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The dynamic sister duos at the helm of their own firms

by Aiden

It’s sisters before misters for the ultimate Sister Act. 

By Aiden Jewelle Gonzales

We all know about the wage gap, the glass ceiling, the glass cliff, and the list of male-dominated industries as high as the heels corporate forces us to wear. But when we women manage to muscle into these spaces, there’s nothing better than having a team of sisters at your back – especially when they’re your actual sisters. Masala spoke to these pairs of Thai-Indian sisters who’ve taken over their businesses with charm, business acumen, and the power of two.

Nakrin ‘Rin’ Kanijoun, 31; PR & Marketing Manager
Lalita ‘Lit’ Samornpitakul, 25; Sales Manager
Heirs of AMG Auto Co., Ltd.

Before they joined the ranks of the fast and furious automotive industry, Rin and Lit were born and raised in Bangkok. Both with international school backgrounds, Rin earned her bachelor’s degree in fashion design at Accademia Italiana Thailand and subsequently her master’s in fashion management and entrepreneurship in London. Lit, meanwhile, graduated from the faculty of economics in Chulalongkorn University and headed full-tilt into the family business, a car dealership that has been importing luxury brands into the country for more than 20 years.

Tell us a little about what makes your business unique.
We are a car dealership but also a family-based business, which is a concept we want to maintain with our staff and customers. Every time we deliver a car to our customers, we end the conversation with, “welcome to the AMG Auto family.” We want to take care of them like they’re our own family, and in the same way, we expect them to show us the same loyalty.

What was your start at AMG Auto?
Rin: After my master’s, I came back and worked in the creative field, along with running my own jewellery brand online. Soon after, I joined AMG Auto as the PR and Marketing Manager, using my creativity from my art field to develop our online platform and campaigns in a more innovative direction.
Lit: I started working at AMG Auto as soon as I graduated, starting with marketing. I basically built the team up on my own, learning on the job and trying out different approaches. I was then asked to join the sales team, which I considered a challenge, but unexpectedly, I really enjoyed it. That adrenaline rush when you close a deal is everything, and of course, the commission doesn’t hurt!

What have been the unique advantages and challenges of working with your sister?
Rin: We can talk about everything with each other, honestly, and at any time. We also make sure to support each other’s ideas in the meeting room, as with two or more voices from the younger generation, it’s more likely for our plans to be approved by the older members.
Lit: And when we have to meet new people for work, working together lessens our insecurities because we have each other’s company.
Rin: A challenge is that we do fight over our different perspectives.
Lit: Also, when we want to get off work together, for personal reasons or for family trips, it means both of us as heads of department will be missing from the office. 

What are your favourite aspects of working together?
Rin: At work we can talk about life and joke around. We also get to have lunch or dinner together quite often.
Lit: We even sneak out to shop during lunch from time to time!

Have you both implemented changes since you started at AMG Auto? What are your expansion plans?
We’ve added online marketing, with a focus on Facebook advertising, as well as going live on different platforms and creating trending content. These changes have proven to be successful, and we’ve thus gained more trust from our parents. However, we still do keep the traditional family concept.

Do you both run the business the same way, or are your approaches different?
Rin: There are differences in small details. I don’t micromanage the staff as long as they get their jobs done on time.
Lit: I micromanage from time to time and I’m more cautious about each and every thing. I also tend to get stressed and panic a lot more than Rin.

What has your experience been as women running a business in the automotive industry? Any unique challenges or insight from your points of view as Millennial women?
Rin: We’ve faced many challenges as younger women in this business. In the automotive industry men usually gain more trust, so when we first entered the industry, and livestreamed our reviews, we got some negative feedback as many viewers wanted a second opinion from a guy. But in time we proved that we can actually do it the right, and sometimes better, way.
Gender doesn’t define the field of expertise for people today. It’s all about the interest and effort you put into the things you do.
Lit: Men are definitely trusted more in this industry. Even with our parents, we could feel the doubt in us when we first started working here and at first, I doubted myself too. However, after all our hard work, we’ve proven everyone including myself wrong. We women are capable of so much more and are sometimes even better than our male counterparts.

Do you see yourselves continuing to work together far into the future?
Rin: We see ourselves continuing to expand what our family has created for generations. The business doesn’t just include us both, but our siblings and cousins who are also a big part of the company.
Lit: We want to keep making the organisation greater than what it is now, and keep the legacy of our parents. Despite the fights we have, working with your sister, or the ones you love, is a great idea.

Nitika ‘Nikki’ Sachdev, 24 
Ramita ‘Rami’ Sachdev, 23
Co-Owners of Rial Dates

Now renowned city-wide for their healthy vegan desserts, Rami and Nikki started in separate directions with careers in finance and education, respectively. Both born and raised in Bangkok, they went to Mahidol University where Rami graduated with a degree in finance and Nikki with one in biomedical science. While Rami worked in the finance field, Nikki worked as an education, health, and psychology coach, then as a flight attendant. However, it was not until later that their passion project, Rial Dates, also took off, allowing them to live the sweet life in business together.

What sparked the idea behind Rial Dates?
We wanted people to be able to gift their loved ones with a product that symbolises health, attention, love, and care. The vision behind the brand is to introduce our customers to desserts that are absolutely healthy, without compromising on taste. We realised that a lot of businesses that claim to be healthy have hidden ingredients or unhealthy sugar substitutes, so we use only dates to sweeten our vegan desserts and keep the ingredients natural. On top of that, we have a big focus on sustainability. Our packaging is plastic-free and we use FSC paper, which ensures that trees grow back where they were cut, no wildlife or indigenous peoples are harmed, and labour forces are not exploited.

How did you begin your business?
Nikki: I lived in Qatar, where I tried a variety of dates grown there. I then picked my favourites and introduced this nature’s candy to Rami, and our mum.
Rami: My mum and I were addicted to after-dinner chocolates, but after being introduced to those healthy treats, we haven’t missed sugary confectionaries. We wanted to share them with everyone as well, so we started this business.

Were you both close growing up?
We are very close in age, so we have always been best friends.

The age old nature or nurture question: how similar are you both?
Nikki: We are similar in terms of values and upbringing, but our personality is very different. I consider myself a visionary, a risk taker, and an optimist. However, I’m more introverted and gain inspiration from spending time alone.
Rami: I am an extrovert, highly-driven, and more of a realist in life and business. I love getting inspiration from getting out there and exploring my options, and I am a lot more logical and calculating in my decision making.

Did you always want to work with each other?
Nikki: We’ve always enjoyed working together, even though our approach to business and life is very different, we complement each other well due to shared goals, vision and values.
Rami: We’ve done a lot of fun projects together and worked at the same company before, so having a business together is something we always wanted.

What would you consider the pros and cons of working with a sibling?
We have a shared vision on creating a sustainable business, using high-quality natural products and prioritising our mission over profit. We agree on the direction that we want to take the business, so it’s effortless working with each other. Even if we disagree, we get back on track easily because we live together and have a close relationship.

How do your approaches to running the business differ?
Nikki: It took us some time to figure out how we should play up to our strengths. I enjoy a more laissez-faire approach, so I handle more of the relationship building, business development and general management.
Rami: There are aspects of the business that require more micromanagement, so my mother and I take care of that part. I do more of the stock handling, accounting, designing and legal work.

Can you give us some insight on what it’s like to be women at the helm of your own business?
We’ve received a lot of encouragement and support from both men and women in the industry and we are very grateful. As women, it makes us really happy to see women empowering and lifting each other up. We are aware that there is still injustice happening due to gender inequality in the workspace, and we hope that more and more women get the opportunity and platform to showcase their talents and share their gifts with the world.

Is this partnership going to continue far into the future?
Yes, we love working with each other, and with Nikki it never feels like work. Rial Dates feels like a fun project that we do together, where both of us get to express our creativity.

If you had to recommend only one product from Rial Dates, what would it be?
We would recommend everyone’s favourite, our Assorted chocolate truffles. Even if you’re not a health enthusiast, we promise you they are delicious, low in calories and nutritionally dense. They’ll satisfy your sweet tooth and your body is going to thank you for it.

Sonali Narula, 30 
Alisha Narula, 28
Co-Owners of Narula Insurance Broker Co., Ltd
At the helm of one of the country’s vanguard health insurance brokers, established for over 50 years, Sonali and Alisha started as alumna of international schools in Bangkok, and Franklin & Marshall College in Pennsylvania. However, their paths temporarily diverged when Sonali worked at an insurance company in 2011 in preparation for her future role in the family business, while Alisha began her career in e-commerce before joining her sister in Narula Insurance.

How close would you say you both are?
Sonali: Very much so! Even though we attended different schools, our social circles have always coincided since our age gap is minimal, and we had similar interests growing up.
Alisha: Our core belief systems and values are the same. There are definitely some situations in which Sonali would have a different opinion based off her experiences and preferences, but those situations are rare.

Did you both think you’d eventually work for the family business?
The option to join the business was always open if we enjoyed it and were willing to put in the hours. Our parents never forced us to join and we could explore any opportunity that came our way. Their only request was for us to come and try our hand at it someday and see if it suited us. Fortunately, we both enjoyed it and to be honest, we always knew that it was a thriving opportunity for us to learn and expand, especially with two of us instead of one!

What have been the unique advantages and challenges in working with your sister?
Sonali: The advantages of working together are endless! A major advantage is being able to trust one another, which is key in this field. We have a positive working atmosphere and are able to keep it real because we have a common goal and we enjoy building off of each other’s expertise. The only con I would say is that we’re almost never able to switch off. The baggage usually makes it home with us!
Alisha: As the younger one and the last one to join the business, I’ve been given the opportunity to walk in Sonali’s footsteps. I joined the business after she had already modernised and streamlined it.

The challenges to be honest are quite minimal. Sonali is extremely meticulous and thorough, while I tend to look more at the bigger picture and can multitask without following the same set of guidelines. However, I do believe that our different working styles are beneficial to the company as a whole, as we balance each other out.

Tell us about your business’ vision, and any changes you’ve made since you’ve both taken over.
For both of us, the key to our business is building a relationship of trust with our clients. We agree that this is the most organic way to expand and grow the business, especially bearing in mind that insurance is very personal and confidential. The key is being honest, genuine, and of course trustworthy. Our grandfather and father had a similar approach when building the business, and that’s helped it grow into what it is today.

Instead of taking the generic route of going online, SEO, and focusing on our marketing team, our main focus has been building a strong relationship with our clients and providing the best service possible. Nothing drives us more than a satisfied client, and based on the feedback that we’ve received, we believe that we are on the right track.

Are your approaches to running the business similar?
Alisha: Definitely not! In fact I think our mannerisms outside of work are more similar than at work. Sonali micromanages and functions off her checklist whereas I am more tech-based and follow my own structure. All that matters is we complete our tasks and focus on the overall company growth.

Are you treated differently as women in the insurance industry compared to your male counterparts?
Numerically we may be a minority, but there are no evident differences in expectations or in the ways we are treated in our field. In fact, in our industry being a woman is advantageous as the nature of our work requires you to be very observant and patient, which many of us have learned to be over the years.

Any unique insights from the point of view of women in business?
We both believe that we have been given a great opportunity in being able to take over our family’s company, especially today, where men and women are on more equal footing. Neither of one of us feel we have to ‘prove’ ourselves more than a man would have to! Our quality of work is of the same standard and we are proud that we are expected to work in the same playing field.

What does the future hold for you as a pair?
We’re aiming to carry on the business with the same core values, but expand it further. With our level of education and opportunity, we hope to adapt to changes in the economy, but always stay relevant. In essence, we feel privileged to be given this opportunity. 

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