Business woman of the month – Ritu Kohli-Sethi

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Canadian SME Magazine

Ritu Kohli-Sethi’s career began during the second year of her university education, as a commercial broker in the property and casualty industry in the late 1990s. After 17 years later she left her role as a Business Development Strategist at Unica Insurance to further pursue her education at the Ivey School of Business and join the family business. 

Ritu Kohli-Sethi oversees operations at the Greater Toronto Executive Centre (GTEC), a provider of fully furnished offices, meeting rooms and virtual services. Ritu manages the day-to-day operations of both locations. Her extensive experience includes client relations, staff management, development as well as the implementation of procedures and processes to ensure both locations run with consistent practice and level of service. 

In addition, Ritu is also the co-founder of a South Asian inspired e-commerce platform, MKYK.ca (www.mkyk.ca). A platform created so that everyday consumers can directly list, buy and sell their South Asian inspired, new or once worn attire, costume jewelry, accessories, etc. 

Ritu holds an undergraduate degree from York University in addition to her Executive MBA from the Ivey School of Business (2015). In additional Ritu has received several certifications in various areas of further education is a firm believer in continuing education for both professional and personal development. 

While her career and professional endeavours are important, Ritu holds most sacred her personal priorities which include a loving family and continued development. She is married and a mother to two young daughters. Ritu and her husband strive to support one another in individual goals, mentor their daughters both academically and in their personal growth, and maintain a balanced environment between family and friends. Ritu is also very actively involved within the community in both social and charitable causes. 

Ritu’s hobbies include travelling, spending time with family and friends, golf and landscape photography. Recently Ritu took her passion for photography one step further and created her own social media page on Instagram and Facebook (@ritukspics) to share her vision. 

 

After 17 years in the Insurance Industry and 7 years as a Business Development Strategist at Unica Insurance, you made the decision to leave and pursue your studies and eventually join your family business. What made you decide to make such a big decision in your career?

I began with Unica in Business Development and as the organization began to grow and transform, I had a fantastic opportunity to work closely with the leadership team in implementing various strategic based projects. During my seven years with the organization, I was fortunate to learn so many aspects of the business and grow both professionally and personally. 

I realized that I was ready for the next stage and pursue higher, more strategic learning. As a result, I decided to leave the organization and pursue my EMBA through Ivey School of Business. 

With the support of my husband, family and the team at Unica, it was a decision I am so glad I made. 


Can you tell us about your role at the Greater Toronto Executive Centre (GTEC)?

This is our family business which my brother, Sam Kohli, founded with our flagship location over 10 years ago.  During my EMBA, I joined GTEC, taking over operations, including staff and client management.  

Since then we have expanded into new business lines such as property management. We also launched a second location a few years ago.  Business centres are strong contenders in workspace considerations as they offer many benefits, especially to startups, small business and subsidiaries of global companies. Therefore, an important element of my role is to ensure our brand, team, and processes consistently serve our clients and meet our strategic goals. 


Part of your responsibilities at the GTEC is to implement procedures and processes to help in the successful management of both locations. What are some of the procedures and processes you have implemented and how have they helped in the daily activities of the centers?

I believe the most important and significant transition I made was slowly shifting workflow to a very streamlined and consistent process.   By this I mean, all aspects of our business processes and procedures are structured to reflect our core strategy.  

This includes a consistent format to train all new staff, handling clients as well as daily functions. For example, when to escalate a situation, procedures for termination of a lease, standardized pricing and discounting practices etc.

We implemented all our changes in phases and of course, like any transformation, resistance does occur. However, a standardized and consistent practice makes our organization transparent and most importantly our clients respect and understand how we do business.  We have long-term clients who have continued to grow with us and appreciated our journey and this reflects in our retention rates which surpass the industry.

Furthermore, in our small business world, all the changes made increased the flexibility for our staff to work out of different locations when necessary with the autonomy to make decisions and manage clients with ease.  


What would you say is the most challenging part of your role?

Challenging moments are always constant in operations, but the key is how we respond to them. Although manageable, the impact of these decisions can have a larger impact if not handled in a precise manner. 

Standardizing operations and ensuring all process and protocol set are adhered to, as part of best practices, are extremely important in a service-oriented business. 

Like any growing organization, there are always growing pains; however, making sure that we continue to offer consistent and stable service to our clients, remains our goal. 


You are also the co-founder of MKYK.ca, a South Asian e-commerce platform. What was the inspiration behind the founding of the company?

My co-founder, Jasveen Rattan and I have been friends for over a decade and during one of our dinner dates, the conversation began on how our closets are overflowing with items once worn, which we accumulate from family events and never wear again.   

The cost of each piece is often over $200 and depending on the event; we can even spend up to $1,500 to $2,000 on these beautiful pieces. Donating or giving them away wasn’t always an option we want to consider. 

During the time our discussions began, there weren’t many options to donate South Asian clothing anyway, let alone expensive party or wedding wear. Furthermore, donated items often end up in landfills and continue to become a burden to our planet, if not repurposed.

The concept of MKYK.ca, a South Asian inspired buy and sell platform for everyday consumers began to form. Not only does it allow one to buy or sell their way into savings but also encourages upcycling, repurposing fashion within the South Asian community.  


Can you tell us about the marketing strategies you used that contributed towards the growth and success of your e-commerce?

As we are still in the early stages of this niche area. Brand building and educating our users, as well as the community, in general, has been our focus.  

Online sales and once worn clothing are two areas which many folks are weary of, but if you think about it, wearing hand-me-downs and bartering is something we have done for generations, but it’s a covert practice. 

Therefore, part of our strategy is creating acceptance around the idea of buying or selling once worn or new items which come from closets through marketing videos, interviews, community presence as well as talking to our clients through social media. 

Each marketing initiative has a very important goal for us and learning from why some initiatives are more successful than others is always key for us. 


You’re a strong believer of continued education to help in the development of personal and professional growth. Can you further explain your thoughts on that?

Whether through a structured program, seminar session or something more informal, I am a firm believer in continued education, especially as a business owner. We often become so consumed with our day-to-day that we could miss newer practices or innovations in our field. It is very important to stay on top of current trends. While reading is important, so is a regular dialogue with fellow industry members or educators. 

The world around us is constantly changing, in fact, I often tell my daughters that the one guarantee I can give them is that things will change.  With new technology, ideas, innovation nothing will stay the same.  So we, as individuals should always be open to the idea of continued learning and being agile. 


What are some of the professional achievements, which you are most proud of?

I am still on my path to fulfilling my many goals. I have gained so much from my triumphs and learned a lot from my missed opportunities as well. 

I am so proud of the contributions I have made to GTEC by starting with a single business centre and helping to quadruple our business with the addition of a second location and adding property management and other unique concepts in a streamlined way.  I am proud of MKYK.ca.  Although we are in the early stages of the business, from idea to ongoing implementation is truly a fantastic journey for me personally.  

Academically, getting my EMBA degree is a great achievement. I learned so much during the 18 months of school, both personally and professionally and met some wonderful fellow students and faculty members. Even though it came with its share of challenges. It was definitely the right decision for me during that phase of my career.  I gained a lot more clarity and made me stronger and more confident as a person who has directly impacted the success of the organization(s) I help lead currently.


On a personal note, you have quite a passion when it comes to photography and has even created a social platform to share your art with the world. What is it about the photography world that has you so passionate?

I have always loved capturing moments that tell a story or fit well with a quote. With friends, I usually am the one taking candid shots when no one is paying attention and those are the most beautiful images captured. Recently, my love for nature and capturing the everyday, ordinary moments around us just became a form of therapy for me. It’s my element, it helps me relax and just step away from me every day. It’s a new world, new learning curve and part of my personal growth. 

 

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