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Malini Saba – A Psychologist and Businesswoman

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 Industries 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 Industries had revenues of more than $500 million and employed 2,000 local workers. Saba Industries 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 Industries and Saba Family Foundation happen?
Saba Industries 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.

Woman Entrepreneur Separator

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 Industries 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.



Women In the Mining Industry

By Louisa Rampet


Mining has a reputation for being rough, remote and dangerous, as well as being one of the most male-dominated industries in the world.

This is true for Malini Saba, CEO of Saba Industries, whose mining journey started at the age of 30 when she decided to invest heavily in the commodity space. She began at ground zero.

She has built a thriving business and now owns over 7 large Mines internationally.  Her company owns mines that produce Iron ore, gold and Bauxite.

Malini says “Women must challenge their own comfort and realize the possibilities this environment has to offer, and attitudes of both males and females needs to be shaped by the pioneers in the environment.”

She also feels that young girls should be encouraged to pursue math, science and engineering subjects.  Furthermore, she feels that education in schools and universities surrounding the “exciting career opportunities that await women in the mining industry” should be improved.

I went on to ask her further questions about her role and experience.

Q : What have you enjoyed most about your role in the industry?

Malini Saba : I have spent more than fifteen years  in the mining industry and have seen significant changes and challenges. Being an owner and executive has its challenges. I have dealt with building new mining projects and running operations in countries that are not mining friendly, or are politically unstable or under high risk of executive kidnappings.

I have seen natural disasters such as floods, to earthquakes and malaria.  I’ve witnessed labor unrest and strikes in some of our Asian countries, with the invasion of our mining pits by hundreds of illegal miners. So, the role has never been boring and has always stretched me.

Q : What do you consider the most successful aspect of your mining leadership to date?

Malini Saba : I was part of a team that supported and coached an executive team through a significant organizational crisis a couple of years ago. Our team took the company through a huge expansion phase for a few years on the back of a very favorable commodity rise. We were faced with huge skills shortages at a time when many companies in the mining industry and neighboring industries were going through a similar expansion phase, and so we were highly focused on the recruitment, development and retention of key skills.

I led the team that redesigned and restructured the entire global business in a process involving redefining for each function and area what work was transactional and what was strategic and how the work would be delivered at operating unit, regional or corporate level. Within a twelve-month period, we had achieved both our cost-saving and our restructuring objectives.

Q : Why do you think there is such a big gender gap in the industry?  What is needed to create change?

Malini Saba : Mining can be perceived as dirty and dangerous and with the potential to create significant environmental damage if not managed ethically.  As such, the industry struggles to attract not only women but also young talent. I feel women think it’s a dirty job. It is a job that you have to eat and breath in order to compete.

Malini Saba   –  “ Remember we can’t move the resources, which often means remote locations, perhaps fly-in, fly-out operations or shift rotations. Remote locations, as opposed to corporate offices in large urban centers, don’t pose quite the same kind of challenges, and may fit more seamlessly into a career path that includes work-life balance as part of its goal.”  Example deep in the jungles of Kalimantan.

Furthermore, even if a company adopts and promotes an inclusive culture, mining is faced with a unique challenge in dealing with multiple environments, as Saba explains.

“You’ve got the mine site. You’ve got the corporate office, individuals in the field doing exploration, all being linked together in the sector. What can happen is you may have a strong corporate policy about respect in the workplace and diversity but getting that to trickle to all sites and all places that your company is doing business is a challenge.”

Thus, a lot has to change on the mindset of the miners. This should come from the culture the company puts in place from day one. It means constant reinforcement.

Q : Is your company doing anything about the gender gap?

Malini Saba : Yes we hire women. We also work with a lot of tribal families in the jungles. There we seek more women to work at the mines. We train them. They work and earn a living and at the same time be able to walk back home to their long houses.

It is a slow process to bring in women from the cities to go to the remote areas. But we have not stopped trying. Getting women in the corporate side of the business has not been that huge of a challenge.

The mining industry needs to do more to attract women into core technical roles, and to put in place clear talent management and coaching programs to help accelerate women into more senior roles and provide more flexible working arrangements. This includes policies around bursaries and scholarships, maternity leave, and equal pay for equal work.