The life-force behind Abans


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Aban Pestonjee–pursuing success, at any cost

by Zanita Careem
Aban Pestonjee personifies a woman’s resolve to succeed in a man’s world. She has vindicated the worn out cliche of women’s liberation movements the world over that the so-called weaker sex is second to none. From small beginnings, Aban Pestonjee has single-handedly countered the many challenges - wrought by shifts in the ever churning world market in her line of trade - and won through with a steadfast dedication to succeed.

To the stellar question "How she made it big?" This doughty woman replied with candour "Pursuing success, at any cost, is in my genes". That’s the secret of her success - the obsession to make things work out for herself no matter the cost.

The first impression one gets of Aban Pestonjee is that she has a tough exterior with an aura of earthly sophistication. The second impression is that of a cool relaxed woman, seemingly unaffected by the undoubted pressures of a large diversified business empire. But this apparent detachment is deceptive. The multiple phones on her desk ring constantly. Throughout the short interview even as she composedly answers every query, she was alert and taking in what was happening around office while her fingers keep picking up the phone, every two minutes.

The most obvious question, how did she start. She smiles "Well it all began with selling second hand electrical appliances.

"My husband had his own business, I had a young family that was growing up and I wanted to do something of my own," she recalls.

Aban Pestonjee landed with both feet into business. Initially the ground was shaky but today she heads as chairperson a large business empire, and she is the driving power behind the success story of Abans. A smart lady whose slight build belies her inner strength and determination.

Aban Pestonjee’s name is familiar to all housewives and women, young and old. Her name is a household name, and she heads the Abans Group which has many business interests among which are electrical appliances, cellular phones, cleaning services, advertising, exports and the agency for McDonalds in Sri Lanka.

"I started small, I had this burning desire to ensure that our housewives would have a better life in terms of kitchen aids. But at that time, imports were restricted and household items like electrical kettles, polishers were owned by a few. So I saw an opportunity in a tightly controlled economy if I could import the original labels, buy them second hand, recondition them and sell them, so began my business in 1965".

"Although there were no imports then we tried to give the customer good value for money on the purchase of any of our second hand items," she said.

"The turning point came when the economy opened up. But we didn’t have a single reputed agency for importing well known brands. All the big companies had their own agents and principals. And these companies were not willing to sell their goods to my company because we were a small company," she recalled.

Very soon she proved that the big timers were wrong, Mrs. Pestonjee knew exactly what the market wanted, she knew the brand names, and kept on writing to the big manufactures.

At that time, UK brands were popular among Sri Lankans. At the initial stages they were not keen on sending those items. But soon she managed to get the sole agency for several well known brands like the Hoover, Russel Hobbs, Gold Star, Belling, etc. Since then Aban Pestonjee has come a long way.

Her husband helped her with the bank support and she slowly started securing the agencies. "My husband was doing his own business. At the beginning we had a young family. After the domestic chores I used to carry on with my small business from home, she reiterated.

Later she carried on her business from a small shop on Galle Road at Bambalapitiya. "I used to sell blenders and floor polishers with a guarantee. I would get down spare parts with the free economy, the sales soared but Abans had to face the tougher aspects of competitive business."

How did she succeed?

She admitted that her determination and will power were the plus points to put her company on the international business map.

Today Abans have diversified into areas that include the manufacturing and assembling of electrical appliances — cookers, TVs, radio (Abans Electrical Ltd.), Tourism (Abans Tours Ltd.), Abans Printing Department, a service department to repair electrical appliances, Exports and a duty free shop.

Abans motivation is not profit, but a much larger vision of self actualisation.

"I want to use my capabilities to the fullest. My aim has been to give the customer good value for money on the purchase of any of our items."

Abans are also agents for many household brands from the international market today.

Mrs. Pestonjee still is very much in the driving seat although her children and husband are handling various aspects of the business.

She loves to spend time with her grand children and cook her favourite dishes whenever she has the time. "There is hardly any free time," she says ruefully,

Aban Pestonjee, chairperson of Abans Group, is a woman who has broken the glass ceiling and proved that what a man can do a woman can do better.

There is a saying that God helps those that help themselves. This adage is singularly applicable to Aban Pestonjee, who has traversed a kaleidoscopic trail, with its ups and downs, never wavering, never giving into that impostor Ocalled ‘defeat’.