Devita Saraf is an unconventional name for a cover girl; You’re probably wondering how a fashion magazine’s cover shoot worked it-self into the schedule of this businesswoman. It is the vision to break this very stereotype and question the traditional perception of the business that leads Saraf into this space. She is the founder, chairperson and CEO of Vu Group, a frontrunner in the field of luxury tech and is often named one of the most powerful people in business. Her vision is to portray a businesswoman beyond her boardroom achievements, setting her apart from the rest.
She is known for her fashion as much as her leadership skills, so it’s an interesting chat as we sit down with the trailblazer to talk about her career, her journey, and her sense of style.
ELLE: You use the moniker ‘model ceo’ to talk about your journey as an entrepreneur. tell us a bit about that.
Devita Saraf (DS): A couple of years ago, some of our distributors suggested getting an actor or a cricketer to endorse and popularise the brand. However, my graphic designer decided to take a picture of me dressed in pink, and that ended up on the front page of a leading newspaper as our brand’s ad. It was so rare for a CEO, let alone a young Indian woman, to be the face of their own business. Major publications took note of it and called me India’s ‘Model CEO’. That stuck, and since then, I’ve been invited to speak internationally, do fashion shows, magazine covers, and a lot more as the ‘Model CEO’. People consider being a model and a CEO to be some kind of an oxymoron–It’s almost like beauty and brains can’t coexist (laughs).
ELLE: You are changing the traditional perception of a businesswoman; is that something you’ve consciously chosen to do?
DS: For us women, you’re either the pretty one or the smart one or the sporty one or the nice one. And this forces women to fit themselves in silos, leading to a lot of dissatisfaction. Women, as we all know, are a mix of everything. I have always tried to break this stereotype and be known as a mix of beauty, brains and everything else.
ELLE: As an award-winning businesswoman in luxury tech at the age of 24, philanthropist and a fashionista–what drives you to be a leader?
DS: I was very fortunate to learn the concept of leadership under Dr Warren Bennis. He was my professor at USC and is considered the foremost authority on leadership in the world. I remember him telling me that being glamorous and famous is just two per cent of the work; the rest of the 98 per cent is sheer hard work. That is absolutely true and is also what makes me a solid, confident leader. I put all my efforts into building my team, products, and business. And this solid base then lets me go out there and present myself as a strong, confident leader.
ELLE: What is your advice to women who wish to take charge of their own lives?
DS: One of the first steps in taking charge of your own life is financial stability. You have to decide whether you wish to earn from profits or from a salary. Once you’ve figured out what is your way of being financially independent and what your career path is, the second thing is not to follow society’s norms. Forget everyone’s perspectives and think of how you want your life to be, and work towards that.
ELLE: What is it that makes you a good businesswoman?
DS: When you are younger and have a natural knack for buying and selling, that is a great indicator of your success as a business person. For me, strategy and marketing were something that I enjoyed the most, and I ensured that I got trained in those aspects. Being a good leader is a combination of understanding my business, having specialised knowledge, and having an in-depth understanding of my customer and the market.
ELLE: You started your career with your father at the age of 16. What was that like? And what inspired you to move into luxury tech with vu technologies?
DS: When I started training with my dad, the Indian market was moving out of being this very socialised, pre-liberalisation era market where Indian brands always felt second to global brands. When I came back from the USA, I could see a shift in the market. I could see that young Indians were much more confident and did not consider themselves second in the global world. I also realised that the bigger profit margins were with larger, high-end global brands. My education allowed me to think from the perspective of building a global brand. It took me eight years to grow from a start- up to a full-fledged 1,000-crore company. There is a famous saying in the business world, ‘Don’t look at where the market has been.”Look at where it’s growing,’ and that is exactly what inspired me to start Vu Technologies.
ELLE: Growing up in a business family, how much of the dinner table conversation revolved around work?
DS: When I was in Harvard Business School, we had a very interesting class. We had to think of a solution to a problem as a manager, a business owner, and a family member. Whatever decisions I am making about the business, I first think of it as a manager and an owner. But at the same time, at the dinner table, my family members chime in with what they feel is good right now. I do think of my decisions from the lens of the family: Will my family benefit from this? Will this help us in the long run?
ELLE: What does your downtime look like? Where would we find you on a Saturday evening?
DS: I think I’m like this permanent teenager on a Saturday evening (laughs). You will see me dressed most fashionably, at a club with my friends. My downtime is when I don’t want to be a CEO or a boss. I just want to be a regular woman and celebrate. Saturdays are sacred for me. No matter where in the world I am, you will always see me at a club or a restaurant, maybe with my friends or on a date, just having fun.
ELLE: You absolutely love fashion (we’ve seen the wardrobe!). How would you describe your style?
DS: My style is very feminine, young, powerful, and glamorous. And not to forget, experimental! I have been a fashionista my entire life. Even my birthday party photos from when I was a kid were extremely fashionable. I believe that fashion isn’t just about making me look good; it’s also about making me feel confident.
ELLE: Who are your role models?
DS: My role models are all the Indian goddesses. Lakshmi, Saraswati, and Durga held the portfolios of finance, education, and defence in Indian mythology. And I feel that India is so wonderful as a country that celebrates feminine power in all its forms.
ELLE: What is next for you, personally and professionally?
DS: I’ve had a fantastic life so far. At this point, personally, I do hope to find love and companionship. In terms of my business, my vision is to build a conglomerate of high-end Indian luxury brands, including mine. This year, I’ve just shifted into my new house, and on some days, I just sit back and enjoy everything that I’ve built. This year is going to be a balance of having a sense of contentment and satisfaction while also pushing myself to grow.
In terms of milestones for this year, this cover was a big one. A businesswoman on the cover of an Indian fashion magazine is a big win. I hope that this inspires all the other businesswomen out there to be confident and glamorous.
Find ELLE’s latest issue on stands or download your digital copy here.
ELLE India Editor: Ainee Nizami Ahmedi; Photographer: Tarun Vishwa; Stylist: Anaita Shroff Adajania; Cover Design: Sanjana Suvarna; Hair: Gabriel Georgiou; Makeup: Mehak Oberoi; Assisted by: Neonasanjaybahri (styling); Bookings Editor: Aliza Fatma; Production:Cut loose productions; Location Courtesy: Neuma india.