Ramdas Shenoy speaks to Perizaad Zorabian, on life values, movies, Zorabian Chicken and learnings from COVID times.
It is very difficult to imagine someone with diverse qualities like Perizaad, who has created a niche in each of those domains, be it Bollywood movies to Restaurant owner(Gondola) to head a great Chicken Brand from India. A great opportunity to meet someone so positive with life, and it is our pleasure to bring to you a conversation with Perizaad, the Empress of Chicken.
Childhood and Values
The values Perizaad, imbibed in childhood were of equality. She had two younger brothers and they were treated as equals and that was the game changer. As she puts it, “When you are treated as equal, it is very empowering for the girl. Everything kind of ingrained into you when you are a child. We were like on the dinner table together, picking up our plates together, if my mom would be washing the dishes, I would be drying and my brother would put it in the cupboard. So, there was equality, so when we grew up the same rules were applied to me and my brothers, like going out and even things like partying late, so if I had the deadline of 1 a.m., my brother had the deadline of 1 a.m.”.
So, all those sublimely got imbibed and she never knew a world where inequality existed for a woman. That became a game changer for her as part of largely male dominated industry in poultry.
“I don’t feel different, I don’t know different, I am not one of those women who will find that there is a glass ceiling. I don’t have the baggage of feeling victimized and had a very liberating childhood, which is a game changer to someone’s mindset. I have never looked at myself as a victim, I have never looked at my life in a victimized way. Things have been very positive because of the equality” added Ms. Zorabian.
She recalls her childhood where not anyone around her were treated badly but she was given far more freedom and with freedom comes friends. She was allowed to jump on a train in the 8th grade in spite of having a chauffeur. She used to go for baled dance and she would be always chauffeur driven as a little girl, so her mom asked her try the train. So the little rich Pali Hill kid, was put through the drive to become independent. Not many parents even now would do that. She was groped by someone on her chest. She came back and told her mom and she asked what did you do?
“I told that I caught his hand and threw it away. She didn’t send me by train the next day…that is empowering…kind of make you brave and let you step out and God forbid something happens…you know what action you took, did you do something and not let that paralyse you…make you fearful…Its phenomenal..some basic stuff that Parsis believe in- good thoughts, good words and good deeds…those are our three tenants” says Perizaad with the Parsi pride.
Her parents outlook to life was spreading goodness. She said, “My parents were very clear. They are good people. No matter how fantastic you are, how intelligent you are and how brilliant you are, if you are a bad person, good things won’t happen to you. The other value being- Hard work which was critical. Sometimes when you are born in a wealthy family, you become complacent in life”.
She recalls her mom’s words that money may come and go, but what is important is solid education and one should maximize that. Her father was a completely self-made man and her mother would save money every single year. Her mother wanted to have enough money to support all three kid’s education. She didn’t take fortune for granted. Education was a big thing to her mother.
You could feel the pride in Perizaad’s voice when she talks about her mother who herself was a child ambassador to the United States, when she was 11 years old and had topped in MA and BA exams in the university. She calls her father, the hard working, the brave entrepreneur. Both of then valued the importance of education, but emphasis on being good was more important and as children they were empowered to do anything.
Perizaad goes to USA
When she travelled to US for her MBA, no one came to drop her. W when she arrived at JFK, she asked on how do I take a cab? She took a ride in a cab in the New York city all alone.. “You learn with experience ..and I can’t thank her(referring her mom) enough for all those experiences. To be successful as an adult it is very important for parents to learn not be fearful of failure and not be frightful and be over protective….it is very important. My mother never read my film contracts, she would say read it and if there is anything wrong let me know. My entire MBA application, I had written, I didn’t have any counsellor” says Perizaad.
“When I was in China for 6 months, it was cold…but my mum said, look you made that choice” adds Perizaad emphazing on the importance of how we should own up our decisions.
“With all the freedom and trust which is actually empowering. They always told me that don’t do anything that would embarrass us. Those are like hard lines for a kid. When I was in New York they would never say, don’t do partying..they would never say that…they would only say that don’t do anything that would embarrass us”, a unique tip for parenting and also leadership where accountability and responsibility go hand in hand.
“I went to the US, I got a studio apartment and my parents had got all sorted, all my Indian friends were living like in Queens, 45 minutes by train and I felt so like privileged with a studio apartment in Manhattan”. She worked in Taj Hotel, New York, in the morning shift as intern…she worked not that she needed the money, but she felt so good that she was earning her own money….her tuition fees were taken care by her parents, but her rent, her books, her going out and shopping was taken care…everything she paid for. She loved being independent, it was so empowering and fantastic.
MOVIE Journey—MOVIES TO BUSINESS
“I love the adulation, when you work at Zorabian such an incredible brand, I miss the appreciation that an artist gets. When I was little, I was doing baled, drama and elocution and all of those things, I loved being on stage. I am a Parsi girl, I could never think as an actor, my time there was nobody.”.
“There was Persis Khambatta, you never had Parsi actress in Bollywood…I never thought of being an actor…I did plays in school, I loved dancing, I loved plays, I loved being on stage and that was literally it. My Mama (maternal uncle) was in US and he was doing his MBA and we had gone and visited and I would say that, when I grew up “I wanted to be an entrepreneur”…I couldn’t even pronounce the word properly but I would say it with confidence. I am going to come here and I am going to do my MBA.
Jee le apni Zindagi
“The plan was always to join my family business, to go and study and get myself qualified”. She was a gold medalist for her Bachelors degree in management (Mumbai University) and went on to do her MBA from Baruch College, City University of New York. She had a friend of hers who was into The Lee Strasberg Theatre & Film Institute in New York, one of the best acting schools in the world. She had completed her MBA, working right through her college. New York is a place, where you have lot of culture…African dancing class,.I was good kid, let me have some fun now!”.
And her dad said. “Go ahead and do what you want to do”. So from a business school she moved to a world of artists, where you have people from all across the world, everyone living life so fluidly—there were Chinese, Korean, Japanese…artsy world, the clothes, the love of the art, it was ok if you are struggling all your life, it was a big shift in the environment, after one and half years at Strasberg, my teachers were like ‘Perizaad” you can’t be a coward, you are so good, you need to pursue acting. That was not part of the agenda at all”.
She had come to US for Zorabian and so she moved back to Mumbai, India. In life if you run away from something, it comes and catches you. Her dad had a beautiful office made for her and he was very proud that his daughter had done her MBA from America and It was like his daughter had come back and comeback for him and she started working for that and was offered modelling assignments ‘Fair and Lovely’ and it was a huge campaign. Nagesh Kukunoor was casting for Bollywood Calling, and she had seen Hyderabad Blues. That time, there was no independent offbeat cinema.
“Who the hell would have thought that I would have bagged the role” So here she was into live trading in the wholesale market of chicken and they had earlier not even shot her pictures, but next thing she knew was all across Mumbai there were hoardings of her with her pictures of Bollywood Calling and it was a huge hit..during that time the Independent Cinema wave had started and she was at the right time at the right place and she did some interesting movies like Mumbai Matinee, Joggers Park. She has also acted in a Chinese Film, Bandung Sonata, in which she played Indira Gandhi and Ek Ajnabee with Mr Amitabh Bachhan…the acting thing organically happened, even her parents didn’t realize what was happening?
She was trying to juggle between work and movies, and at some point was doing both things half-half. Her dad said, “You do whatever you do Perizaad, you give it your best shot! Don’t live in regret, Don’t kind of try and balance. Live your dreams and you can come back when you are done with it, but don’t do ‘ardhu-ardhu’(Half-Half). I worked in 13 films, great experiences and worked with incredible people. Then I got married and the business was going through really hard times.
Back to Business
The company was in debt, the markets had changed and it was horrible, Larger companies came in and Zorabian was not competitive enough and losing market share, larger companies came in and it was a blood bath.
As per Perizaad, “Every small and mid-size companies got completely wiped out and then the packaging came to me and I looked at it and felt it was down-market”.
Her dad said, “Don’t give me your high handed comments. If you want to fix something come to the office and fix it”. She contacted Daboo and then she knew exactly what she wanted in the packaging, because they were going into the retail space for the first time. “ I sat in the office and redesigned the pouches and packaging and left the social parties and got into front ending the marketing operations and she has been doing it for over 12 years with a great product. As an actor she was a trusted image and she had this good girl image…aura….chicken- good quality, without preservatives, non-compromising..that is how the value was built.
She tells with pride and conviction “In Zorabian – if you buy a 900 gms pack, you will get a little more, never less. Trust….with Zorabian Chick….Happy chicken logo was born.
Positioning of Zorabian Chicken
As per the market share, she puts Venky at no.1. Godrej at no. 02 and Zorabian at no.3, She believes that with Zorabian Customers who are quality conscious, are skewed towards Zorabian, because the products are clean, where she quotes that “like even in Sahakari Bhandar….with Zorabian saaf nahin karna padtha hai” is the opinion she captures from the market. As per her there is no fat, though she is not an avid fan of sausages …there is no fat, skin and its pure juicy chicken.health conscious, quality conscious…that niche and premium is always with Zorabian which the product has earned completely with sheer quality.
“I have a brother who is super conscious about quality”. She values her dads philosophy of ‘do small but do great’.
“I am ambitious about scale and size” but her brother who looks after the backend takes care of all quality without compromise…he is the ‘Buddha’ man as she puts it.
You could sense the twinkle in her eyes when she talks about the ‘Product integrity and emotional integrity’.
“If you do anything, do it right. Birds are not given any hormones or antibiotics etc…only feed, all natural diet. I am so proud, so if you are having a seekh kabab, there won’t be any binder. Burgers and patties may not look great but they are very tasty”.
Many restaurant owners would tell that the owner eats here, which you sometimes wont believe but when Perizaad says “When I feed my children I am not scared of what I am serving them…..its pure chicken…and I know bcoz we make it”, sounds very convincing coming from a mother. Personally if she runs an advertising campaign on these lines, I am sure , it will create an impact.
“It is not about …we are not greedy…passion more than money….when people say…I love Zorabian….we don’t touch anything….it is the stand that we take…it is easier to say …where we manage …when someone appreciates…I care…she is the front end driver….chillout badhu well…(all is good)”.
“When Covid struck…only chicken that was served was Zorabian…100% I had to go back to Mumbai…my family was in farm…I was at the office, own team…driver, distribution…accountants…managers , Hypercity It was entire team..I got up at 7…I didn’t want to show ….protocols were maintained…the option of shutting shop was not an option…I was leading the firm…If you put your money where the mouth is and you walk the talk and lead by example, everything else will follow.” says Perizaad.
“I got an award by the Raj Bhawan..as a Covid warrior and we were the only FMCG company that was awarded. If you lead from the front…picking up and dropping people…if you put your mind to something then everything is possible…if you have the courage everything can be worked out, every day we had some problem or the other’. She would be travelling in her uniform with her ID card and there was a bird flu scare as well. “Inlogo wajhe se( it is because of these people) would be the comments she heard, but she proved everyone her mettle. “Real adversities we proved that ……..madness…incredible experience of my life. There was a great demand, and they would not realise that how can Zorabian deliver 5 times than what they were delivering earlier. It was utter madness!! But these were the times where you get close to your team and she values the contribution of all her team members. Delivering to 100+ societies…the team proved how resilient we were as a team.
Covid times has given the brand so much goodwill…quality and touch..vigiliant as a team…no one was allowed to leave the farms. Goodwill is built in moments of hardship. Courage and resilience is her belief.
Advice to younger generation—
Ms Zorabian comes with a strong view, “Fresh MBAs—lofty ideas in their head with no sense of reality…hire someone with the right attitude, and train them for skill. Not smart or over smart they are..but how they will work and how much they will be able to contribute to the organization. In real life you should value doing small stuff. You need to get your basics right”.
“You need to move big things but you need to churn the small things right. A person who values doing small stuff, the big stuff will automatically happen….it doesn’t matter how intelligent I am, you don’t talk out of your hands dirty, leading from the front. There is no one hero…don’t belittle the basic people.” “The ones who stood tall were the basics of the lot. Knowing what you are good at and trying to be best at that, than trying to be all over the place.”….Ms Perizaad’s golden advice.
You could read more about Zorabian on www.zorabian.com