Sumeet and Tanya Bahadur - Amway’s top sales team in India
A tall woman walked through the door for our interview. She was smiling and dressed in a colourful sari, but she was not Indian. I didn’t know what to expect, but hadn’t thought for a moment that India’s queen of Amway would be Ukrainian.
Nor had she predicted it, I suspect. Especially not after having more than half of her thyroid removed at the age of 19.
But entrepreneurs come in all shapes and sizes and this is the story of one-time Chernobyl victim Tatiana Mikhailovna Sakhno who went on, with her Indian husband, to become India’s top Amway seller, with sales last year close to $US30 million. As she says, it’s all about being prepared to spot the opportunities when they come.
“Success comes when preparation meets opportunity and persistence,” says the woman who now goes by the name Tanya Bahadur. “I grew up in a family were everybody was encouraging me to look at the possibilities around us and try to discover yourself without looking in the past.”
It took about a year after the Chernobyl nuclear reactor exploded in April 1986 for Bahadur to be diagnosed with cancer. When she finally underwent thyroid surgery in May 1987, she was the youngest patient in the hospital to be treated for the condition. Still, her doctor said her youth was an advantage as it her body had a better chance of recovering and adjusting. He was right. Just three years later, with a masters in electrical engineering, she won a scholarship to the US to do her doctorate at Oregon State University.
She met her future husband Sumeet Bahadur, also an engineer on a scholarship, in 1991. Married but working for different companies in jobs that meant travelling over the US and hardly seeing each other, they tossed both jobs in after coming across Amway.
Tanya discovered it first. Still receiving post-surgery treatment when she moved to the US, she found the company’s Nutrilite supplements made her feel more healthy than she had before. The two of them turned it into a business in 1994.
“I saw the business and I was impressed with the product line,” she says, speaking in English, just one of her four languages (the others being Ukrainian, Russian and Hindi). “And then, just sharing the product line and business opportunity with other people, they saw results, they got influenced, so they started following.”
In 1998 they moved to India when Amway opened in the sub-continent. A number of other expatriate Indians also went at the same time, but – in a sign of how difficult doing business in a developing country can be – many didn’t stay, Sumeet says.
“A lot of them just came in to take a look and probably just registered themselves, but after working a few months they realised it was too difficult, so they just went back,” he says.
It was a tough place to start the business, with no mobile phones and packaging sizes that were not suitable for the Indian market. While US consumers might prefer to buy in bulk, poorer Indian customers wanted more affordable, smaller serves. Tanya, who had never been to India before, however, was keen to make it work.
“For me it was like an adventure,” she says. “I’d always wanted to go to India.”
It took about a year before the business started paying for itself. But now it does that – and much more. Their sales last year made up about 6 per cent of Amway’s total $US500 million in India.
It’s a good story that the couple, when interviewed together, are clearly used to telling. But, they insist, it isn’t the reason they have signed up 200,000 people in their distribution network.
“People buy the products for their value,” Sumeet says. “Later on when they come to know us then they find out our story. Tanya’s personal testimonial does influence some people to buy Nutrilite food supplements. The story is too unique, which does not apply to everybody.”
Of course it doesn’t. And it doesn’t necessarily make you want to rush out and buy or sell Amway. But it just goes to show – opportunities can come from the most unexpected places.
Happy New Year and good luck spotting them.