Ashok Kumar Malhotra started working at the family bookshop, Malhotra Book Depot (MBD), while he was still in school. At the age of 13, he authored and published his first book. It was the first step in the direction of what today is the MBD group. It all started with publishing and has now diversified into various industries including, publishing, printing, E-learning, M-learning, hospitality, real estate, mall development and management, ICT infrastructure, skill development, stationary, magazine, and paper manufacturing with two women who are carrying forward their father’s legacy.
Sonica Malhotra Kandhari, Director of MBD and Monica Malhotra, Senior Director of MBD, run the entire business together, but both have followed their hearts and nurture and handle sectors that are close to them. Monica handles the publishing, e-learning, stationary divisions as well design, project management and
construction for mixed used and hospitality projects. Sonica looks after the hospitality, real estate, mall management aspect as well as corporate finance, taxation, and legal for the entire group.
Though they may be the daughters of the chairman of the group, it has not been an easy ride for them. They share that it did take them a while to establish their credentials and ability. “It was a bit difficult initially, but once we proved ourselves, the acceptance was far greater,” says Sonica.
They have had their fair share of challenges and losing their father was tough on them. “After my father’s death, we not only had our own personal grief to deal with but also had the larger responsibility of MBD Group, as well as the need to protect what our father had given his life to build up. It was a very critical time for us; yet, we did not let this discourage us. We were successful in directing our multiple business verticals through many pitfalls,” shares Sonica. But the greatest challenge they faced was to bring innovation into the group without losing out on the MBD legacy. They have retained a lot of the key employees and talent in the company, and are proud that some of their employees have been with the company for more than 40 years.
Born in Jalandhar and brought up in Delhi, the sisters graduated from Jesus and Mary College in New Delhi.
Their mother has been a major influence in their life too. “My mother has always ensured that her daughters are brought up to be strong individuals with independent thinking and yet be much grounded. It’s because of her remarkable contribution that we both are qualified (postgraduate diploma) Kathak dancers from Kathak Kendra, New Delhi, under Pandit Birju Maharaj Ji. This truly helped us in personal development, attaining emotional maturity, and meeting artists from all walks of life,” says Sonica.
The sisters share a comfortable working relationship that is based on understanding and mutual trust. Sonica says, “In some cases, although I may have a different opinion I would go by Monica’s judgment, as she has better knowledge of certain things and same is the case with her, on matters on which Monica feels I have a better understanding she would leave the final call to me.”
Monica’s passion to learn
Monica was passionate about singing, dancing, and basketball. The other thing that drove her at a young age was the craving for learning. This led her to start working since the age of 15. She wanted to know what
her father did at work and how he handled different business situations and would go and work in different departments in publishing after school everyday. “Where my classmates bunked classes at times for a movie or so, I did for work and office.”
Monica’s own style of working has emerged from her father’s style, “My dad was a Karma Yogi and I idolise him. He taught me to learn from my mistakes, to be humble, to never stop learning. While he taught me to aim for the sky he also told me that creating job opportunities is the greatest social work. Do not learn tricks of the trade instead learn the trade. He also taught me ‘either be the best or the biggest at work’.”
She has always been drawn to the education sector and enjoys working towards bringing new techniques in the e-learning field of education.
Talking about new initiatives she lets in, “We have recently launched a new vertical ‘MBD Skills’ with the aim of bridging the gap between the supply and demand of skilled manpower. We are currently working on various government projects like Hunar se Rozgar – Ministry of Tourism, UDAAN – NSDC for Jammu and Kashmir, MEPMA – Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, etc., and the company aims to train around one million people by 2022.”
Given that there are multiple verticals that need attention and the group as a whole needs dedicated attention, Monica’s business mantra is to keep the business backward and forward integrated as much to have better control on costs, time, and quality. “Her focus is to create a fine blend of rigidity and flexibility in policies that helps keep the team motivated. To keep a keen eye on latent talent my team members possess and to train them also brings in job satisfaction. I always want the group to be recognised as futuristic and visionary. Hence, we are one of the few who have stepped into E-learning, M-learning, skill development, 3-D learning,” she says.
Sonica’s emphasis on education
Sonica was a top student through school and college. She studied B.Com at Jesus and Mary College (Delhi University) and later pursued an MBA specialising in finance International Management Institute, New Delhi. She has also attended a Program in Leadership Development (PLD) from Harvard Business School,
Education is a stress buster for Sonica and she highly recommends enhancing ones professional skills as it rejuvenates people to take up new assignments and projects.
“My father gave me total freedom – no supervision, no policing. It was his trust that kept me on my toes and helped me to work hard and not let him down. He explained that we all are born in an orbit. We can either choose to stay there and waste our potential or strive to push ourselves ahead to the next level that not only benefits us but also benefits the people walking along with us,” says Sonica.
Learning has been a continuous process for her, “Even today, when I’ve been working for more than a decade and I still find out new things every day, things that make me energised and excited.” Her business mantra is simple, “Seize every opportunity, close off no options. Follow your own hopes, not other people’s expectations. Do what needs to be done to keep your identity as a woman. Pursue that, and you’ll be able to seize any opportunity that comes along.”
In these past few years, MBD Group has established itself in the hospitality industry through its maiden venture, Radisson Blu MBD Hotel Noida (Delhi NCR). The second venture of the group is the Radisson Blu Hotel MBD Ludhiana, which is the first five star deluxe hotel in Ludhiana.
They have also ventured into premium mixed use developments, encompassing five-star hotel, premium retail and entertainment, under The MBD Neopolis again in Ludhiana and Jalandhar.
The duo is now planning to set up the MBD Resort near Jalandhar and the next category of luxury mixed-use development will be MBD Zephyr in Whitefield, Bangalore.
Goa is a destination they are aggressively looking at.
While the sister often counsel each other at work, they would love to have more family outings. “We do steal away for a coffee together sometimes, as well as try and spend time together on a Sunday,” they share.
Both Sonica and Monica continue to draw strength and inspiration from their father and are working hard to not only take his legacy forward but build upon it and take it forward.