She looks like an intern, but Meghna Kothari started her own communications business at 23 and now has 25 professionals reporting to her. Image Credit: Stefan Lindeque/ANM

Petite, pretty and looking more like an intern than the managing director of a successful communications and public relations company, Meghna Kothari is not afraid of a challenge or taking risks. At a time when financial uncertainties were challenging businesses across the globe, Meghna, then a fresh business management graduate, launched McCollins Media, a ‘communications and digital media activation organisation’, in 2009.

“I just went with my gut feeling that it would succeed,’’ says the 26-year-old. She was not wrong. Today she has an impressive list of premium accounts including Samsung, LG, Air Arabia, Ritz Carlton, Fujifilm, BebeEBE, Gargash Enterprises, Al Hamra Village, St Regis Saadiyat Island, Hamleys and Energizer.

Managing a team of 25 young professionals, she’s proud of what she’s achieved so far. “Of course, it was hard work scouting for business, but I’m happy it’s now a success,’’ she says. “Until just a few years ago, I was this happy-go-lucky girl, a bit of a spoilt brat who could never get up before 11 am, and who went on rampant shopping sprees. But now things have changed. I have become judicious and thrifty – I think twice before spending money on myself.’’

She could have taken the easy route in business and followed in the footsteps of her parents who run a garment business in Dubai called Instyle. “But I wanted to chart my own route. Setting up a business venture has been my dream since I was a teenager,’’ says Meghna. So after earning a degree in retail marketing from Southern Hampshire University in the US in 2007, she returned to Dubai, keen to launch her own business.

Initially she set up an event-management company but soon realised the field of communications was closer to her heart and she set up McCollins Media two years later. The market may be saturated with similar organisations but Meghna believes it is her unique vision that helps her stand out. “My motto is ‘Why not?’ I’m ready to take risks, confront challenges and am passionate about my work. I also feel charged when I’m in the company of people with creative minds and who are passionate to succeed.” She tells Friday how she is taking her venture forward.

I am convinced that the best lessons in business are learnt from the university of life. My parents – Pradeep and Sandhya Kothari – are in the business of retail garments and I used to accompany my mother on her purchasing trips to Hong Kong, India and China, buying specifically for Arab and the Western markets. I was in my late teens, but I used to enjoy the experiences. Along the way, I learnt a lot about fabrics, textures, cuts and designs and got an innate feel about what would sell and what would not, as well as knowledge of procurement and merchandising.

This helped when I later went abroad to study to retail management. My projects at college used to be the best as I simply applied what I had learnt. I did very well in my merchandising and purchase class. My pricing was realistic and when I had to launch a collection at college, I instinctively knew how to spot a trend and what product mix would work.

Even as a teenager, my mindset was that of an achiever. My parents included us – my younger brother Sumedh, 23, and me – in everything they did. My opinion always counted. After completing my studies I worked with my father for a while, but I was constantly scouring the market for ideas for business ventures.

Keen to get more experience in a big company, I joined a large fashion store and worked for three months on their retail brands. But I wasn’t satisfied as I was asked to do data-entry jobs which was boring. So I left them to join a music company, but I wasn’t satisfied there either.

I knew in my heart that I was going to do something big with my life but was not sure what. It was then that my dad suggested I start an event-management company. It was a kind of stepping stone to this current venture as I soon realised my real strength lay in public relations, handling company portfolios and social media platforms. I named it McCollins Media to give it a more international and professional image.

My first assignment was creating a promotional strategy for a ladies’ coffee morning. It was promoted by Jotun Paints. The promotion was successful and ran for two years. That gave me a lot of confidence. In late 2009, I got an request from Mercedes-Benz – Gargash Enterprises to handle its PR events. That proved to be a turning point. It has been a mutually rewarding journey and I still have that account.

I think what works in our case is that we are a global-sounding professional set-up, but we give our clients the benefit of being like their inhouse marketing team. We work closely with them and we invest a lot of time and effort in all the things we do. My entire team is young and dedicated and we are not afraid to experiment.

We also look for novel ideas to power social-media campaigns. Our Fujifilm campaign Click to Care, is a case in point. We integrated that with advertising and a social message telling people that for every ‘like’ that the Fujifilm facebook page received, a food packet would be delivered at a workers’ accommodation. It worked well and we delivered 600 food packets to the workers during the month-long campaign.

We also hold inhouse workshops on social media. There is brainstorming about issues before participants come up with their own presentations. I come to office on time because I want to set an example so others will be punctual too. We begin with meetings in the morning where we discuss potential clients and plan for the day. We wind up at 5pm with another formal meeting, recapping all that we’ve done and what needs to be done the next day.

I am a happy-go-lucky person, but that might be because I’ve had such a pampered upbringing. I would always get whatever I wanted, especially when I went out shopping! I had most of my schooling in Chennai, India and then completed high school in Mumbai, before we moved to Dubai.

I love badminton and enjoy a game in the morning before I set off for work. Another passion of mine is photography and I love capturing street scenes and people, which I did when I had loads of time before establishing this company.

I am also a big believer in the power of positive thinking and I believe in manifestations. I keep a vision board and put pictures of family and friends, the brands I want to work for and all the things I desire on it and look at it every day. I believe in that and, amazingly, I have always managed to bag the clients whose names I put on that vision board.

I do a series of things that I feel help define me. I love playing squash and I have learnt classical Indian dances like bharatnatyam, kathak and even Western classical ballet. I am very interested in art, painting and sketching and have got awards for it. I also try to play golf and am learning Zumba. I cherish my time with my family. My mom is my chief motivator.

Right now I have dreams and plans only for my organisation. My dad always says a company should not depend on its founder, it should grow organically. Right now I am not prepared for it to go global. I want my agency to be tight-knit and focused, and for every member to have personal vision and passion.

I am very grateful to employees who joined me when there was nothing. I am hoping that the company will grow to become not just a big one in its field, but also the most creative and inspiring one that other companies can emulate.