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How Stellar Search was born
Samyukta Bhowmick | November 12, 2005
When Shailja Dutt graduated from the International Management Institute in Delhi, she knew she wanted to go into consulting. When she applied to Amrop, India's first international search company, she was surprised to find that instead of finding her a position, they offered her a job themselves.
Dutt worked with Amrop for three and a half years, until she realised that she wanted to start something on her own. She decided to stick with what she knew, and started Stellar Search & Selection. Today, her company employs more than 25 people, and has a turnover of over Rs 5 crore (Rs 50 million).
I did a degree in Economics from Lady Shri Ram College in Delhi, and then later an MBA in Finance from IMI. I worked with Amrop for three and a half years, and moved up the ladder very quickly; I started as an associate and ended as partner.
For various reasons though, I soon started to get restless, and I decided that, instead of moving to another company, I would stay in the industry I had spent so much time in and learned all about - this time, though, in my own business.
Making a niche
I knew that I could differentiate my business from the others that were operating in India. Most of these search companies used to charge retainer-based non-contingent fees.
This meant that even if they didn't place you, you'd have to pay them a certain amount of money. I knew that Indians are very cost-conscious, and so when I started my business, I decided to not charge a retainer fee, which immediately differentiated me and gave me an advantage over everyone else.
It also meant, however, that I only got paid when the client joined a company, and also I started out only charging half of what other firms charged.
I set up Stellar in February 1998. I took a break of 3-4 months, thinking about exactly what kind of a business I wanted to start, and looking for office space. I finally found a 4,000 sq ft space, where I paid rent of Rs 5,000.
All in all, I invested a sum of Rs 50,000 in the firm, which I borrowed from my husband. I even had to buy the computer and stationery on EMIs!
The biggest challenge for me was finding the right people. It's a new industry, 10-12 years old, and it hasn't really evolved. I hit upon a good way to recruit people though -started teaching at business schools. I did want young people who knew about business and had MBAs anyway, and this seemed like a good way as any to get to know them.
This was an incredibly hectic time for me; not only was I teaching part-time, I had a seven-month old son, and a company to run! Still, and this is due in part to the fact that I had created a strong network for myself while I was at Amrop, in five months I had made Rs 15 lakh (Rs 1.5 million), paid back my loan and hired two people for back-end work.
I even had a reception and hired a secretary (who is now a consultant herself by the way!)
The human angle
I learned early on that I had to invest in the people in my company. I had another baby in 2002, and the company started to fall apart without me -- I had to come back to work in two months.
I realised I had to inculcate a sense of ownership in my employees, to instill a sense of responsibility for the company within them. Now my company is very people-centric. I made one person a director instantly when this downturn happened, and I decided to start an HR department as well.
Now my team is very strong -- we make it a point to spend time together outside of the office; we travel together; I even took the team to Bangkok this year as a reward for their work. We also do a lot of social work, and I think this has been instrumental in keeping my company together, and so successful.