Meet SelfAchiever Leela Bordia, Founder of Neerja International and a pioneer in Blue Pottery
I met Leela Bordia when I was in college. I was mesmerised by her story and what she had created with her company Neerja and how many artisans had she uplifted with her work and projects. A true Taurean, she is focused and dedicated to her passion. Born in India and a mother to Aparna & Apurv, she is a true supermompreneur.
Tell us a bit about yourself and about your current profession. What were you doing before you started out on your own?
I have been in this industry for the past 32 years. My intention has always been to help craftsmen in building their livelihoods. I wanted to do social service but you can put it like this that I didn’t want to raise funds and give it to the less privileged instead I wanted to establish a sense of responsibility in them which would help them work harder towards achieving their goals.
My first duty has always been my house. Before I established my own company, I used to teach at a school. Psychology being one of my subjects.
When did you start your company? Where? And what motivated you to start it? What was your initial investment?
The company was incepted in 1978 in Jaipur. As a child I had seen my mother do social work with Mother Teresa, going to places, and from small things like bathing children to bigger things like taking action and speaking against the purdah system. A child is always influenced by his/ her mother and she is our role model not just in one phase but throughout life. Similarly, I wanted to help people in my own way. Times had changed since I was a child and when I got married. People expected more and never seemed happy or satisfied with what was given to them. This made me change my mind about how to help people. It was better to create jobs for them rather than dole out cash. I used to visit the slum areas then and found this craft which was almost dying, unnoticed. I decided to help craftsmen revive their craft.My initial investment was Rs.500.
What have been your achievements, accolades and upturns in your career?
Apart from the awards at various levels: State, National and International, I would say that my major achievement has been that I have been able to sustain my craftsmen’s vision and have considered them like a family.
I always wanted the craftsmen to have two incomes. If they would stay at their village, they could do farming as well as make Blue Pottery. I was successful in convincing them to not to move to the city- as was the fashion at that time. And now all these craftsmen have their own pukka houses and the villages have all the basic amenities like a school and hospital.
My children have also joined me in the business which is a matter of pride for me.
Any downturns, Unusual circumstances, hardships, you have had to face in your profession/business?
When I first started working, I had to face “No”s as many craftsmen were working with me for the first time and did not know what was coming their way or what to accept. Change is always met with resistance; it is human to resist change so when I told them to make something apart from plates and vases, the answer would be no. Similarly, when I asked them to change the design – again a no. It took them a while to trust an outsider but eventually they did.
Like every business, even mine saw its ups and downs but thankfully we are all working together like a happy family.
How do you balance your personal and professional life? How many kids do you have? What are your usual activities with them?
For me my family comes first. I always have given them priority. If a house runs well everything else goes on smoothly. I have two children. My daughter works with me and my son also has his own software company. My daughter-in law has also joined me. We spend time together at home, especially on Sundays.
How do you spend your “Alone” time. Any hobbies, activities, groups you are associated with.
I like gardening and reading. I usually spend time nurturing the plants and organizing my garden every morning. My everyday routine is to take a round of my entire house from top to bottom, as I like my house to be neat and tidy at all times. I enjoy music and dance as I have learnt classical forms of both.
Were you working before having children? Have things changed in the way you work today after having children?
I used to work before I was married and then I started work again after having children. My working hours grew eventually. I used to work for an hour first and then two and so on. My priority as I have mentioned has been my family. As my children became more independant, my involvement with my work grew.
Of course, after they have joined me a lot has changed. We all work in our own comfortable way and accept the other person’s way of working with ease. Neither do I tell them to use my way of work nor do they. I think this liberal way helps us understand each other better.
Do you receive understanding from your family as a business woman? If not, how did tackle such situations.
Since I was in a joint family when I got married, it was not so easy. But my mother-in-law encouraged me to get into work other than household. She understood why I should work and supported the reason behind my wanting to do something. Household work was routine but at that time this sort of an initiation was very rare. My husband always stood by me and supported me in every way to encourage me to achieve my goals. I am a very proud wife, who can forcefully say that my husband believed in me and my cause.
What would you recommend to other mothers who want to venture out on their own?
I would say that if you make a happy family, then your aura changes the environment any and everywhere you go. Your vision should be to encourage your children to do what their interest is and build that closeness with them that they respect you from within. One should be able to accept the other person for what they are. This goes for the children as well as parents.
What do you have in the pipeline for your company's future development?
As my workforce has got stronger with all my three children, I have now become a “backbone” in the literal sense. They are my eyes and hands. Since they are from the 21st century, they plan and execute at jet speed.
Is there any person who has mentored you? Supported you?
I have a lot of respect for my mentors as they have given me a vision much larger than I had ever envisioned. I knew I wanted to do something worthwhile but it is John and Faith, from Anokhi, who made me dream. I put my thoughts into action and I have been successful in inner contentment.
What/Who has been your inspiration?
My mother has been my inspiration from the beginning. She has given me basic values which are a strong part of me. She was from a small town but her vision was larger than life.
Did you always know that you would be doing what you are doing today?
I had not ever imagined that I would be ever at this level. Academically I wasn’t very strong. In those times the way of judging someone would be with grades and all my cousins were good at studies. So I was always compared and always had the lowest scores.
When I got married my mother-in-law thought that I have that extra edge required to do something extraordinary. And thanks to the Almighty that I didn’t let her down.
What’s the secret to your being a SuperMomPreneur? And what’s the best compliment you have received about your career or being a self-professional.
Both my mother and my mother-in-law have played role models for me. Encouraging and understanding your child is very important. Now if I talk about the craftsmen as my children, it goes for them also. I had to encourage them at every step and their faith in me made me stronger. The same thing goes for my children. I have never forced myself on them and at the same time we respect each other’s decisions.
I have always loved to work with my craftsmen and the biggest achievement for me is when we design something and it becomes highly in demand. The best compliment for me over the past years has become that I have become synonymous to Blue Pottery. Whenever this word is said, people say “Oh! Let’s go to Mrs. Leela Bordia at Neerja International!”