An Entrepreneur for the Underrepresented

A personal tragedy forced Bangladesh-based Sohani Hossain(53) to venture into business. Though initially perturbed, she resolved to not give up and learn on the go

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A personal tragedy forced Bangladesh-based Sohani Hossain(53) to venture into business. Though initially perturbed, she resolved to not give up and learn on the go. Now, her business clocks a turnover of BDT 400-600 crore.

Tell us about your background and how did you get into the business?

In my teens, I used to take a lot of interest in politics. In fact, my college life to the major extent comprised of my active participation in politics. Post completing the college, I got married to a businessman. In 2007, unfortunately, my husband died and I had to take over the business.

How difficult was it to run the business alone?

The challenge seemed insurmountable. I had zero knowledge of managing the business. But, I did not have the option to give up as I had five daughters to take care of. Thus, with no one to rely on, I took over the control and decided to learn on the go.

Share with us your experience of running the business?

I derived my motivation from the women in Bangladesh who had been neglected and suppressed for long. Besides this, there was a lot of hard work of course. I had always been fascinated by corporates and wanted to learn from them. In those initial years, I, therefore, strived to regularly interact with them and draw learnings, which ultimately I incorporated into my husband's business.

What has been the impact of those learnings?

Oh! The business has achieved quantum jumps in both growth and diversification. While my husband ran movie theatres, I have successfully diversified into hospitality, pharma and food products' domain. In the near future, we will open hospitals to serve society. Our turnover stands at BDT(Bangladeshi Taka) 400-600 crore, and we employ around 10,000 employees.

What's the differentiating factor of your business?

We are a business with a social bent. The suppression of women in Bangladesh is widely known. I've brought neglected women and those addicted to drugs into the mainstream by employing them. Further, while society doesn't recognize the third gender, Universal group strives to enable them to lead a life with dignity by giving them jobs. These people are the jewels of Universal group.

What would be your advice to aspiring women entrepreneurs?

Don't be deterred by social norms and always strive to work hard. If I could start from such dire circumstances and reach this place, then, I believe that every woman can. If a woman aspires to start a business, I am happy to give them mentorship for free as well as assist them with funds.

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