“Champion of women”, “food guru” and “inspirational entrepreneur” are just some of the terms used to describe the successful Pinky Lilani. Founder and Chair of a number of awards recognizing influential women and leaders, such as the Asian Women of Achievement Awards and the Women of the Future Award, and patron of several charities, Pinky started her career as an Indian cookery specialist. Not only did she manage to successfully run a rich and diverse career, but she did so with a pinch of passion and a large dose of generosity.
WIL Europe had the chance of interviewing her and we hope this article will spice up your day!
You started your career as an Indian cookery specialist, which led you to become a prominent consultant for major food companies in Europe, and you published your first book in 2011 (“Spice Magic: An Indian Culinary Adventure”) . But already in 1999, you had founded your first Awards to celebrate women’s accomplishments: the Asian Women Achievement Awards. What made you realize the importance of promoting women’s achievements in our society?
There were a lot of stereotypes about Asian women: everybody thought that they just stayed at home and cooked for their husbands. On the contrary, all the women I met were very spirited and with a lot of energy and huge ambitions. I really thought that we needed to profile them and show to everybody that they were doing amazing things.
Thanks to your experience as a founder of various awards, you had the opportunity to see different promotions of talented women, with very diverse profiles and professional backgrounds. What makes a good role model according to you? Has it changed over the years?
I set up the Asian Women of Achievement Awards for Asian women, and then the Women of the Future Awards for women of all backgrounds (they just have to be under 35, since the program is targeting emerging leaders).
The role models in those two different categories were different but also had a lot of similarities. Role models must be very good at what they do, and be passionate, but they must also care about other people. People are looking for role models with integrity, who share their values and are authentic. They must also be actually shining in the area where they are working, but also breaking barriers and boundaries that other people thought unbreakable.
Did you have any role model?
To be honest, when I was young and was growing up in India, I didn’t think that I would ever work. Even though I finished my degree and my post graduate, I didn’t have huge ambitions to be a career woman. None of the women in our family worked. I thought that I would be like my mother who was a very hospitable person, had a lot of dinners and lunch parties and was involved in charity committees. My role models were people like my mother, homemakers.
What gave you the incentive to work? Why did you want to change this pattern in your family?
I love meeting people and through the work I was doing, I was meeting very interesting people. Then once I began working, new challenges came and triggered my curiosity. I was energized and I started looking at new areas where I would be able to make some kind of contribution. That’s how I really began working.
In the course of your career, you had the opportunity to embrace diverse sectors, from the business sector as a cookery specialist and owner of Spice Ltd to the creation of awards programs, not mentioning the charity sector. Why is it important for women to step out of their comfort zone and take up new challenges?
For me, that’s the only way to succeed in life and find it fulfilling. Life is about learning and adding value. If you never take risks, you will never experience new things and meet different people.
I met people from various sectors (business, social media, charity …) because I got involved in those different areas. By working with people, you learn about how to collaborate and you learn from them. The more diverse and different from you they are, the more you learn and the more you give. We all have certain qualities and by working with others, you learn about qualities you don’t have and you share your experiences and knowledge with others.
In 2007, you founded the Women of the Future Network, providing an opportunity for talented women to come together, share experiences and build business relationships. What would you say to women who find networking challenging, either by shyness and fear of seeking favor or because their agenda is already quite tight?
For people who are uncomfortable with networking, my advice is the following: don’t call it networking, just call it going out and meeting people! Networking is not at all about seeking favor and promoting oneself but about building relationships and reaching something better than what you can do on your own. I could not have succeeded without the help of others.
It is very important in terms of business and personal growth because the more different people you meet, the more you learn. Mark Granovetter, a famous professor at Stanford, CA, who wrote a paper named “The Strength of Weak Ties”(1973), once gave this advice: for everything in life, actually go your weak tie and not your strong tie, in order to learn and get new ideas.
According to you, being successful is all about “kindness and collaboration”, which you consider to be a “powerful tool”. How can it work in a society where competition and individualism have often become the rule?
According to me, it is absolutely a win-win: people never forget if you have been kind to them, even if they are very hard people. At the end of his life, the philosopher Aldous Huxley said that the key for being successful in life is “being more kind”. When you are kind to people, they want to repay you immediately and to help you. On the other hand, nobody wants to work with people who have values which they don’t share. If somebody is rude to you, you’d rather go to someone who is thinking about collaboration and working together. It works for me as a model so I am very confident about it.
So, all in all, what would be the three main ingredients in your recipe for success?
First of all, I think you have to be passionate about what you do and believe in it because if you don’t have passion you cannot succeed.
Collaboration is also very important: you need to have other people helping you, because in most cases success doesn’t come on its own.
The third element is luck: you can be very clever and have an amazing network, if you don’t have luck you will not succeed. But it is also about timing: you have to be able to seize opportunities when they arise.