5 Min ReadPeople 13 March 2020
When you grow up and live your life surrounded by remarkable women, you develop a special strength that can only come from being around these unique forces of nature
I would certainly not be where I am in my life without the various women who have shaped and molded me in so many different ways. They have influenced me consciously and subconsciously, intrinsically and cosmetically; they have shaped my inner-self and how I am viewed by the world.
Many of us are fortunate to have not just one, but several such women in our lives throughout the various milestones we experience, and I am blessed that I have had so many of them in my life.
There is a certain special type of strength that comes from being around women who are strong, yet gentle, and in many ways haughty but humble. I have learnt the art of being like water, to shape and adapt myself to meet life's many challenges only because of the feminine presence in my life. They always leave you with an impact one way or another.
While there have been countless women who have taught me things both big and small throughout my life, here are the five that I consider my strongest influences.
Paatti — My Grandmother
My clearest memory of my paternal grandmother, who I fondly called Paatti (Grandma), is that she was a constant ball of energy.
She raised nine birth children and adopted two more. And she even took in a maid or two who she raised as her own children. Including my grandfather, there were 13 people in the house at any given time. This obviously kept her on her toes at all times, and yet I never saw her frazzled. She was always warm, loving, and full of kindness to all that she met.
Paatti was a diminutive little woman but fiery when crossed. She managed to feed everyone and raise an incredible number of children on the single paycheck that my grandfather brought home. She was the true representation of the iron hand in a velvet glove and very clearly wielded the power in that household.
And she wasn't just the Queen of her household, she was also quite a well-respected personality within the community. People came to her with their troubles all the time. Whether it was a family dispute or problem in a marriage, they came to her for advice.
Paatti taught me the importance of making decisions, to never leave anything hanging in the air. To be definitive, to be clear and concise, and above all, to do it with a warm smile. Even today, in my mind's eye, I can see her with that enigmatic smile as she goes bustling about in the house.
Amma — My Mother
Amma is an incredible woman who taught me the true meaning of independence. In the 1960s, when women still largely played traditional roles and were homebound, especially in Malaysia where she grew up, she was already driving a car, working, and running the household all by herself since my father had to go abroad to study for an extended period of time.
As a working mother raising two kids by herself, she was always strong, independent, and resourceful. She gave me the confidence and ability to believe in myself regardless of whatever challenges I faced. She also taught me my culture, traditions, and to a great extent spirituality. She gave me an unshakeable belief in the Lord which sustained me through so many trials and travails. She remains the bedrock of my rational thought and behavior and is an intrinsic part of who I am today.
Mrs. Sena — My Teacher
Mrs. Padmavathy Senathirajah was my teacher in primary school and remained a teacher to me throughout my life — even today after she has passed on. She faced challenges undaunted, unbowed, and unabashed, and she took it all in her stride while juggling work and raising 3 young children on her own, at a very young age.
She taught me the meaning of resilience, and that responsibility comes with power and authority. I was a prefect and monitor in school, and she taught me how important it was to take my duties seriously.
She was a rigid counselor, teaching me to be so to others. I've never seen her without a smile and a kindly glint in her eye. She was full of compassion and her love sustains me till today.
Velma Jean — My Boss
Velma Jean Caulder was my first employer after I graduated college. She was a relentless boss, and a hard worker who taught me diligence and perseverance. She was a stickler for principles who did everything on time and in time. She taught me about the principles of planning, preparation, and projection. She taught me to research and analyze. Her greatest strength was that she did all of this in a cool, calm, and efficient manner. I learnt that from her and it has become a part of my personality today. Thank you, Velma Jean for that important lesson.
Umayal — My Wife, My Partner, My Soulmate
Umayal is a remarkable woman whose quiet strength has been unwavering over the years. She has been the balustrade I lean upon. She is my hook, my rope, and my ladder. She taught me not to give up on myself and my dreams. She put my dreams, passions, and vision ahead of her own. It took me years to be able to repay her in kind.
She put aside her passion for classical dance and put on hold her dreams of teaching dance while we focused on building our future together. It filled my heart with joy that I was able to sit in the audience years later and watch her perform on stage for a dream that she has always been so passionate about.
She is still, today, the one who prods and pulls and pushes me along to be the person that I need to be on a daily basis. She is my friend and guide, guardian, and sometimes somewhat like a Goddess!
From Paatti who taught me gentility, to Umayal, my life partner who taught me grace, to all the remarkable women who raised me and raised within me an innate strength to learn, to bend and bow, to learn to break and yet be unbroken; the strength of a woman is interwoven in me.
With you all in my life, every day is International Women's Day!
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3 Min Read
"How did you ever get into a business like that?" people ask me. They're confounded to hear that my product is industrial baler wire—a very unfeminine pursuit, especially in 1975 when I founded my company in the midst of a machismo man's world. It's a long story, but I'll try to shorten it.
I'd never been interested to enter the "man's" world of business, but when I discovered a lucrative opportunity to become my own boss, I couldn't pass it up—even if it involved a non-glamorous product. I'd been fired from my previous job working to become a ladies' clothing buyer and was told at my dismissal, "You just aren't management or corporate material." My primary goal then was to find a career in which nobody had the power to fire me and that provided a comfortable living for my two little girls and myself.
Over the years, I've learned quite a few tough lessons about how to successfully run a business. Below are five essential elements to keep in mind, as well as my story on how I learned them.
Find A Need And Fill It
I gradually became successful at selling various products, which unfortunately weren't profitable enough to get me off the ground, so I asked people what they needed that they couldn't seem to get. One man said, "Honey, I need baler wire. Even the farmers can't get it." I saw happy dollar signs as he talked on and dedicated myself to figuring out the baler wire industry.
I'd never been interested to enter the "man's" world of business, but when I discovered a lucrative opportunity to become my own boss, I couldn't pass it up.
Now forty-five years later, I'm proud to be the founder of Vulcan Wire, Inc., an industrial baler wire company with $10 million of annual sales.
Have Working Capital And Credit
There were many pitfalls along the way to my eventual success. My daughters and I were subsisting from my unemployment checks, erratic alimony and child-support payments, and food stamps. I had no money stashed up to start up a business.
I paid for the first wire with a check for which I had no funds, an illegal act, but I thought it wouldn't matter as long as I made a deposit to cover the deficit before the bank received the check. My expectation was that I'd receive payment immediately upon delivery, for which I used a rented truck.
Little did I know that this Fortune 500 company's modus operandi was to pay all bills thirty or more days after receipts. My customer initially refused to pay on the spot. I told him I would consequently have to return the wire, so he reluctantly decided to call corporate headquarters for this unusual request.
My stomach was in knots the whole time he was gone, because he said it was iffy that corporate would come through. Fifty minutes later, however, he emerged with a check in hand, resentful of the time away from his busy schedule. Stressed, he told me to never again expect another C.O.D. and that any future sale must be on credit. Luckily, I made it to the bank with a few minutes to spare.
Know Your Product Thoroughly
I received a disheartening phone call shortly thereafter: my wire was breaking. This horrible news fueled the fire of my fears. Would I have to reimburse my customer? Would my vendor refuse to reimburse me?
My customer told me to come over and take samples of his good wire to see if I might duplicate it. I did that and educated myself on the necessary qualities.
My primary goal then was to find a career in which nobody had the power to fire me and that provided a comfortable living for my two little girls and myself.
Voila! I found another wire supplier that had the right specifications. By then, I was savvy enough to act as though they would naturally give me thirty-day terms. They did!
More good news: My customer merely threw away all the bad wire I'd sold him, and the new wire worked perfectly; he then gave me leads and a good endorsement. I rapidly gained more wire customers.
Anticipate The Dangers Of Exponential Growth
I had made a depressing discovery. My working capital was inadequate. After I purchased the wire, I had to wait ten to thirty days for a fabricator to get it reconfigured, which became a looming problem. It meant that to maintain a good credit standing, I had to pay for the wire ten to thirty days before my customers paid me.
I was successful on paper but was incredibly cash deprived. In other words, my exponentially growing business was about to implode due to too many sales. Eventually, my increasing sales grew at a slower rate, solving my cash flow problem.
Delegate From The Bottom Up
I learned how to delegate and eventually delegated myself out of the top jobs of CEO, President, CFO, and Vice President of Finance. Now, at seventy-eight years old, I've sold all but a third of Vulcan's stock and am semi-retired with my only job currently serving as Vice President of Stock and Consultant.
In the interim, I survived many obstacles and learned many other lessons, but hopefully these five will get you started and help prevent some of you from having the same struggles that I did. And in the end, I figured it all out, just like you will.