Saima Chowdhury earned an M.B.A. at the Wharton School and chalked up a long track record working for large U.S. corporations. But starting her own integrated sourcing company, New York City-based Noi Solutions, has taught her that remaining calm amid any storm is an essential skill.
I come from an entrepreneurial family, and I always knew I wanted to do something on my own. After years of working for Victoria's Secret and Nike, I started Noi Solutions to help retailers manufacture their goods in Bangladesh and to help Bangladeshi factories market their capabilities to retailers. That same month, I got pregnant. The first two years after my son was born were really tough, as I had to manage the demands of a growing baby and a growing business. I dealt with the pressure by just staying hyperfocused on those two things. From the time he was 6 months old, I've taken my son on all of my business trips to Asia.
Running my own business has taught me that things don't always go your way, and you have to remain calm. Manufacturing in the developing world is challenging. Every day, there's a different problem. It could be not getting the buttons you need on time from China or dealing with political turmoil. At the end of the day, I'm responsible for anything that goes wrong. My job is to figure out how to solve crises so my customers don't have to.
My ability to manage under pressure comes from years of watching my father run his apparel factories. He's been a huge influence in my life. I've seen him under enormous pressure, but he never panicked, even when he faced a really big crisis.
For the three months leading up to the January 2014 elections, there were a lot of strikes, and people were afraid to go out in the streets or travel. Mobs were burning trucks headed to the port. But we had goods that still needed to be made and shipped. I realized that my business's survival depended upon keeping control of the situation.
Months before, I had prepared our customers by explaining what could happen during the volatile election season, and we planned our production and logistics considerations carefully. We worked with only the very best factories. We lowered our revenue goals for the year and took in fewer orders. I did a lot of communicating with clients and worked hard to maintain my staff's morale.
Anticipating delays and disruptions, we built in extra lead time for production, and we transported goods at night whenever it was too risky to do so during the day. In the end, we managed to ship everything on time. Had we not planned ahead, there was the potential for a huge disaster.
Your whole worldview changes when you have your own business. You have to be very driven, as there's nobody telling you what to do. I had no dream that I would become a millionaire overnight. I know it's a process.
As told to Inc. contributing writer Robin D. Schatz.