Business is just not an understanding of numbers but actually an understanding of people and their motivation.
– By Chandran Iyer
Malini Saba is a self–made businesswoman, an ardent philanthropist and a force to be reckoned with. Ms. Saba embodies the concept of using business to serve humanity. Her eminent group of Commodities Company deals in rice, iron ore mining, wheat, palm oil, cashew nuts, and gold. Saba Group Holdings exports 500,000 tons of rice worldwide. The company’s iron ore is used to make steel and its gold is used for jewelry and technology products. In 2017, Saba Group Holdings had revenues of more than $500 million and employed 2,000 local workers. Saba Group Holdings is a prime example of her stratagem of using business to serve humanity. Functioning in the agriculture and mining industry, the group hires local talents and helps them achieve economic stability. The CSR arm of the group, Saba Family Foundation, has given access to life-saving medical and educational services to millions of disadvantaged people across South and Southeast Asia, Australia, Africa, India, and the Middle East. The foundation is an extension of Ms. Saba’s philanthropy and aims to help at least one billion people to gain access to basic health care, education, and opportunities which allow them to break the cycle of poverty and illiteracy.
Excerpts from the interview
Give us an overview of yourself.
I have a lovely family and a very supportive family. I am a psychologist and business is my passion. Business is just not an understanding of numbers but actually an understanding of people and their motivation. Life is not about degrees, life is about believing in your dream and taking opportunities that come your way and moving aggressively in the direction to make your dream a reality.
I started in business at a young age of 20. I have been working my whole life as I worked and put myself through school and college. I don’t come from a privileged life. I worked hard for everything and am still working hard.
Gosh, my typical day starts at 4 am. I wake up and light the lamps for prayer in the home with mantras. Then I tend to my business calls, make my daughter’s fresh hot lunch for school and her breakfast. Get myself dressed, drop her off and off to work. Management of time is critical to make your day productive. I manage my time well. Because it is critical for me I have most time with my child whenever I am not traveling for work. I believe the hardest and most rewarding job in the world is being a parent.
How did Saba Group Holdings and Saba Family Foundation happen?
Saba Group Holdings came about 26 years ago. I wanted to work for myself. It has evolved into this large group. It began with investments and later in Commodities. I believe we should all do what we love. Never focus on money. If you focus on money it will never come into your hands.
I love the commodity space. The Saba Foundation came about 18 years ago (about 2001) when I felt it was time to set it up. I wanted to be able to create a space where we could give back to the communities we worked in and also help women and children. This is my focus, I believe women are the future. We must give them opportunity to excel and the rest will follow.
Saba Group Holdings is going to invest $100 million in the rice sector of India and Thailand. Why have you chosen India for this and what do you think would be the major challenges in this sector?
I think there are challenges in any field. I never see things as challenges. I see them as experiences. I think challenge is a negative word. India is a huge bread basket. We picked India because it was the next move for us as a company. I don’t see challenges in this sector. We have been doing it for over 20 years and understand the space and are ready for all the necessary work that has to go in when we go into a new country.
What were the challenges you faced as a Woman entrepreneur and how did you overcome those?
Gosh, where do I start? Being an entrepreneur is one thing, but being a woman in this space is another. I started at a time when there were not many women in business. That too young women. I had to raise funds, people never believing I was able to do what I said I could do. Through the years I faced failure three times. The third time was the hardest. The markets fell and it was a disaster. But we pulled ourselves out of it. The only way to overcome hurdles and failure is to pull yourself back up and find another way to make it work. You cannot give up and let fear ever take over. I am not afraid of failure and I do believe that is the first thing any entrepreneur should learn. Through failure, you can have success. Anyone who says they have never failed in life, I feel is not being honest.