Leading Her Way to Success - Usharani Manne

Usharani Manne is the 20th Chairperson of FICCI FLO Hyderabad Chapter, Founder and Director of Polmon Group of Companies, and a passionate collector of handlooms. A strong force of inspiration to all, she is the recipient of ‘Outstanding Woman Entrepreneur of the Year Award 2006-07’ from FAPCCI and the ‘First Best Small Scale Industry Entrepreneur’ from Govt. of Andhra Pradesh. She has also received the ‘Vanitha Ratna Award’ from Indywood Billionaires Club (2019), ‘Woman Achiever Award 2020’ from the Govt. of Telangana and the ‘2020 IWEC Universal Award for Entrepreneurship’.

What drives her? Passion, curiosity and a fierce sense of independence, she says. Usharani believes that the key to success is in planning. “I plan on a daily basis. It’s my secret pride that I know what I want to accomplish in any given day and only then do I end my day. This way, I manage to achieve my work-life balance.” Besides work, practicing Ikebana and spending time with family are what she finds joy in.

In conversation with You & I Usharani speaks about her experience heading FICCI FLO Hyderabad Chapter, her vision, and a lot more.

It has been a year since your appointment as the Chairperson of FICCI Ladies Organisation (FLO) Hyderabad chapter; how has the journey been?
Heading FLO Hyderabad, especially during the pandemic, was a life-changing experience. A lot of planning and preparation goes into making a year worthwhile for the members, for the organisation and society at large. Our blueprint was as ready as it could be by May 2020, when we – my Executive Committee and I – were sworn in. As I like to say, our Plan A, and for good measure, Plan B too was ready, but the Universe had Plan C – COVID on its mind. So we had to reinvent the wheel to a large extent. But technology came to the rescue and some speakers and trainers who had otherwise cited lack of dates came on board.

After 10 and a half months, we have hosted 38 virtual events and 5 physical events with 70 speakers from various walks of life, and fulfilled our incubation, mentorship, village adoption, health and social outreach objectives as and beyond planned.

In the process, we proved to ourselves that adversities do indeed bring out the best in us, and that challenge is only as insurmountable as we imagine it to be. Perseverance and planning can help us scale any peak with confidence!

Tell us about your experience of heading the organisation and your vision while doing so.
FICCI FLO’s mission statement reads – The Power to Empower. It is a collective guiding principle that binds, motivates and moves about 8,000 members of 17 chapters across India. It is within this umbrella that each Chairperson formulates her programs and outreach measures for the year. I chose to deliver to our members the facility and confidence to ‘Live Empowered’ through a three-pronged approach.

Engage - To keep learning, seeking out the new instead of feeling challenged by it, fighting the status quo to master new talents. We brought to our members the benefit of learning from masters in various fields in what we called, the Power Hours.

Enrich - We brought to our members the opportunity of experiential learning in our Knowledge Labs with professionals, focusing on nurturing growth by following a more aware lifestyle that aligns mind, body and spirit.

Enable - Convinced with the power of sustainable livelihood generation, we focused on upskilling and training women across the whole spectrum – our own members, blue collar urban workforce and grassroots farmers.

We tied up with knowledge organisations including WE Hub, CIE@IIIT Hyderabad, IIT Hyderabad and IIMR at the Chapter level and with Virginia Tech at the National level, to facilitate incubation and mentorship for our members. They attended our boot camps and micro-accelerator programs and got the opportunity to pitch their business plan to VCs.

We also tied-up with McLean Skill Academy to train young boys and girls in vocational skills and achieved 100% placement for 55 students in leading companies such as Jio, Cyient, Pioneer, ACT and others. Another 50 girls are currently undergoing training. With Sleepwell Foundation, we trained 225 young women on ‘How to Start your Own Business.’

In skilling for grassroots women, we organised free training sessions in vermicompost and manufacturing of natural pesticides for 110 women farmers in collaboration with Khadi Grameena Mahavidyalaya.

We brought together the last 16 practitioners of the Cheriyal Craft unique to Telangana, and created a brand – Tirumani – for them. We helped them transition to a more lifestyle-oriented product range in keeping with the requirements of the market, and also created forward and backward linkages which resulted in smarter and more economical procurement of raw materials for them. We developed professional branding and marketing collateral and facilitated both online and physical presence for them.

The fruits of all these endeavours will be felt for a long time by the beneficiaries. In all, it has been a very satisfying experience for my committee and me.

The pandemic led to a virtual shift; how did you plan events and meetings during this time? What were the challenges that came across and what was it about the virtual shift that proved to be beneficial?
At FLO, we are adept at putting together flawless physical events, but 2020-21 demanded an instant shift to virtual ones in order to keep in touch with our members. Engaging them is a very important part of our mandate.

As part of our strategy to adapt and keep it ‘work as usual,’ we formed a new IT Team that helped us transition smoothly to a digital life. For the first couple of events, we did dry runs to make sure we were all aware of our roles both on-screen and behind it. Even the speakers obliged to be part of the dry runs, which was heartening to see.

One good thing that happened was that online gave us greater access to speakers and trainers who had otherwise cited a busy schedule to attend physical events. Also, our events see a physical attendance of about 100 – 120 members on an average. By going online, we were able to garner viewership from across the world. Having said that, the charm of physical events cannot be ignored. Our magnum opus event of the year, FIWA  - FICCI FLO Influential Women Awards – which we hosted on the eve of International Women’s Day at Chowmahalla Palace, Hyderabad, saw an attendance of over 500 people. The high that gives is irreplaceable!

Tell us about Polmon Instruments Pvt. Ltd and what led you to start it.
I am an Electronics Engineer with an Executive MBA degree from UK. I started my professional career with Greaves Semiconductors Ltd., Hyderabad, and served the organisation for seven years. The stint made me realise that entrepreneurship was my real calling and I went on to establish Polmon Instruments Ltd., a company specialising in Measuring & Control Instrumentation and Automation solutions for the Life Sciences industry.

My husband, Anand Manne, joined me two years later. Today, Polmon is a strapping 28 year-old company of 400 employees with a brilliant track record of innovation across our 1500 unique products. I hold the key portfolios of Finance, HR and Administration, through which I define systems and policies, facilitate industry-academia linkages, look after staff welfare, devise culture-building activities, design and achieve CSR goals and ensure the operational readiness of our 150,000 sft. infrastructure facilities.

You’re one of the names that come to mind when we speak of woman power. How does it feel and what responsibilities does it come with?
To me ‘power’ is as good as how we use it. I feel all of us have the power to make a positive difference. Be it through my work at Polmon or in the 13 years as a member of FICCI FLO, I have focused on working towards developing more confident female leaders. I am glad that I have been able to provide exposure and mentorship for women to develop them into socially conscious global citizens, identified and improved their ability to be a catalyst for community development, and influenced the direction of social change.                 – as told to Srivalli

Also Read  - FICCI Ladies Organization Leadership in Pandemic