Suchitra Lohia Comes From An Age Of Reason
Among the many accomplished businesswomen in Thailand is Indian-born Suchitra Lohia, wife of Aloke Lohia, founder of Indorama Ventures, the world’s largest producer of PET polymers. Suchitra helps to run the company in her capacity as executive director but given her background in finance, the Delhi University graduate in commerce says a large part of her responsibility is to oversee the accounting and financial side of the business. She also serves as executive director and chairperson of the Indorama Venture’s CSR committee, a role she takes very seriously.
The Lohia family relocated to Thailand in the late 1980s and Indorama Ventures was officially established in 1994, becoming the country’s first worsted wool yarn producer and its leading manufacturer of polyester fibres. Today it counts 24,000 employees around the world and has grown to become the global leader in the polyester industry. Suchitra, co-pilot in business and life to husband Aloke, has been a vital asset in creating this prosperity.
Deserving of equal attention to the company’s stellar business performance is its CSR approach. While the Lohias have always found ways to give back to the community, it was Suchitra’s recommendation that led to the establishment of the IVL Foundation in 2018. Understanding the need for a more structured and strategic platform for giving, she knew it could lead to more effective change. “The foundation allows us to deploy our resources more effectively,” she says. “Much of what we do focuses on healthcare and social enterprises that help underprivileged children, programmes that boost economic development and the empowerment of women, and initiatives that promote a more sustainable environment—particularly waste recycling.”
The foundation is very active in supporting the likes of social enterprise Carcel, which assists women in prison by teaching them skills that allows them to earn money while incarcerated and helps them re-establish themselves on the outside. It also supports Good Shepherd, which helps refugee children with education. “We work with Operation Smile too, the international medical charity that helps children born with cleft lips or palate,” says Suchitra. “We support their work in Thailand and Myanmar.” The importance of giving back is intricately woven into the company’s core values, its work culture and commitment to a sustainable world. Employees also get the chance to volunteer but during the coronavirus crisis they have also been on the receiving end. “Our own employees in our plants across the globe who have been impacted during these times have received assistance and we have also supported hospitals with masks and sanitizers among other things.”
As the world’s principle recycler of PET plastics, Indorama Ventures places great emphasis on the circular economy. “We have invested US$1.5 billion in recycling worldwide,” says Suchitra. “Our aim is to reach 750,000 tons of recyclable PET by 2030. Today we are at 160,000 tons. The biggest challenge is the infrastructure behind waste management—plastic is not an evil. It’s the way we use it and the way we treat it that is important. Post-use is the issue.”
Her entrepreneurial accomplishments aside—in 2018 she also set up Volta Circle, a fund that invests exclusively in sustainable start-up businesses—Suchitra, who married Aloke in 1982, is the doting mother of daughter Aradhana Sharma and sons Yashovardhan and Anuj. Given her work ethic and approach to life, it comes as no surprise to learn that the three key things she tries to inculcate in her children are integrity or ethics, discipline and the simplicity of a humble life. “I think these are values that will drive you forward,” she says. “And I always remind my children to never wear their names on their sleeve or flaunt their good fortune.” Her sense of duty to society is something that has been passed on and her offspring are all active in the company’s philanthropic endeavours. “In fact, Yashovardhan is the recycling chief officer,” she smiles. “We have been doing recycling for a long time but if the family doesn’t put its weight behind it, we are not going to reach the momentum that we desire.”
Why is it so important for her and her family to give back? “There has to be a reason to our existence—a raison d’etre,” the 55-year-old smiles. “There’s only so much that we can use individually, so why not give at least some of what you don’t need back to society. I think it is important to make a positive impact wherever you can for the time that you are on earth.” Suchitra is very aware of the perpetual problems that plague our world but she admits an issue that gets to her the most is the oppression of women. “This is something that truly boils my blood,” she says. “Frankly sometimes I feel quite powerless about it. I just wish we could see more pro-activeness and a stronger stand in this regard, particular in places like India.”
As a matriarch in a family’s business empire, Suchitra confesses that occasionally the line between work and home becomes blurry. “We always talk about work at home, which can annoy the kids a bit,” she laughs, adding, “Even family vacations are often combined with business trips, although once a year we try to have a ski trip purely for leisure.” The matriarch tag is appropriate too because Suchitra isn’t only a mother to her family but to the conglomerate she and her husband have built. Employees are treated with the kind of care one doesn’t find in many offices. “As a family, our multi-generational legacy has always been to look after people. These are shared values that have gone into the family as well as the foundation and our workplace. We think people are key. All our growth can be attributed to our people. We would not have made it through this pandemic without our front-line workers, who kept our plants going during trying times.”
Looking ahead, she is not ready to let go of the reins just yet. In fact, the idea of retirement has never crossed her mind. Suchitra intends to keep nurturing the family business for as long as she can while doing her part as an altruistic member of society. She also loves to learn new things and confesses to having a thirst for continual personal growth, which is why she has completed an owner-president management programme at Harvard Business School and courses at IMD Business School in Lausanne, Switzerland. This is one astute lady who is leading by example.
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