Banker goes back to school
Vandana Gandhi reached the top echelons of corporate banking not long after leaving university, but these days she gets more satisfaction from helping to educate young children than she ever did from juggling financial figures.
Born to Indian parents in Abu Dhabi, Ms Gandhi, 38, is the founder and chief executive of the British Orchard Nursery, a crèche business in the UAE that employs more than 100 people.
This year she was awarded the Emirates Woman Award for business excellence - she is the first Indian in the Emirates to receive such an honour.
However, she has taken an unlikely route to crèche management. She studied maths at university in Mumbai, completed a postgraduate diploma in international business and has worked for multinational banks.
One of her roles was vice president of her bank's wealth management division. But she has no regrets about giving up her banking career to start her own business.
"I enjoyed my time in corporate banking, but I realised a decade ago that there was a need for quality early childcare in this country. Besides, I'm passionate about education and I've always had an entrepreneurial streak," says Ms Gandhi, who is also a single mother to two children, 18-year-old Shivali and 16-year-old Krishiv.
This entrepreneurial leaning comes, she says, from her late father, Kumar Gandhi, a native of Mumbai who lived in Abu Dhabi for 45 years and ran a successful shipping business.
"He was my role model," she says. "I learnt everything I know about business from him - including the need to be courageous, to have willpower, and to maintain direction. He gave me great moral and emotional support throughout his whole life. And it was he who encouraged me to start The British Orchard Nursery."
With 10 branches across the UAE and plans to expand the business to other parts of the region and India, Ms Gandhi now has more than 100 full-time staff manning her pre-school nurseries, which she says are like no others.
"What marks us out is our dedication to providing quality childcare," she says. "We make sure all the children in our care are progressing at the right level and monitor their progress regularly. What's more, we maintain rigorous policies throughout all our schools and employ the very best of staff - most of whom are from the UK.
"We even have CCTV footage installed so that parents can watch their children throughout the day from their offices or homes."
Besides managing the British Orchard Nursery, Ms Gandhi is also about to complete a doctorate in early education from the University of Birmingham in the United Kingdom. "I'm very excited about almost finishing my studies," she says.
"And I hope to present the findings to the Government of the UAE. I believe the country should benefit from my research.
"I thank the rulers of this country for the ease in which I am able to do business here. I've had a lot of support from government departments here and it's obvious too that they respect women."
When she's not working, studying or caring for her children, Ms Gandhi finds time for a number of hobbies.
These include painting portraits in oil, calligraphy, table tennis and reading. Factual books on spirituality interest her the most. She also likes to travel.
However, she credits daily yoga sessions with keeping her focused. "I practice sun salutations first thing every morning and I also meditate," she explains. "Both yoga and meditation keep me spiritually balanced and able to work better.
"I'm most grateful to God for everything I have and everything I've accomplished in my life. I get great satisfaction from helping others and making them feel good, which in turn gives me more energy."
The secret of her success she says is her strong support network of family and friends.
"Their support has allowed me to believe in myself," she says. "And of course I'm a great believer in hard work. I always say: 'Success is 99 per cent perspiration and 1 per cent inspiration'."