A lot was expected of Seema Shetty in her first internship at the age of 12. She is the youngest daughter of the company boss, BR Shetty, a man who moved to the UAE from India in 1973 with $8 in his pocket and has since built up a billion-dollar business empire. He founded New Medical Centre group of hospitals and pharmacies, and UAE Exchange, one of the largest money transfer and exchanges in the GCC.
At the age of 12, Ms Shetty started her internship in hospital filing, then was moved to reception. “They literally kicked me out and said: ‘Please don’t stay here’, as I did more damage than good,” she recalls.
Two decades on and Ms Shetty, now 33, has proved herself to be very much her father’s daughter. She is now head of training for NMC’s 10 hospitals in the UAE, and founding director of the BiteRite healthy food provider and Indian restaurant Zari Zardozi.
For BR Shetty, it was important his four children learnt the ropes of the family businesses from a young age. He put them into a summer training programme involving a week in each of his companies. Ms Shetty’s favourite was their multi-cuisine restaurant, Foodlands.
“My natural love was food, so Foodlands was a joy. I used to carry a book with me and scribble down ideas about themes and foods,” she recalls. “I had that book until college.”
After studying marketing and entrepreneurship at Boston University, Ms Shetty returned to Abu Dhabi in 2004 to work at UAE Exchange on a Dh4,000 salary. “All of us started right at the bottom. My parents made it clear that if we were going to grow in the organisation, it would be because of the recommendation of the people above us.”
A year later, Ms Shetty followed her passion for food and opened up the Indian-themed restaurant Zari Zardozi in Abu Dhabi’s Royal Meridien Hotel.
At the same time as running Zari Zardozi, Ms Shetty joined NMC. “It was very important to my father that we stayed connected to NMC,” she says.
Ms Shetty worked in patient education, talking to women’s groups about breast cancer, organising mammograms, helping smokers to quit and working with diabetes management programmes.
Her restaurant business involved sampling new foods, which led to her losing track of what she was eating. At the age of 22 and weighing 90 kilogrammes, she was diagnosed with type 2 pre-diabetes. Her parents, both diabetics themselves, made her meet a nutritionist who drew up a plan to eat half-portions of everything – something Ms Shetty says she did not like the sound of. So she decided a new plan of action was called for.
She asked the nutritionist for more specific details about what she should be eating, and asked her Zari Zardozi chef to make the dishes for her.
“After six months I looked very good. Friends saw the changes and asked: ‘Can we get that done for us?’ I started to see how we could standardise the plan for others. That’s how BiteRite was born.”
A year later in 2006, Ms Shetty started BiteRite’s online tailor-made healthy meals programme for diabetics. She also opened BiteRite Restro Cafe in Al Nahyan Camp, which she says was the UAE’s first 100 per cent healthy restaurant. Now there are three BiteRite kiosks, a delivery service in Dubai and a BiteRite presence in 17 school cafeterias across the country.
Meanwhile Zari Zardozi relocated to Al Raha Mall in Abu Dhabi in 2008. Ms Shetty has also bagged a spot for a new Zari Zardozi at Dubai’s soon-to-be-built Palm Jumeirah Mall.
Somewhere among all these enterprises, Ms Shetty has also found time to have a family. The subject of work-life balance is close to her heart and she will be hosting a master class on how to manage your home and career as part of the Women’s Peak Performance Summit taking place on Saturday at Abu Dhabi’s Eastern Mangroves Hotel.
After giving up work for a year when each of her children (now aged one and three) were born, she says she prefers to work.
“When I finish everything here, I go home and feel like I’ve done significant things – I’ve helped somebody, or solved a problem – and my child goes ‘Mummy’ and jumps on me with this big smile,” she says. “I don’t feel bad about leaving her because I get to enjoy that moment. The only guilt is the guilt we put on ourselves.”
See http://www.womenspeakperformance.com/ for details about the Women's Peak Performance Summit.
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