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Rachna Khanijaun, CEO and founder of Magnificence Events, reflects on her brilliant career

by Mahmood Hossain

A magnificent journey has brought Rachna to a remarkable year.

By Mahmood Hossain

Most of life’s lessons I’ve learned are from women. I was raised by them. Be it my late mother, aunts, friends, women I consider my little sisters, or even women from past relationships, they have all had a profound impact on my upbringing. They have all inspired me, and I hold them all with the highest regard, respect, and with love. The old saying, “Behind every great man there is a great woman,” does not apply here. It has only benefitted me when the women have stood side by side or in a leading position.

As you can imagine, it was an incredible pleasure and honour for me to be welcomed into the home of Rachna Khanijaun, CEO and founder of Magnificence Events, a woman who embodies the same characteristics and values as the significant female figures who directly or unknowingly moulded me into the man I am today. There is an incredible alluring aura about Rachna, humble yet beguiling, with a commanding presence. Sitting opposite her, I was immediately drawn to her engaging approach to her origin story. It was disarming the way she casually explained her wedding planning journey; almost as if she was talking to a friend that required a much-needed life update.

Like many women, she plays multiple difficult roles in life and makes it look so effortless. I needed to know the inner workings of the woman who planned a birthday event where the cricketing GOAT (Greatest of All Time) Sachin Tendulkar was on the guest list; and who has worked with Aditya Motwane, who was responsible for Priyanka Chopra’s wedding in Jodhpur.

Reclining in her seat, Rachna began, “In 2007, I married my husband in February, which was right after my graduation in Melbourne, before coming back to Bangkok. I wanted to be a wedding planner then, but never got the chance. You have to understand, at that time, not many people in the community understood the significance of a wedding planner.

In my case, people felt I didn’t need one because I was a girl in the same community as my husband. Everyone knew one another so we knew who to call to get things done. I had to take charge of the planning myself and make the necessary calls to various vendors to find a photographer, mehendi-wala, packaging, etc. As good as it felt to have my friends visiting from abroad and being around family, I also felt like I never got to truly enjoy my own wedding.”

Rachna recalled how she was lacking the guidance that most newlyweds have nowadays – she even had to enter her own sangeet hours after they had begun! With the absence of a wedding planner, she had taken the initiative to ensure her guests were comfortable and enjoying themselves while sacrificing her own. After 16 years in the event planning world, from her first destination wedding in Singapore in 2007 to charging extra for her hands-on experience for clients today, she earned the community’s respect and mastered the art of creating unforgettable memories for weddings and extraordinary special occasions. As we spoke, I realised that this street-smart woman knows the ins and outs of every detail that goes into a wedding. “I have always been creative,” continued Rachna, as she elaborated on the marriage between her creative side and wedding planning acumen. “I love to attend parties and host them too. From my uni days till now, I can easily arrange an entire party within a couple of days’ notice, and have a great time. That’s my forte.”

Her skills had not gone unnoticed. Soon after her February wedding, people started asking for her assistance for their own weddings. A couple of months later, what began as favours quickly became a business; her time was money. She decided to go to India and learn more about this particular trade. Alongside her two-year event-packaging development, she was also helping people plan and execute successful home events. Subsequently, it led to small weddings within the Sikh communities.

The popularity of her services grew exponentially in a very short period. A year down the line, she was receiving too many requests; too much for one person to handle. Fortunately, Rachna reached out to her friend, Aashima ‘Aashi’ Sehgal: “I told her that I can’t do this on my own. I need a team. And she was great at entertainment, which is a crucial part of events, and her relationships within India were advantageous. She was spearheading the creative elements, while I leaned toward the technical side of things. It was a really good balance between us. Around 2008, we started to do weddings as a team. In 2009, we planned our first Phuket and Sindhi wedding. This was a success because we had already built healthy relationships throughout Bangkok; knowing every vendor and photographer, creating new contacts, and so on.”

From left to right: Kiran, Arleen, Suman, Rachna, Seema, Ruby, Sirikul, Muskaan

The dynamic duo worked together between 2008 to 2014, after which Aashi had gotten married and moved to India, leaving Rachna at the helm on her own. But in those years, they developed an impressive repertoire, attracting clients from Hong Kong, Dubai, throughout India, and of course, from Thailand. They were working on three weddings a month, backed by an incredibly dedicated and passionate team.

Rachna continued, “It is mentally, physically, and emotionally demanding. You have to connect with the client and build that trust between the both of you. Equally important is strong teamwork, which makes all of this possible. I have had people working with me from day one; there are staff members who have been around since my early days in event packaging. They are family to me and have remained the backbone of this business. I’ll give you an example of how critical they are to our success. In 2017, my husband went through a terrible accident, which led me to step back from the business for two years. The rest of my amazing team stepped up, while I was regaining my footing. We kept growing as a business; it felt like no one could stop us.”

This made Rachna reflect on the principles of her team’s approach to the business, “Every wedding, regardless of whether it’s small or grand, is important to us. We will always give our all to our clients. We put in a lot of heart and make sure our clients are not only receiving the best-valued service but take comfort in knowing we are there at every step of the way. It’s normal to see disagreements or stressed-out families during a wedding, with passions flaring in several fronts. But we want them to know we can be ‘the calm’ throughout the storm.”

Mingling with celebrities and key societal figures along the way, Magnificence Events has surpassed 400 weddings and over 200 other significant events, including birthdays, anniversaries, exhibitions, and other milestone celebratory events. One thing is very clear: connection is a founding pillar of Rachna and her team’s success. We dug deeper into Rachna’s experience in the world of event planning.

You’ve mentioned ‘connection’ several times in our conversation. And your passion for what you do is very much alive. Do you believe that those very ‘connections’ fuel that passion?

It’s not just the passion but how it’s a rewarding experience for everyone. Seeing the bride smile and be happy as she walks down the aisle, the groom dancing at the baraat with his friends, or knowing they got their dream wedding, are the real highlights of a wedding event. Many of our clients have become our friends, which is a beautiful representation of why we do what we do. It speaks a lot about how important it is to make a connection. That goes the same for freelancers who jump at the chance to work with us because we’ve nurtured those relationships. There is genuine love and respect there.

From left to right: Suman, Rachna, Seema.

In another example, one of our biggest clients from Pakistan once valued us higher than we did ourselves. This client had hired our team and another wedding planner, one for the groom’s side and the other for the bride. The client recognised our hard work, the quality of our service, and our dedication to go the extra mile. They asked us to change our contract and charge them more! Which client would ever say such a thing? The client reiterated how much and how well we had done, so we deserved more for it. End result? They got both their daughters married off with us as their wedding planners; both weddings took place in Bangkok. We earned their trust.

Additionally, when knowing certain people in times of crisis, these connections are what bind us. Especially in Thailand, you need to have the resources and know the right people to overcome unforeseen challenges or moments of uncertainty. One of the more beautiful things about Thailand is that when you ask for help, people will genuinely come to you without reservations.

Times of uncertainty are quite frequent while planning a wedding. How do you approach clients who disagree with you or may go against your better advice or wiser decisions?

Honestly, for them, it’s their first wedding event. We don’t like to push the client. We can always try our best to show them multiple references or evidence to what makes for a better decision but ultimately, it’s their choice. What helps to be on the same page is that we can arrive at the same page or point because of the trust we have built throughout the planning process.

There was once a client who was absolutely adamant about using a particular vendor. Our team questioned this choice because the vendor had a pattern of not delivering what they promised in the past. We asked the client multiple times to make sure if they wanted to proceed, and they decided to go ahead with the vendor anyway. When it was time to deliver, we were proven correct. But we can’t blame the client either, as they wanted a vendor that catered to all their needs. And when there is a time crunch, you are unwilling to take major risks. Unfortunately for them, they had to compromise. On the other hand, because of our experience, we were able to step in and try our best to provide what the other vendor had promised prior to falling out.

You also mentioned how clients have become friends, which happens to be a rewarding experience. What are some other rewarding aspects of what you do?

It’s all interrelated. One thing I can tell you that stands out to me, no matter how much experience I have, is meeting a happy parent or grandparent giving you love and blessings knowing that you have helped their children or grandchildren get married in their dream wedding. I will meet them 10 years down the line and they will still remember what we did for them in such a pivotal moment of their lives. And they will boast about you and your work. That feeling is unmatchable in my line of work.

Rachna (left) with Rachnee (right), her Head of Clientele in India.

Moreover, being referred to another family for their wedding by a previous client is another reward. It doesn’t matter the number of weddings we’ve done but the clients that return for our service are the bonus. That’s what we do this for. Not industry recognition or publicity, for example, sitting for this interview with Masala. I was hesitant at first, so I spoke to my team about it before making the decision. I realised this was the perfect opportunity to refl ect on our past and how we got here. The number of jobs we gave to people during the pandemic, so that they could put food on the table or provide education for their children.

We always try to help and give to others. We live here, and these are our communities. If you think about it, there are around 500 people working on one wedding alone, from production, to light and sound, makeup artists, the hotel itself, the fl orists, and the list can go on. And this goes on for three days minimum. I get goosebumps talking about it. There are so many moving pieces just to create special moments for the soon-to-be newlyweds.

It’s always down to the people, isn’t it? And what about the locations? Are there countries or cities you would like to plan a wedding or an even in that you haven’t already?

Of course! Europe is one; it has a completely different feel to it. Asia is Asia, but Europe, as you would expect, is a unique cultural experience. It has a different spending power that can really take us up one more level. I have clients from there so I’m familiar with how things operate compared to here. On the other hand, I considered doing one in India but I decided it was wiser to avoid it. Just imagine their population, and every 10th individual is a wedding planner! I exaggerate, of course. But over there, everyone knows everyone. Attempting to be a new player in the market is an impossible task.

There must be unique requests in that part of the world. Any out-of-the-box requests you’ve had from a past client?

Nothing too outlandish but we did have one client who wanted the water level to go down to set everything up in the pool. This was just after the pandemic and one of the biggest weddings we’ve planned. The water level had to go down for us to create a lounge in the pool area. We even have requests to completely clear out an entire ballroom. They don’t want to see a single element of the ballroom because they want everything covered with their own design. Completely new fl oorings, walls, ceilings, you name it. But I think so many unique things have been done at other weddings that there’s really nothing quite extraordinary that surprises me.

This year has been quite fortuitous for you. Where do you see Magnificence Events in the near future?

Apart from Thailand, we have done events in four different countries. Three of those countries were done just this year. 2023 is our year. The moment I turned the big 4-0, things accelerated career-wise. There hasn’t been a single week where I have not been called upon for an event. In this one year, I’ve seen and experienced so much: the growth in my company, amazing progress within the team, and new collaborators. They all can handle an event without my presence. Trust is everything. Trust within my team. Trust built with the clients. Trust, above all, is the most important step. And 99 percent of my clients are referred. Not through Instagram or marketing on other platforms; we’re the worst at marketing. But there’s no need for it; we don’t need to market ourselves when our referrals speak for themselves. It’s hard work, it takes time.

We’re also really excited about a new venture in the pipeline called Magnificence Designs and Concepts. It’s a work in progress at the moment but we feel it will be an ideal companion to Magnificence Events and an exciting addition to the business!

Your professional life is so hectic, when do you get time to…

Breathe? This is probably my breathing time. [Laughs]

My apologies.

[Laughingly] No, no, don’t apologise. I just got back from Bali and I’ve been reminded of why I do what I do. I know that one day my children will understand why their parents work so hard, and at the same time, we have to adjust our schedules to spend time with them. It’s challenging but it can be done. Ultimately, in my line of work, if I can make it easier for a mother during her child’s wedding, what more could I want?

I hope that goes for you as well when the time comes.

When the time comes! With my kids, that age, and that generation! But that’s a whole different conversation.

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