Shaper: Pinky Lilani

Show aired on 25th June 2016

Transcript

Elliot Moss
Fabulous way to start the programme, Stevie Wonder and Living For The City. I am excited; good morning this is Jazz Shapers here on Jazz FM with me, Elliot Moss. Thank you very much for joining me. Every week I have the privilege of meeting someone who is shaping the world of business and not only that I am able to play music from the people who are shaping the world of jazz, blues and soul and I do both of them just for you here on Jazz FM. My Business Shaper today I am very pleased to say is Pinky Lilani; she is the founder of the Women of the Future Programme, she is the founder of Spice Magic and we are going to talk about cookery, she is a CBE, she is a DL, she is fantastic and you are in for a real treat today here on Jazz Shapers. And on top of hearing from Pinky you will be hearing from some brilliant musicians from the shapers of jazz, blues and soul. Aretha Franklin is up, Alan Harris and then there is this from the one and only, it’s Dave Brubeck.

Dave Brubeck with Unsquare Dance. Pinky Lilani is my Jazz Shaper here on Jazz Shapers as I said earlier and she is pretty phenomenal, you are going to find that out very soon. As I said, founder of Women of the Future Programme which we will explain what it is, founder of Spice Magic, again we are going to explain what that is and not only that an eminent author, guru for many many people and if you catch TEDx from time to time then you will also maybe know that Pinky Lilani has done a wonderful speech on that. Without further ado, here she is. Thank you very much for joining us.

Pinky Lilani
Thank you Elliot for asking me here today, I am absolutely thrilled to be here.

Elliot Moss
Now let’s go back in time Pinky a little bit. Tell me about the young Pinky Lilani that came from Calcutta back in the late 70s. You arrived here in the UK and what happened? You were a mum, I mean you became a mum. You weren’t working at that point were you is that right?

Pinky Lilani
Yeah I wasn’t. I came to England after meeting my husband, marrying him in three weeks in India and he had done no due diligence whatsoever because he thought he’d got a good Indian wife who could cook. I had never been inside the kitchen because we had one of the best chefs in Calcutta so I came to England knowing no one and not knowing how to cook so it’s been an amazing adventure and I didn’t really have any aspirations of working. I had my children really quickly so it was a very interesting start.

Elliot Moss
Now you said you had no aspirations to work but quite soon I believe after that you did start doing some evening cookery classes. So you said the Indian woman is meant to know how to cook, never been in a kitchen, you must have learnt?

Pinky Lilani
I learnt very quickly because a part of our heritage was you had people over, you entertained incessantly so I had to learn to cook but it was really quite disastrous and I remember my husband had been married before and his ex-wife who lived in Holland decided she wanted to come and check me out and she came with her new boyfriend and I actually remember the first meal I made was made by my husband’s ex-wife’s boyfriend which is very interesting because I didn’t know how to feed anybody at that point.

Elliot Moss
Now how did it then become that you did know how to cook and that you ended up being I believe a consultant to Sharwood’s way back and then of course you went on to write a book. So the woman who didn’t know how to cook becomes the person that writes a book. Explain that transformation?

Pinky Lilani
Well I think I really enjoyed cooking, I learnt to cook really by tasting and by deciding, you know, tasting something, I’d reproduce it. I used to go back to Calcutta where our chef used to let me into the kitchen very reluctantly and I learnt a lot of great dishes and techniques and then when I was asked to teach Indian cookery at Adult Education I was really excited so I went along with a lot of excitement and passion, very little expertise but I think that kind of got to the people who I was teaching and one of them was from Sharwood’s and asked me if I would do some consulting for them. At that time there was a misconception about Indian food for instance people used to say Onion Bhaji but there is nothing called Onion Bhaji, it is actually Onion Pajas so it was actually going back to basics and then when I started cooking and really enjoying it and producing good food and then people said ‘why don’t you write a book?’. I thought ‘that’s really exciting, let me write a book’. I had no idea how to write a book. I didn’t get a publisher, I wrote it myself and all these copies came to the house off the printer. I printed them and I had nowhere to put them so I had to sell my car, buy a little car and put it all in the garage and start ringing up people saying ‘will you buy my book?’.

Elliot Moss
We are going to find out a lot more about how when people did buy the book and eventually actually your cookery skills have led you to help teams of people operate in a more collaborative way. Much more of that very very shortly. Time for some more music, another phenomenal number here, it’s Aretha Franklin with I Say A Little Prayer.

Aretha Franklin, I Say A Little Prayer. Pinky Lilani is with me, she is as I said earlier the founder of Women of the Future Programme. We haven’t talked about it yet but I promise we will. She is also the founder of Spice Magic but as you would have been hearing earlier the non-cook became a cook of some note and the Sharwood’s thing and then a book itself. Now just let’s jump forward for a second. What is it about cooking in groups that you have been able to use to help people come together in teams. How is it that that is connected. Where does the cooking fit in with team work?

Pinky Lilani
I think food is such a universal, you know people love it, they love coming together to eat and I rarely come across someone who doesn’t like eating so I think when you bring food into the equation for most people it reminds them of their mother, their homes where they ate together and it brings the best out in people because you know, you are in a very good mood when somebody is giving you good food. It brings out good energy and it is about nurturing and I think that is where I found food is so useful. For instance, when I give lectures wherever it could be at maybe Oxford or Cambridge, I ask if I can take my wok in and after talking about leadership I plugged in my wok and make spicy Bombay potatoes in five minutes and normally these very kind of people who are very business-like would suddenly warm up to you and come up and say you know, it is just like their mother’s cooking or something so I think food is a huge catalyst for people coming together.

Elliot Moss
Now when we started talking and some people listening will have gone ‘well hold on a minute this is sounding awfully, not sexist but we are putting a woman in the kitchen, the woman is now cooking, what’s this got to do with female emancipation’? What’s really interesting is from the late 90s you have been one of the key champions of women in business. Talk to me about how you got from the cookery through to creating this thing called Women of the Future Programme and just explain a little bit about what it is?

Pinky Lilani
Okay. I actually set up the Asian Women of Achievement Awards before the Women of the Future and that was because I felt Asian women were being stereotyped of staying at home and frying the onion pajas which really wasn’t true and so I decided I wanted to do something and recognise these amazing women I was meeting and no one knew about so I set up the Asian Women of Achievement Awards seventeen years ago and after seeing how many wonderful stories and how getting an award actually changed people’s lives I thought I want to do something for all women but for younger women so I set up the Women of the Future Awards which was eleven years ago.

Elliot Moss
Let me just stop you there. You said ‘ah I just set up it up’. It’s like me saying and then I opened a business called Apple. I mean when you say you set it up, what did you… do you recall how you did that in the beginning and why you, you know, had a Yiddish chutzpah to do that?

Pinky Lilani
Well I think you know because of having done the Asian Women of Achievement Awards I kind of had a model that worked, that I thought I could transfer and was getting amazing people to be part of the judging panel to find great stories because everybody wants to hear great stories and I remember going around in the beginning, you know I used to stop people in the road and ask them how old are you? What do you do? And get them to enter the Awards because obviously nobody had heard about it. But we were very lucky, we had some really great partners and collaborators. I guess I had some kind of credentials with the Asian Awards and so I got people to come on board and it’s been really exciting Elliot because we’ve discovered in the last eleven years a woman, young girl who actually has discovered two asteroids in her gap year. I mean somebody who made her first film at the age of twenty two and raised the 1.5 million finance on her own and having come into our orbit and our network, it has actually changed their lives and all those who hear about them. So it’s been very powerful in that way and also it was just… I think one thing followed the next, you know I would get an idea and I would like want to do it like tomorrow and you know, get on and email at midnight to someone and say and by 8.00 in the morning they would reply so it was great fun.

Elliot Moss
Well I can testify doing your emails from Pinky Lilani from time-to-time gone midnight. Stay with me for more from Pinky and it is phenomenal stuff too isn’t it. Latest travel though in a couple of minutes and before that some words of wisdom for your business from our programme partners at Mishcon De Reya.

You are listening to Jazz Shapers with me, Elliot Moss every Saturday morning 9.00am sharp you can join me where I am joined by someone who is shaping the world of business. If you’ve missed any, iTunes is your destination, put in the words ‘jazz’ and ‘shapers’. If you would like to Tweet us today we are @jazzfm and we will endeavour to get back to you. My Business Shaper today is Pinky Lilani; CBE, DL – both of those things are true. She is also but for the record an Associate Fellow of the Saïd Business School in Oxford; Patron of DIL; The Westminster Society and Frank Water; the Ambassador for the Tiffany Circle. I am going to stop that’s the Red Cross. It is ridiculous. How do you pack it all in? How do you find the time to be amazing and I am not saying that lightly?

Pinky Lilani
I don’t think I am amazing I just do as much as I can. I get up every morning really excited that I am going to do different things.

Elliot Moss
Do you get up early? Are you an early riser?

Pinky Lilani
I don’t I sleep really late. I don’t sleep before 1.30 in the night so I get up quite late about 8.00 o’clock probably.

Elliot Moss
Now you were saying earlier you send these emails late and it is probably because your body clock is, you move that way. What, at the core of the Women of the Future Programme and all the other ways of celebrating what women can do, you are addressing an imbalance I imagine on the one hand but you are also celebrating some core human skills or core human beliefs I believe. Is that right? Is that fair enough to say?

Pinky Lilani
Absolutely. I think we want to recognise the amazing achievements of women to hear their stories because I think everyone is looking for inspiration, is looking for role models and I think for me every single day the reason why I carry on doing this. All these women I come across are so inspirational, the men too, I mean the men are very much part of our equation and you know, in our awards we have a real great combination of men and women who really believe that we all need to do all the things we believe in, to be ourselves, to be passionate and to really fly.

Elliot Moss
Who has guided you along the way Pinky because you are an incredibly generous person, you know, we’ve known each other for a few years now and all I see is you give. You give and you give and you give. Where do you get your sucker from? Where is it you actually draw some inspiration beyond the women in front of you? Now who gives to you?

Pinky Lilani
I think what is most inspirational for me is my family, you know my sons and I’ve just had a little granddaughter and they are… the family is the root of everything that I do but you know, our programmes, all our programmes, the DNA of our programmes is kindness and collaboration and I have a manthra which I try to live every day and my manthra is ‘you have not lived a perfect day unless you have done something for someone who can never repay you’ and people often ask me ‘how can you do that every day’?. Well Elliot I walk around with five chocolates in my handbag every single day and I give it to people who I meet and train, walking around, somebody who served me well, I am at an office and somebody really looks up and smiles at me and say ‘can I give you a chocolate’ and 99% of people say yes, somebody sometimes says no thank you which I feel bad about for about three and a half minutes and then I find somebody else who says yes so I think you know, we can do things and it keeps my life really interesting because I love, I like to teach something every day. I like to learn something every day and I think we can learn from every single person we meet.

Elliot Moss
Stay with me to learn much more from my very wise guest today, that’s Pinky Lilani. Time for some more music, this is Alan Harris with Catfish.

That was Alan Harris with Catfish. Pinky Lilani is with me as I hope you know because you have been listening and hearing all sorts of things, especially mantras and wisdom around what it takes to do well in life and you have done well in life and it is about learning and it is about teaching as well. As you go around and talk to people what are the problems that you see that need to be overcome in business today because you meet a lot of people Pinky. I mean you are incredibly well connected. Are there themes that come through that people are battling with every day across different industries?

Pinky Lilani
I think they are you know, one of the things is the whole politics of an organisation. Often people I meet say they find that really difficult. The whole thing again the own self-belief and self-confidence. A lot of people appear to be totally as if they are in control but when you kind of dig below the surface they kind of open up to say that they really lack the confidence to think they really want to do. I think there are often people looking for guidance and so they are looking for good mentors. Again there aren’t enough people out there doing that. I think finding a champion or finding a mentor is very very important for people in business. Somebody who believes in you because I think when you have someone who believes in you then you can actually fly much higher than if you don’t. And I think obviously for everyone it’s really wanting to have great relationships and building good networks and that’s not always possible when you are working so hard that they find it very difficult to maintain those relationships and do the things they really feel excited about.

Elliot Moss
And how do you make space to do that? How do you do that?

Pinky Lilani
You know my relationships are the core of everything I do so I love it. My way of relaxing is actually picking up the phone and talking to some of the people I have met, I love having people over and since both my sons have gone and I love entertaining I just invite people every week, any Saturday that people want to come. I love to cook for them so you know, in summer I will have forty women over for lunch who I have met probably once but I want them to meet others because I think everybody lives in their own kind of shells and we need to get out and actually to make a difference in business networks are hugely important so you have you know, an astrophysicist meeting a football coach, meeting an entrepreneur. That’s where the real excitement takes place.

Elliot Moss
And your businesses are flourishing. I mean I know your model is you have to, you have to have companies that support you in your endeavours and as an individual I imagine as well. What’s the secret to maintaining the success of what you do? Is it because the idea itself is good? Is it because you believe in it? Is it a combination of those two things? What do you think is at the core of the success?

Pinky Lilani
I think you know, the synergy that lies between our values and the corporates and the companies who support us, for me it is about the right energy. If I meet someone and they don’t… their values don’t resonate with mine it is not going to work so it is not even worth taking any money they can give and I think kindness really. We built everything so people have been kind to us but we also all the time try to do much more. I want to be in a position where I am giving much more than I am taking and that I think has been our business success is that we follow up relationships not that something is over and done with so you end that. For me you never know when conversations could start again and there is a great deal of excitement in following that path.

Elliot Moss
We will have our final chat with Pinky plus we will be playing a track from Daymè Arocena; that’s after the latest traffic and travel.

Daymè Arocena with El Cuatro Cinco Seis. El 456 which doesn’t sound quite as good. That’s a young Cuban artist discovered by Gilles Peterson and signed to his Brownswood label just in case you wanted to know. Just for a few more minutes Pinky Lilani is my Business Shaper and we have been talking about all sorts of things. Kindness, giving more than you take, talking to everybody, the importance of relationships. When you look towards the next year, two years, five years what is in your head? What are you going to be doing? Is it just having fun, more of the same, spreading love? That’s what it feels like you do?

Pinky Lilani
I really want to do something new and exciting so you know while I am doing something I am thinking what the next thing so I am taking a delegation of business women to Kuala Lumpur in November and we’ve got an amazing programme and I am hoping we set up a global Women of the Future network because I think you know, global networks are so important and it is really getting young people who thought they would do very little to get them involved and make them be creative so and I am also thinking should we have the Women of the Future Foundation where it can actually help other women. We get requests all the time for women who need help, maybe just a little bit in their tuition fees, that would make such a difference so we are really thinking along those lines, adding more value.

Elliot Moss
You strike me as a completely fearless person. Where has that fearlessness come from? It doesn’t… nothing seems to phase you like you don’t think ‘that’s not going to happen, I am not going to be able to deliver it’ – what is that about?

Pinky Lilani
Actually I worry all the time so you know, I may appear fearless but when you tell me that but I am always looking for solutions and I find people when I am talking to people they give me the answer so you go out and ask enough people and somebody will point you in the right way so my travels around, I travel by… I am claustrophobic so I don’t use the underground but I am on the train and bus and walking the streets of London as such and talking to people actually is the best way of getting my answers.

Elliot Moss
Just one of those things you mentioned to me earlier that your hearing is not great and yet hear you are, you are telling me, ‘I talk to everybody’. Surely many people I imagine who can’t hear so well would worry that when they speak to someone they won’t be able to have a proper conversation. Why are you not worried about that?

Pinky Lilani
I only have 20% of my hearing so if I don’t wear my hearing aids I can’t really hear anything but I lip read a lot, I look at someone while I am talking to them and I have had some times when it hasn’t worked like the time when someone asked me ‘how long does it take you to make a curry’ and I heard ‘how long have you been in the country’ so I said ’27 years’. So they weren’t going to come to my house for dinner but you know, you do kind of… I think I am very open about it so then people feel you know, I am vulnerable too and that’s fine.

Elliot Moss
I’ve really enjoyed talking to you, as always it is lovely to see you and thank you very much for being so open as usual and as you said, being vulnerable because I think we all are when we admit it and you’ve admitted it right here which is phenomenal. Just before I let you go, what’s your song choice today and why have you chosen it?

Pinky Lilani
I have chosen La Vie En Rose and actually it is by Louis Armstrong version, not the Édith Piaf. It is one of my favourite numbers probably because when I first met my husband he said how much he liked it and I’d never heard it until it really remained one of my favourites.

Elliot Moss
Well hear it is just for you, thank you Pinky.

That was La Vie En Rose from Louis Armstrong, the song choice of my Business Shaper Pinky Lilani. A wonderful mantra when she said you have not had a perfect day unless you’ve done something for someone who can never repay you. Really has underpinned what she has been creating over the last twenty or so years. Focussing on the importance of relationships and right at the core of everything is the primacy of kindness. I think these are all good lessons for all of us in business and beyond. Do join me again, same time, same place for another edition of Jazz Shapers; that’s 9.00 am here om Jazz FM. In the meantime though do stay with us because coming up next its Nigel Williams.

Pinky Lilani CBE DL is a food guru, author, motivational speaker and internationally acclaimed champion for women. She is the force behind the annual Women of the Future Awards, the Asian Women of Achievement Awards, The Ambassadors programme, The Inspirational Women’s Network, The Women of the Future Summit and the Global Empowerment Award. She is an associate fellow of the Said Business School, Oxford and Patron of DIL, The Westminster Society and Frank Water. She is an Ambassador for the Tiffany Circle of the Red Cross and on the Board of Trustees of the Royal Commonwealth Society.

Pinky is also a member of the board of Global Diversity Practice and on the Court of Brunel University.  Pinky makes regular media appearances and is a keynote speaker at international conferences and at educational institutions including the Judge Business School, Cambridge and the Said Business School, Oxford. Winner of several awards, she was listed as one of the 100 most powerful women in the UK by BBC Radio 4 Women’s Hour.

Listen live at 9am Saturday.

Follow Pinky on Twitter @pinkylilani

“My husband had done no due diligence whatsoever because he thought he’d got a good Indian wife who could cook.”

“…there was a misconception about Indian food and people used to say onion bhaji… but there is nothing called onion bhaji.”

“…it brings out the best in people because you are in a very good mood when someone is giving you good food.”

“I get up every morning really excited that I am going to do different things.”

“All these women I come across are so inspirational. The men too – men are very much part of our equation.”

“My mantra is: ‘you have not lived a perfect day unless you have done something for someone who can never repay you.'”

“I think when you have someone who believes in you, then you can actually fly much higher than if you don’t.”

“In business, your networks are hugely important. So you have an astrophysicist meeting a football coach, meeting an entrepreneur…”

“Someone asked me ‘how long does it take to make a curry?’ and I heard ‘how long have you been in the country?’ so I said 27 years. So they weren’t going to come to my house for dinner…”