(October 16, 2021) In the late 1980s, when Vandana Luthra came up with the idea of a transformation center – offering beauty services, wellness and weight management programs for men and women all under one roof – many, including her financiers, were apprehensive. Some even dismissed her idea as too futuristic. Back then, the health and wellness industry were doing well abroad but were still unheard of on Indian shores. After all, it was an era when most women would head to their friendly neighborhood parlor, one would that often be tucked into the owner’s home, for their beauty needs.
She painstakingly convinced people that her venture as a business model was both scalable and sustainable. Despite the naysayers, Vandana stayed persistent. The convincing took a while, but she secured a bank loan and the first VLCC transformation center opened up in Safdarjung development area in New Delhi in 1989.
According to The Harris Poll, Gen Z women are taking action in a variety of ways to address COVID-19 in their communities!
It is so amazing to see young women being hands on and doing the best to their abilities to help others through these thought times pic.twitter.com/ckC4zq8J8Q
— Vandana Luthra (@Vandanaluthra) September 22, 2021
Woman with a vision
Fast forward to 2021 and the numbers speak for themselves. The VLCC health care operates in 326 locations in 153 cities and 13 countries in South Asia, South East Asia, the GCC region and east Africa; the company manufactures and markets 170 hair care, skin care and body care products along with functional and fortified foods, which are sold through one lakh outlets in India and over 10,000 outlets across various countries and e-commerce channels.
Today, her chain of transformation centers VLCC is a brand to reckon with. Vandana’s work also earned her the Padma Shri in 2013, the Enterprise Asia Women Entrepreneur of the Year Award in 2010, and the Asian Business Leaders Forum Trailblazer Award in 2012. She was also ranked 26th in the Forbes Asia list of 50 Power Businesswomen in the APAC Region and was featured in Fortune’s 50 Most Powerful Women in Business in India list for five straight years.
Long road ahead
But she is not done yet. “By nature, I am a restless person. Though I certainly take great pride in what the VLCC family has achieved, we have much more to accomplish,” says Vandana during an exclusive chat with Global Indian. She says that the incidence of obesity continues to rise alarmingly and its related issues are a huge public health challenge. “The COVID-19 crisis has heightened awareness about proactive and preventive healthcare across age groups and that has made a leading Wellness & Beauty services and products player like VLCC even more relevant today. We have a significant role to play in this area,” she says.
Vandana says she realized quite early in her entrepreneurial career that there were certain stereotypes that needed to be challenged. “Nutrition is the key aspect of providing wellness, weight management, skin and hair treatments for a 360-degree transformation. Though there were women out there who had very impressive qualifications in dietetics, very few had taken up that academic qualification to make a career in the nutrition domain,” she says. Most women would only opt for these courses to attract good matrimonial prospects.
The Delhi girl with a mission
Born in New Delhi in July 1959, Vandana’s father Ram Arora was a mechanical engineer, while her mother Kamini an Ayurvedic doctor. Vandana did her schooling from Mater Dei School before graduating from Lady Shriram College in 1979. She then chose to move to Karlsruhe in Germany for her higher studies in cosmetology and nutrition.
Ask her what she makes of her journey when she looks back, and she says, “Over the years, I have become far more aware about issues than I otherwise would have had I been focusing only on the transactional aspects of creating and nurturing successful businesses,” says the 61-year-old.
Recalling her own experiences, the entrepreneur says that one of the first issues that a woman grapples with when embarking on a professional journey is self-doubt with respect to work-life balance. “This issue may be less acute today when compared to two-three decades ago but women continue to struggle with it. If one takes a look at the traditional, stereotypical role of women as homemakers, they will realize that women are inherently good managers, balancing work and home. So, one need not obsess too much about balancing different priorities, it comes naturally to women,” says Vandana, herself a mother of two.
“Our 3,000-odd colleagues across 12 countries are the torchbearers of VLCC’s success,” smiles Vandana. She credits her husband Mukesh and their two daughters who helped her ride the tide throughout her entrepreneurial journey. “Then came along my VLCC family which has grown over the years and has always been my strength,” smiles Vandana, who was appointed the first chairperson of the Beauty and Wellness sector skill council, an initiative that provides training under the Pradhan Mantri Kaushal Vikas Yojana scheme, in 2014.
While her work keeps Vandana busy, it is the Amar Jyoti Charitable Trust, of which she is the patron, that is close to her heart. Founded by her mother, the trust pioneered the concept of educating children with and without disability in equal numbers from nursery to class eight; it has over 800 children in its two schools. Vandana is also the vice chairperson of the NGO Khushii which has projects like telemedicine centers and a remedial school catering to 3,000 children.
On Brand India, Vandana explains how it has evolved over the years to become a multi-faceted icon. “Today, brand India stands tall among the community of nations for its reputation as a unique tourist destination, splendid in its diversity, for its status as a growing economic powerhouse, for its attractiveness as a large and lucrative market of over 1.3 billion consumers, for the respect it commands as a talent nurturing pool for outstanding leaders in the global corporate world. The list is long,” says Vandana, who has authored two books on wellness and fitness.