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'The best advertisement is when the public says it's good'

Last updated on: April 28, 2010 14:31 IST

'The best advertisement is when the public says it's good'

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Aziz Haniffa in Washington DC


Shahnaz Husain, India's undisputed queen of herbal beauty products, was one of the most conspicuous delegates at President Obama's two-day Presidential Entrepreneurial Summit held in Washington at the cavernous Ronald Reagan Building.

The 64-year-old Husain, whose employees address her as 'Princess', cut quite a striking figure as she strode the halls of the Reagan Building and the auditorium where the concurrent panel discussions and the speeches by the likes of Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton were being held and delivered, respectively.

In her heavily sequined and elaborately embroidered dresses, bedecked in heaps of jewellery around her neck and hands and giant rings on almost each finger and her diamond nose-stud, not to mention her completely henna-coloured hair, it was quite obvious she was revelling in and relishing her conspicuousness, reminiscent of Zsa Zsa Gabor in her halcyon days.

And while the majority of the other 250 plus delegates, including five others from India and 60 other -- mostly Muslim majority countries and those with sizable Muslim minorities -- were attending by themselves sans spouses or children or hangers on, Husain had a large entourage in tow attending to her every need and giving out her company's cards and brochures of her ayurveda skin, hair and body care products estimated to bring in $100 million in revenues.

Husain, a Padma Shri winner, the award she proudly says she received at the time A P J Abdul Kalam was India's President, also points out she's the only such Padma awardee to be given the award for her pioneering and trailblazing herbal beauty products business, the Shahnaz Husain Group.

She also claims her conglomerate is listed in the Guinness Book of Records as the largest such organisation of its kind in the world with its global chain of franchise salons, shops, beauty training institutes and spas.

In an interview with rediff.com, Husain said that first being selected and attending the two-day jamboree "has been a thrilling experience for me. It was very, very exciting."

"It has been a fabulous experience," she gushed. "It's a great honour for India that India was invited and it's a great honour for me that I was selected to represent India at this conference. So, for me it's a great honour that I was representing brand India."

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Image: Shahnaz Husain, India's queen of herbal beauty products, at Ronald Reagan Building in Washington.
Photographs: Paresh Gandhi
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Husain said that it was a veritable Mecca of networking, "and there were like 400-500 entrepreneurs from all over the world, and about 60 percent of them were women. So, it was a fabulous experience because every woman at the conference was an entrepreneur."

"I have got over 100 cards, over 100 women entrepreneurs who want to correspond with me for business all over the world. So, I'll go back to India and network on. It's been such a business boost."

Asked how she could so confidently declare that 60 per cent of the participants were women, Husain said laughing heartily in her husky voice, "I think so because I saw only women, there were very few men."

She said that when she spoke at one of the interactive sessions on 'Unleashing the Power of Woman Entrepreneurship', "I got a standing ovation because the last line in my speech was that 'America is fortunate to have Obama. America is fortunate that a man like Obama walks the earth."

"I was very inspired by President Obama's remarks, particularly on how women can change the world by standing on our own strengths and how we can encourage more women to become entrepreneurs."

Husain said that Obama's speech "was such an excellent speech -- it was just wonderful. He was all there, very composed, very focused, and clearly it's his mission to change the thinking of the world as far as entrepreneurship is concerned."

She said her remarks had centered on women entrepreneurship and her own story "but the main thing was how Obama was encouraging women and entrepreneurs worldwide to change the thinking of the world and the future of the world."

Husain continued to shower kudos on Obama for "encouraging a worldwide movement towards entrepreneurs and how entrepreneurs can change the face of the world and the future of the tomorrow of the world by creating new business ideas and in my speech, I said, 'You give the world an idea and the future of the world changes just as an idea'."

'The best advertisement is when the public says it's good'

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Image: Shahnaz Husain speaking at the Presidential Entrepreneurial Summit in Washington.
Photographs: Paresh Gandhi
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"Of course, I spoke of my experience, how I started, and there were lots of questions as to how much my company was worth now and what is the method with which you started and how I was able to sell my products without any publicity or advertising, which was what I spoke at Harvard about when I was invited to speak to some of the students and business professionals there last week."

Husain said this was the question she was bombarded with even at the summit "as to how did you create a company without a publicity budget."

"I said 'word of mouth'. . . that I never believe in ads. Why should I give an ad because that means I am telling the world, please buy me, I am good. But if I do not advertise, they use it and they feel good, their face feels good, that means the product is good because the public has decided. It is not I who has decided it is good and advertised it that way and given it publicity, but the public."

Husain said, "The product speaks for itself and word of mouth is the best, if the public says it's good. Why should I pay the press to say it's good: then it's probably not good."

"Anybody can pay money to say, buy this, this is very good. But when the public says it's good, that is the best advertisement you can ever have. No other business in the world, but cosmetics is either a total success or a 100 percent failure dependent on results."

Asked if it was a good idea for Obama to emphasise on the conference being essentially a Muslim entrepreneurship parley, Husain said, "It was a very good idea, but I don't think there is any pressure on Muslim entrepreneurs. He spoke generally and there were people from all over the world. They weren't all Muslims. There were people from every caste, from every religion. There was no great pressure on a particular religion but the great thing is that is was called a Presidential Summit on Entrepreneurs."

She asserted that she was not disappointed at all that Obama's speech did not mention any attending Indian entrepreneur, even though he had mentioned entrepreneurs from Pakistan, Afghanistan, praised Bangladesh's Nobel laureate Muhammad Yunus -- who was also present as a guest invitee -- Indonesia, and several other countries in the Middle East, Africa, and Europe.

"Not at all, not at all," she said. "It was a very good speech and there is no need for any disappointment at all. Why should he mention India? Then he should mention 300 other countries. Otherwise, then it would not be fair."


Image: Shahnaz Husain.
Photographs: Paresh Gandhi
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