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Feb 20, 2013, 07.11 PM IST | Source: Entrepreneur

Shubhra Mehandirata firmly takes her firm ahead

The show may have ended, followed by a thunderous applause. However, the work isn't over yet for Shubhra Bhardwaj Mehandirata and her ilk who operate several functions behind the scenes like a puppeteer, inconspicuously.

By Julie Sam

The show may have ended, followed by a thunderous applause. However, the work isn't over yet for Shubhra Bhardwaj Mehandirata and her ilk who operate several functions behind the scenes like a puppeteer, inconspicuously. Founder of Ferriswheel Entertainment Pvt. Ltd., a creative agency that handles events in five verticals-sports, productions, festivals, large-scale events and cultural exchange programs-Mehandirata has been at it for over a decade.

Quick start
Ferriswheel was founded in September 2009 after Mehandirata decided to branch out from Rangpuhar, her maiden venture which was a creative agency co-founded by her husband Sanjay Mehandirata.

Her career at Rangpuhar started by taking Indian folk dancers out of the country to international festivals to showcase local talent. She played the role of a co-founder for a decade and a half. "I never really worked as an employee to begin with; I began my career as an entrepreneur with Rangpuhar. As business grew, I was very clear about the kind of agency I wanted to build, and that is exactly what we have managed to accomplish," she affirms.

Once Mehandirata moved out of Rangpuhar to create Ferriswheel, there was no looking back, with the latter turning into an all-consuming entity. The 38-year-old is quick to point out that though it may seem like an event management company from the periphery, it essentially holds five verticals under one umbrella, which then function as separate models. Mehandirata says this distinction between each vertical helps keep the agency healthy financially.

Making her mark
Given her experience at Rangpuhar, it was easier for Mehandirata to create a niche in this space and it helped Ferriswheel bag larger tenders for the company. 'Ticket to Bollywood-Tour of China Shanghai Expo 2010′ in July was one of the biggest breaks headed by her production team which helped her gain ground.

Commissioned by Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR) and India Trade Promotion Organisation (ITPO), in New Delhi, Ticket To Bollywood is a 90-minute production which encompasses the sights and music of Indian folk dance rooted in tradition through Bollywood. This production opened to an audience of 8,000 people at the expo. It has since then toured the US, Canada, the Caribbean in 2011 and Japan in 2012.

The year 2010 saw Mehandirata as a consultant to the Organizing Committee for Mass Cast for the Commonwealth Games 2010 held in New Delhi. Ferriswheel was responsible for backstage management, costumes, make-up and security, among others. Ferriswheel also undertakes WorldFest -in association with IIT-Bombay's annual festival Mood Indigo-a youth fest for cultural exchange by bringing together young dancers from different countries to perform on a single platform. The second edition, which took place in December 2012, witnessed students from Puerto Rico, Sri Lanka, Serbia and Italy, among others.

The closing ceremony at the 34th National Games, Ranchi 2011 needed a ten-minute show to showcase and represent the state of Kerala (the next host for the National Games in December 2013). Mehandirata took over the responsibility of handling the creative aspect, production logistics, creation of audio visuals among others.

Anil Kumar, Coordinator for the 35th National Games Kerala 2013, says, "We received last-minute intimation about the event slot where we had to showcase the nuances and the culture of the state. Shyamaprasad Rajagopal, the acclaimed Kerala filmmaker recommended Ferriswheel and we got them on board. Ferriswheel conceptualized, executed and delivered an impressive show in a month." Kumar points out that it requires more than just talent to amalgamate a ten-minute slot in a two-and-a-half hour ceremony and bind it together with the entire slot (which was handled by another event management company). "They got everything right-from planning, coordinating, music composition, getting dancers and setting logistics in place," he adds.

Straight cut
Mehandirata has given freedom to her core team to make important decisions for the company, which also includes bidding for tenders for high-profile (large-scale) events as she feels this ensures a smoother workflow between each vertical. She believes there is a need to be democratic in the way work is implemented.

"I have outlined clear roles for the heads of departments to handle the verticals. It has been a learning growth for each of the heads. It keeps the team motivated," says Mehandirata.

Placing trust in the core team is essential for the company to grow, she says. "If bidding has been approved and the tender procured, I let the head of the departments take control of the events. I pitch in during the final proposal; say, to see if there is a way we could reduce costs on operations, or if there is a method to invest efforts, without overshooting on the budget."

If there's a department that Mehandirata has deliberately done away with, it is the Human Resources department. The teams take account of the HR process-be it for leave or recruitment. She explains: "Where payrolls are concerned, the team heads work with the team members and are aware of the minute details like compensatory offs, for instance. I make sure I interview aspiring employees, since hiring is a very crucial part of building your team. It helps to have a flexible system in place to help employees work up to their capabilities. We'd rather become a firm like Infosys-where people drive the company."

The future
Ferriswheel is self-funded since inception and has been sailing smoothly. It has managed to make a mark in three years, with each vertical expanding, the company breaking even and claiming to be "healthy in profits." There is even a possibility of a private equity player picking up a stake, but Mehandirata is not ready to talk about it right now.

Talking about competitors, she says her niche has helped them through, and though there's been healthy competition, that hasn't been a problem. Is there a challenge being a woman entrepreneur? Mehandirata refuses to believe challenges are gender-specific. She explains, "As a woman, I face many challenges that a man would face. I have been trained to think in a non-gender way. When I am out to do something, I don't think of myself as a man or a woman; rather, I see whether I can do the job or not. I prefer to see the good parts rather than dwelling on the smaller issues." The year 2013 will see Ferriswheel getting into TV production and a design line.

Till then, working class heroes may stand out to be more than a metaphor-at least when the lights go off. The show's not over for them yet.

© Entrepreneur India January 2013

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