When Serena Jagadasan qualified as a radiographer, she never dreamed she'd become the managing director of a retailing group with a staff of a 1000 people.
Growing up in Phoenix, Serena knew people mattered and she needed a career where she could help others. She decided she wanted something in the medical field and settled on radiography and chose to study in Pretoria and it was in patient care that she really excelled. She loved her work, and the knowledge that she could make a difference for her patients. However, it wasn't long before she returned to Durban, married Ravi Jagadasan, and began her retail journey.
Although neither of them had any retail experience, Ravi had been approached by Spar to open a store in Phoenix, an opportunity they couldn't pass up, and together they set out to grow the business.
Now managing director of Starwood Investments and the Star Retailers Group, Serena leads her 'dream team' of 60 managers and a staff of 1000 people across nine business units: seven world-class Spar and Superspar stores, a wholesale bakery and an accredited training academy.
She credits her husband with introducing her to the retail world, and describes him as her business partner and mentor. "He really is an exemplary person and an inspiration. I strive to emulate him," she says.
She describes her shift from radiography to retailing as simple. "It's all about people. People matter. In radiography, my strength was patient care. In retail, my strength is still caring for people. But now it's my staff and my customers that I care for."
The power of emotional intelligence
Describing herself as a highly emotional, Serena certainly doesn't see this as a negative. "Women do behave differently in business, because we are emotional beings. And if you have high emotional intelligence (EQ), this is a real attribute. Successful leaders need a high EQ to understand behaviour and motivation, and as an emotionally intelligent leader you can generate greater loyalty and commitment in your staff, and motivate them to give of their best."
When Serena talks about her staff her commitment is clear. "I strongly believe that human capital is our most valuable asset and I focus on that. I'm passionate about the people. I care, I show I care, and that's why our business is successful."
Apart from the obvious demands of her role as managing director of a successful business, Serena also manages her roles as wife and mother to three boys under the age of nine with assurance. She is confident she has a good balance between work and the rest of her life. "It takes a good deal of planning, time management and self-management, but it's important to get it right and I make it a priority."
Serena's an early riser and keeps a regular schedule. She hits the gym first thing in the morning before heading to work. "I'm strict about office hours and work from 9am to 3pm, so I have plenty of time with my boys." She also puts aside time for her husband, and says that spending time together on shared interests makes it easier to maintain their close bond and keep the spark alive. "We both love ballroom dancing so we do that twice a week, and we play golf too."
Find your purpose
Asked what advice she'd give her younger self, Serena doesn't hesitate. "Find your purpose as soon as possible," she says. "To live a fulfilled, contented, happy life, you need a purpose. Develop a clear understanding of who you are, find your purpose and you can be the highest version of yourself."
And Serena certainly knows herself and her purpose. She attributes much of her success to her willpower. "I have the courage to take on challenges, the self-belief to stay the course when things get tough, and a heart strong enough to accept constructive criticism. I have a positive attitude to life and to business, and I accept that even when things don't go my way, I can learn and grow from the experience."
Empowerment through education
Serena is grateful for her accomplishments, and is clearly enjoying her journey, but she still has two major goals she's determined to achieve: "Firstly, I have a big goal for 2020. I completed a postgraduate diploma in business management a couple of years ago, but now I want to take it further, and I'm embarking on an MBA next year.
Secondly, I want to see our employees grow too. Most of our staff have no tertiary education but empowering people is central to their growth, and education is a key part of that empowerment. So it was a clear strategic intent to introduce our Raising the Bar training academy. It is my goal to see that each one of our employees achieves at least an NQF2 qualification, and our academy is a vital part of achieving that goal."