coke
- Day or night? Day
- Cats or dogs? this is hard! BOTH
- Book or movie? book
- Your bff: Too many! But if I had to choose it would be my sister Rema Taseer in Pakistan and Justine Zimmermann abroad!
- Favourite Movie: The Shawshank Redemption
- Biggest turn off? Liars
- Guilty pleasure: Chocolate Cake!
- How do you maintain a perfect balance between your work and family life?
It’s hardly perfect! I am constantly running around to ensure both my business and family get my 100%. Its super tough. And many days I fail miserably . I feel that as women, we are plagued with a constant guilt, (its somehow entrenched in our DNA), especially when it comes to our children. (Someone needs to teach me how to overcome this!)
- Give a message to your fans through the platform of Social Diary Magazine.
To my lovely fans! Thank you for your consistent support and for inspiring me to be the best I can possibly be! Much love to all of you x
As a special gift to you and Social Diary magazine, I am extending a flat 15% OFF on Conatural products. Go to www.conaturalintl.com, add to cart any items that you like, and in the discount code at checkout, type SOCIALDIARY, and that should process your immediate discount. Stay blessed!