“I like to be the only diva in the room,” said entrepreneur Sima Ved with a contagious laugh when asked why she didn’t stick to hosting her celebrity-driven chat show, ‘Hi Tea With Sima Ved’.

Let’s go back a little. Back in 2010, this glamorous multi-hyphenate, known to the world predominantly as the founder and chairwoman of the retail empire Apparel Group, interviewed celebrities from entertainment and lifestyle along with segments on royalty on her titular chat show on StarPlus. It was a chapter in her eventful life that continues to evoke mixed feelings — equal parts pride and mortification.

“Please don’t judge me for it,” she said in mock-serious horror.

We were at her palatial mansion at the Emirates Hills, ironically having afternoon tea with this graceful boss lady on a white couch.

And if we were to judge her, she would come off with flying colours for being a woman who dares to experiment and has no room for capricious celebrities.

“I grew up watching Oprah and I love Oprah and what she stands for. And I was like: ‘I want to be Oprah’ … I enjoyed the experience … But dealing with them [celebrities] in my show pulled me down a few notches … The first season, though fun, just drained me completely,” said Sima in an exclusive interview with Gulf News.

Years later, apparently, her show became an unexpected conduit for her elder daughter Selina Ved to break ice with a college buddy in Canada. Apparently, her daughter’s pal-to-be in her new university was an ardent fan of her mother’s chat show, and the two kids bonded in another country over it.

“They both sat down watched my show and reminisced about it, and that was so sweet,” recalled Sima Ved.

Her brush with television also resulted in some hilarious detours.

“We even had 10-meter by 4-meter hoardings of the show on Shaikh Zayed Road, and for my kids who were on their way to school, it was a little detour for them and their friends. They would stop to take a picture of the billboard. I was thrilled because he let me do my ‘crazy’,” said Sima. The ‘he’ she was alluding to was her sturdy husband Nilesh Ved, whom she describes as the proverbial “wind beneath my wings”. Nilesh is the Founder and Chairman of AppCorp.

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Sima Ved credits her husband Nilesh Ved and her three children Selina Ved, Sarisha Ved, and Nayan Ved as her grounding forces

Every decade or so, Sima has this itch to step outside her comfort zone and embarks on a zany “creative phase” and her husband happily turns her cheerleader. But he’s also her biggest grounding force.

“After every child that I have had, he would give me a few years to slack off, and then he would go: ‘you need to come back to work’. I don’t know many men who are secure enough to do that and let their wives shine,” said Sima.

Setting an example

And shine she did. Hollywood actress Eva Longoria, who bestowed Sima with the Philantropreneur of the Year award at the Global Gift Gala in Dubai in 2016, said: “When you think about female empowerment, you have a vague figure of someone in your head, but then you meet Sima, and you go like, oh wait a minute; that’s female empowerment, that’s what it looks like.”

The ‘Desperate Housewives’ star wasn’t off the mark. Sima, who surrounds herself with a team of empowered women, describes herself as an eternal student. A week after this interview, she would nip down to California’s Stanford University to do a crash course meant for top corporate leaders. And just before our sit-down interview, she was in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, as a speaker at the Forbes Middle East Women’s Summit alongside other empowered female talents. Bridging the gender gap in boardrooms has been her credo. From setting an example for her daughters to rule the corporate world as a feisty “businesswoman/entrepreneur/founder” to reminding them to be daring, Sima bats for inclusivity and gender parity.

“Gender inequality is something I see across the board. For example, I was doing a talk recently and I was shocked to hear that only 8.2 per cent of the Fortune 500 companies are led by women CEOs. It’s a horrible figure. Somebody from the audience clapped and I was like: ‘that’s not what you applaud, but abhor’. We need to have at least a double-digit representation in those Fortune 500 companies … Gender bias is something that I see across the board,” said Sima.

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Sima Ved dreams of a boardroom with gender representation and diverse voices Image Credit: Supplied

But she’s not all talk. A member of Young Presidents Organisation (YPO), she was the first female of that unit to set up a regional chapter that saw 52 per cent female members, the highest representation in YPO globally.

“I love this quote by Sheryl Sandberg, the ex-COO of Facebook, where she said: ‘In the future, there will be no female leaders. There will just be leaders’. That really struck a chord with me ... This female quotient shouldn’t even be a conversation but a norm,” said Sima.

According to this mother of three, gender bias is often perpetuated unknowingly in a male-dominated workspace.

“I was reading a case study about GoDaddy [US-based web hosting firm] and how they thought they eliminated gender bias and were proud of how fair they were in their equal pay structure. But they started realising the underlying nuances such as the women were asked to stick to a position longer than men … The career trajectory of men and women was not the same, and that was an eye-opener,” explained Sima.

She even dropped a WhatsApp message in her own management group chat about this complex findings, hoping to eliminate that gap in her own workplace. For decades, she has been working at being an agent of change.

“I am in a position where I can dictate the hours I want to work, I can dictate the days of the week I want to work ... But a lot of people who work with me can’t. So are we looking after them in the true sense or are we just doing lip service?” said Sima. Her sensitivity to her access, privilege, and wealth makes her endearing and real. So, what was her childhood like?

Early life

“I was born in Africa, and my father brought me here in the 70s. And honestly, I don’t give this country, the leadership enough credit. The way they have shown us how visionary they can be and what they have done with this city and place is remarkable. This country and leadership want us to excel and grow. Plus, I was surrounded by self-made men,” said Sima, the daughter of UAE business tycoon Lal Ganwani.

“My father, my husband’s father all are self-made. My husband’s family came to the region in 1904, and my husband’s grandfather came as a chef. To get from that to this is quite an achievement. My father and my husband steered the course of my life … My husband lets me do all the crazy and my other stuff as well.”

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Sima Ved with her biggest cheerleaders in her life. Her father Lal Ganwani and her husband Nilesh Ved in Dubai. Image Credit: Supplied

Sima also lets us in on a secret.

“My husband tells me this quite often that he was attracted to marrying me because I worked before marriage and that he envisioned being with someone who worked,” said Sima, adding that her words was not a swipe against stay-at-home wives or mothers.

“If staying at home is what drives you, then great. I know many who stay at home and are amazing as moms, wives, daughters-in-law. You should do what works for you. But if you feel like you have more to give, then get out there.”

Her children, especially her daughters, seem to be doing just that. Her elder daughter Selina Ved established GCC's beauty e-commerce brand Nessa in 2021, while her younger daughter Sarisha Ved set up her own sustainable athleisure brand when she was 15. Like how her daughters are being groomed, Sima was introduced to the highs and lows of trading from a young age.

Every decade or so, I like to do something creative. I wrote a column in 2000, I did my show [Hi Tea With Sima Ved] in 2010. Now I am long overdue for something different. Every decade, I am bitten by a little creative bug.

- Sima Ved

“My father would take me to his chain of supermarkets every weekend. Those days, there were no automated checks on products and their expiry dates. We had to manually check, and I was on top of it. For my kids as well, we have no demarcation on where work ends and where family time begins. It’s all tangled up. I tend to take my kids to work. When Selina was three months old in her pram, and I remember taking her to my jewellery store. I had her in my office while I dealt with clients. We have never separated the two,” said Sima.

These days, her 17-year-old middle child Sarisha is an integral part of her meetings. Her elder daughter Selina is already doing remarkably well with her own digital beauty platform. Her youngest child, Nayan, a boy who’s still in his ‘I love Messi’ phase is yet to make a splash in her meetings, but is likely to join the Ved dynasty.

“Selina and Sarisha are doing very well ... So for me, I’m giving my children life skills and that’s the way forward,” said Sima.

Did you know?
Sima Ved loves to watch K-dramas: “I end up watching all the Korean shows out there. I recently met the Canadian ambassador’s wife who’s a Korean and she didn’t realise how serious I was about K-dramas until I started rattling off all the shows I had watched. Now I am planning trip to Korea. Plus, their K-beauty amazes me. So I get to see Korea, explore a business angle, and as a tourist.

Sima Ved loves make-up:
“Since 14, I have loved all things make-up. Back in college, when I had a very stressful exam coming up, I would put on more make-up and it made me feel a bit more stronger and confident. Recently, my daughter introduced me to this website called Findation where you plug in your current foundation shade and it shows you the number in your matching shade from any brand around the world. I ended up buying 14 foundations.”

Sima Ved detests reading news on violence against women:
“I get anxious and upset. My husband and children filter news because I get so riled up and I feel so helpless. They never talk about this stuff in front of me.”