Leadership Insight: 11 Questions With Lavina Valiram

As managing director of Anaika Collections S/B and creative director of FLOW, Lavina Valiram is a powerhouse of creativity. Valiram Group has created havens for shopping and dining throughout Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, Thailand, the Philippines, Australia and China. Valiram joined the Young Presidents’ Organization Malaysia Chapter in 2012 and is a member of the Women’s YPO Network. Below, she discusses lessons learned, some surprising goals for the future and why women make great leaders.

Describe the passion and inspiration behind The Valiram Group and how have you kept it so sustainable?
Valiram Group is a labor of love by the Valiram brothers and Chairman Jethanand Valiram. I have enjoyed every moment of being a part of it and I think what drives the company is the passion and vision of all those involved.

What is the most difficult leadership lesson you’ve learned?
From the very beginning I have led from the heart more than the head. This has paid off in the larger scheme but I have received my fair share of hard knocks. It took a while for me to learn the value of measured decision making and objective analysis of difficult situations. Needless to say, the solutions I come up with are now much more effective.

Why is it important for more women to be leaders?
Women and leadership go hand in hand. Even the women who are not in the working world – the homemakers so to speak – are phenomenal leaders. They play a pivotal role in leading their families and children. They are great managers. They have the hardest job in the world and when they choose to bring that talent into the business world, they are sharp and have a tough spirit while being gentle when called for.

What was your first job?
I grew up in Hong Kong and my passion was prose. I joined a local daily newspaper and started off as an editorial assistant. This streak was short lived as I learned that reporting and writing are two completely different things. I have dabbled in a number of ventures since and have also returned to my first love, writing.

What is one must-read book for business leaders?
Honestly, I find books exclusively on business a dreary read. I get my fix from financial publications in short doses. The book that did find its way to my read-more-than-once shelf was “7 Habits of Highly Effective People” by Stephen Covey.

Who is your business role model?
I have always been intrigued and impressed with a lunch delivery business started by Mahadeo Bachche in India in the late 1900s. He started with 100 men with the aim of delivering home cooked lunches to men in offices and workplaces. These 100 delivery boys would, for a small fee, collect lunch from men’s homes, cooked by their wives/helpers and deliver the dabba/box to their offices. These boys were often illiterate, their only means of transport was their bicycle and so this job was a great means to earn an income. The dabbawala union today delivers 200,000 lunch boxes daily, with less than one mistake every six million deliveries.

Do you have a hobby, talent or interest that might surprise people?
I am working on my first novel. It is a work of fiction and these days a very large amount of my time and energy is dedicated to this goal. Fingers crossed.

What is your favorite achievement?
Five years ago I decided to launch my own apparel brand, FLOW. I have watched it go through the trials and tribulations of being the new kid on the block. There were more challenges than stars in the sky and only recently have I started seeing it come together. We are all set to take it out of its home country, Malaysia and are looking at launching in neighboring Asian countries as early as 2016.

What is the best piece of leadership advice you have received?
People first, then profit.

How has being in YPO positively affected your business or leadership?
YPO has been instrumental in giving me a wider perspective and a vast bank of knowledge.

What are the Top 3 insights you’d like to share?
1. Never, ever make a decision in haste. Most often it’s the wrong one. Go with your gut but let it gestate for a while.
2. Never hesitate to eat cake – it is sure to make you happy. Work it off later, maybe.
3. Do something differently everyday. Take a different route to work, change the position of your chair, work standing up…do something, anything, to keep things exciting and new.



The author of this article is Deborah Stoll from Young Presidents’ Organization (YPO).

YPO (Young Presidents’ Organization) is a not-for-profit, global network of young chief executives connected through the shared mission of becoming Better Leaders Through Education and Idea Exchange™. For more information, visit www.ypo.org
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