Failures are Stepping Stones; Learn & Evolve from them: Sarika Mahashabde

Sarika Mahashabde 1
Sarika Mahashabde 1

An unquenchable thirst for knowledge has pushed Sarika Mahashabde to always pursue learning to be able to upgrade herself and deliver her best. A born Entrepreneur, the Managing Director of APT Pneumatics Private Limited, Sarika feels women should be ready to explore and experiment with careers in newer sectors, including manufacturing.

Throughout her journey, Sarika Mahashabde, a Chemical Engineer has always focused on educating and evolving herself. She feels that every person should do the same and if they come across an obstacle in their personal or professional journey, they should take it as a stepping stone for further growth. If this is the attitude, then the sky is the limit for that person. Destiny brought her to the Mahashabde family, and today she along with her husband is running the IEC Group of Companies. As the Managing Director of APT Pneumatics Private Limited, she is spearheading the transformation, inspiring her team members and associates to bring the best out of her.

Sarika Mahashabde with the leadership team of APT Pneumatics

In an exclusive interview with Machine Maker, the mother and the entrepreneur talks about her inspiring journey.

Taking the First Big Stride

Sarika had an affinity toward mathematics right from childhood and it played a key role in her choosing Engineering. She did a Bachelor’s from the Laxminarayan Institute of Technology, though at the time, she was unsure of what she would do. All she was certain about was, that she wanted to work and make a mark of her own. Eventually, after graduation, she joined NEERI (National Environmental Engineering Research Institute) as a project fellow, in the Department of Risk Analysis. Residing in Nagpur, she had to travel to Kochi, the business capital of Kerala, for her first project.

Late Shri Shankar Ji Mahashabde, whom Sarika admired as the true mentee

She was a little concerned if her parents would be open to her travelling and living alone, but to her pleasant surprise, her parents were very encouraging and told Sarika that she must do it. The support she received from them further boosted her self confidence. 

Finding the Mentor: Groomed by Shankar Ji Mahashabde

Later, when she got married, she found her mentor in her father-in-law Shri Shankar Ji Mahashabde, who was a man with a vision, and also the founder of IEC Air Tools Pvt Ltd, which is the parent company of APT Pneumatics. The company mainly focuses on Pneumatic grinders, Air drills, Sanders Chippers, and Needle Scalers. Shankar Ji wanted his daughter-in-law to be an integral part of the company and groomed her for the role. 

Shankar Ji hired a finance tutor for Sarika in the beginning. Now being the Director of the company, she realises the importance of that guidance and training. Looking back, she adds that even if she had not gotten involved in the family business, she would have eventually started entrepreneurship of her own.

The woman with an unquenchable thirst for knowledge

Like every other working woman, Sarika too went through phases, when she felt torn between her work and home but she used that to her advantage. When she took a sabbatical for a year, each time during the birth of her son and daughter, she took up yearlong computer courses. She says she was happy to be productive and imbibe a skill that could enhance her career.  Even during the lockdown of the Covid19 pandemic, she studied digital marketing. 

Sarika Mahasbhade with the backbone of APT Pneumatics

When her father in law started gradually retiring from the business a few years ago, Sarika realised her role would become more critical in the administration and management of the company. She decided to prepare herself better and did an ISB course in Management Development. 

She slowly took on responsibilities in her company starting with Finance, Digital Transformation, HR and Admin and finally Operations and Marketing. Today, she is the Managing Director of APT Pneumatics Pvt Ltd which is a part of the IEC Group of Companies, a leading manufacturer of industrial pneumatic tools. She and her husband Amarnath Mahashabde run the IEC group of companies together. 

Financial independence: A must for every Woman

During the management course which had a cohort of 30-woman entrepreneurs, Sarika was surprised to know that only three of them managed their own finances. The rest were happy to leave it to the male members of the family.  Sarika firmly feels that a woman, be it a working woman or a homemaker, should have a clear picture of her finances and should make her own decisions regarding the same. 

Today APT Pneumatics and IEC Air Tools are supportive of hiring female employees. But earlier, the company policy while advertising for recruitment was to mention that only male candidates should apply for certain categories. Sarika made a special effort to change this and make it more gender-neutral and give more emphasis on skill acquisition. 

APT Pneumatics now has women heading admin, human resources, commercial, and marketing. “The company is also actively looking to accommodate up to 30% of female staff in the next 5 years but the problem is that, even if the company wants to hire women on shop floors, no one is coming forward. Women should recognise that earlier there were no such opportunities for them and now that the mentality of the industry is changing and jobs are available, they should appreciate and avail of the same.  

Women have been mainly recruited in the design or accounts, or HR and Admin department. Still, there are challenges in hiring women employees in some of the critical positions. “Unfortunately, when it comes to meeting deadlines and putting in extra hours, many are not able to cope with the situation. We can't really blame the female employees, because sadly, not everyone comes from a supportive background and hence we need to cut them some slack. Such cases make us realise how important family support is for a working woman”, says Sarika.

Leading the Transformation from Front

“Earlier the available ERP systems were cost-prohibitive for the MSME sector. We had to design our own and implement the same. My knowledge in computer software and programming came in handy then and today, I feel really satisfied when I look back and see the productivity improvements which have taken place due to customized software development”, said Sarika Mahashabde.

Digital transformation in the company was not a choice but a given. Again, disruption because of Covid, made them look for opportunities to change and grow and reinvent themselves. “We set up a digital marketing division. Earlier, Social media marketing was primarily used only for retail and not in manufacturing but we had to rethink and reinvent it. It meant reskilling and updating our knowledge, right from the top management to the juniors. We arranged training programs and jumped onto the digital format for marketing, training and even for conferences and meetings”, added Mrs Mahashabde.

For a few years, Sarika and the team wanted to bring a culture change in the organization and they decided to bring about that, via Chanakya's Arthashastra. “It is about leadership development and management, using ancient Indian wisdom. Culture change has to happen organically and I am happy that we have started the process. Chanakya talks about a collective existence. Our company withstood the disruption caused by Covid19, entirely due to team effort and support by all the stakeholders. Not a single employee lost their job and that personally makes me really proud and satisfied” says the proud leader.

Dividing & Conquer: Family Support

Whenever Sarika talks about her family, it is evident how grateful she is to have them in her life. Her husband Amarnath Mahashabde is the founder of APT Pneumatics and also the Chairperson of the group. They have a great rapport in their personal and professional life and together they run the IEC group of companies extremely successfully. They literally divide and conquer! 

When it comes to a personal emergency, one of them is always available to be with the family. It is of utmost importance to Sarika and Amarnath that at least one of them is there with their children when needed. Her son, Ishaan is the third generation of APT Pneumatics and has also stepped in. Her daughter, Urvashi is currently pursuing her passion in music, and being the supportive mother Sarika is, she is all praises for her daughter. Being from the family business manufacturing background, Sarika adds that she was once questioned about not persuading her daughter to pursue engineering, to which she calmly replied that “Every individual is different and has different passions. In the case of my daughter, she is doing exactly what she loves to do and at the end of the day that is what matters the most.”

Giving back to the society

As much as she is grateful for how her life has turned out, Sarika is making sure that she can change the lives of those around her for good. She has been volunteering as a mentor with Katalyst India for the past three years. Katalyst India is an award-winning NGO that stands for the economic empowerment of women. The initiative prepares young underprivileged women for leadership roles, thereby creating a wider talent pool for India Inc and helping bridge the gender divide. She is also a part of the Executive committee of her college alumni LITAA (Laxminarayan Institute of Technology Alumni Association) in Nagpur.

Sarika Mahashabde wants to tell all young women out there to not let failures affect them. “Consider them as your stepping stones, learn from them, and evolve. That is the only way towards success whether it is in your life or career,” she concludes.


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