How a personal tragedy turned this doctor into an entrepreneurRekha Balakrishnan
Battling biases and gender stereotypes, Dr Ranjana Bansal has single-handedly turned the fortunes of Ashok Auto and become a force to be reckoned with in the male-dominated auto dealership business in the heart of North India.
An unfortunate road accident turned Ranjana Bansal’s world upside down. From being a medical practitioner, she had to take over the entrepreneurial reins of an automotive dealership, that too in the heart of North India, a territory known for vandalism.
Hers is a story of how grit and determination can make even the impossible possible. It’s also a story of a woman battling gender stereotypes, and apprehensive customers resistant to change.
Ranjana hails from an affluent family with its roots in Sirsa, Haryana. Her father, Ram Kishore Bansal, was a lawyer with a passion for education. Her mother, Shashi Prabha, was the daughter of politician Ram Amar Nath Agarwal, who belonged to the royal family of Allahabad.
Ranjana completed her MBBS and followed it with an MS in Obstetrics and Gynecology from SN Medical College, Agra and was a practising doctor when an incident changed her life.
She recounts: “On August 5, 1989, while driving back from Delhi after seeing off our parents to the US, my brother met with a car accident on the Agra-Mathura Highway. I lost my sister-in-law Shruti, my eldest niece Priyanka, who was seven, and my brother Ashok in the deadly car accident. My younger niece, Pranati lost both her lower limbs in the car accident.”
She continues, “Miraculously, I was in the car ahead with Bharat, my son. At that time my father had retired after giving the charge to my brother. My elder sisters were settled with their families, one in the US and the other at Aligarh. And that is how I entered the business.”
Ranjana had no second thoughts of taking over the business.
“I wanted to stand up for my family, for the dreams of my brother, for the future of the children and for the support of my parents. I was a daughter first and a doctor later. My parents wanted me to serve the community as a doctor and were not in favour of my leaving such a noble profession. But I promised them that I would do both, thus taking over the business.”
Proving her mettle
A woman entering a male-dominated leadership business, that too in Western UP, the Hindi heartland, was no easy task.
“When I entered the dealership business, with limited or no background of entrepreneurship, I knew less of the challenges that awaited me. The first rejection came from my staff at Ashok Auto – they were battling stereotypes where they could not take the leadership of a ‘woman’ who did not know anything about the business,” she says.
The customers were apprehensive, and it took many years for them to communicate with her. The community was also watching with apathy. “I armoured myself with my ignorance and it soon became my strength. I ventured into the geographies of my territory and interacted with all the customers not knowing their criminal profiles and dangerous involvements. However, I had the constant support of Tata Motors. For me it was KYC – ‘Know Your Customer’ and your territory. The territories Etah, Etawah, and Mainpuri were notorious. It took me a long time to convince them that we can do business together. After nearly five years of persistent, unrelenting efforts, I managed to win over my customers,” she adds.
Her relationship with Tata Motors also proved beneficial in starting out as a dealer. They provided her with training in all aspects of sale, service, and spares. They facilitated visits to various dealerships to understand different operations and gain insights into the roles and responsibilities of a dealer.
From auto to auto finance
As the business grew, so did Ranjana’s confidence and belief that she could branch out further in her line of expertise. She started Ashok Auto Finance and Leasing Company to enable customers to avail of finance options.
“Earlier, none of the financial institutions or banks were willing to provide services in the Western UP region as recovery of the money was unimaginable. After our initiative of providing finance options to customers, other financial institutions commenced operations and, today, Etawah is one of the best markets for financiers,” she says.
Over the years, Ranjana surpassed many milestones and The Ashok Group diversified its interests to include construction, real estate development, hospitality, medicare, and financing in addition to the automobile dealership of Tata Motors. In addition, Ashok Cosmos Mall, a three-lakh sqft commercial space was started in 2010.
Ranjana is also involved in many charitable endeavours with Ashok Medicare Research Foundation, Ashok Shruti Charitable Hospital Ram Shashi Artificial Limb Centre, among others.
Promising future beckons
Diversification is high on Ranjana’s agenda. “With my son, Bharat, joining the business, I am spared of many responsibilities. It has given me time to explore myself and learn and experiment new things in life. I want to nurture the doctor in me. The passion of ‘delivery of vehicles’ would now find its place in human deliveries. I want to build a corporate hospital to provide a common platform to Allopathy, Homeopathy, Naturopathy and all the traditional Indian medicine. I also want to establish a home for the old and support the physically challenged. The artist in me would like to work for the promotion of the art and culture of the Braj region. Having scaled all dimensions of an auto dealership, the desire to be involved in its manufacturing still remains a dream. Let us see what the future holds for us,” she says.
As a parting shot, Ranjana has some sane words of wisdom.
“Women must prove themselves. We must work harder than our male counterparts as we are under the magnifying glass. If women falter, then it is their stupidity. For men, it is a matter of inconsequence,” she says.
However, this entrepreneur has no regrets. “Every day starts with a new challenge. Every sunset gives new achievement. A life with a purpose is only worth living. I look forward to new opportunities to create and excel in.”