Standing out in an industry of the 'big boys'

Tuesday March 16 2021
Shreya Karia.

Entrepreneur Shreya Karia, winner of the 2020 Africa's Women Leaders. PHOTO | COURTESY


SHK Consulting founder, Shreya Karia, spoke to Kari Mutu about adapting work to current times, her leadership style, passions, and how she has kept her clients.

As an SME, how have you managed against bigger names in the industry?

I have learned to let our work make the noise especially against in a male-dominated market. Initially, some large global brands instinctively went with the agencies they had an affiliation with. Over time, they came to realise they weren’t getting what they needed. This is where our skills came into play. Our understanding of global brands and segment consumers, meant we could add meaningful value. I’m proud to say some of our work is now a benchmark for best practice in other markets.

What personal qualities are essential for success in your line of work?

Self-conviction for sure. Know your capabilities and what you can bring to the table professionally. Clients and competitors may be overly critical but let this drive you to prove your capabilities rather than deter you. Adaptability is essential because the dynamics of the industry are changing rapidly globally. What worked 12 months ago may no longer be the case. Then, the quest to learn because you are only as good as the last strategy. Learn, understand, inquire within your industry and beyond.


What is your unique approach to dealing with clients?

Relationships are built on trust and credibility and these really matter to me. Communication plays a huge role and I prefer to over communicate than under. I want my clients to stay in the loop and frequently share new concepts and innovations. Any client can call me directly even on a weekend.

Tell us about your leadership style?

I like individuals to take ownership of their work and genuinely want my people to shine. If something is a success, own it. If not, then step up and learn from it. I am detail oriented and focused on systems, task lists and updates because it is imperative that our work is meticulous. I’m a stickler for this because it forms our habits and reflects the respect we give to our work and clients.

What challenges have you experienced as a female business owner?

Foremost is the disappointment when people find out it’s me and not someone else running the show, even as recently as a year ago. But I am happy to say it is decreasing. For all the public talk about supporting women, it seldom happens.

I think women don’t do enough to stick by each other. I have had women both at agency level and in-house actively slander us just to get ahead. You don’t get ahead by putting someone else down, but by encouraging more women to shine. Then the bar gets raised, we are compelled to deliver our best and the conversation really changes about female leadership and empowerment.

What do you enjoy most about your work?

A sense of accomplishment that is trackable and tangible, especially when conceptualising a new brand campaign, bringing it to life in a meaningful way and seeing the impact. I love engaging with passionate people, be it a young professional, a start-up that believes in their business idea, a determined brand manager or my team wanting to take an unconventional route. I also enjoy the diversity. Nothing is mundane or ordinary.

How have you navigated through the Covid-19 pandemic?

Adaptability is key. The more you can adapt and adjust, the more you remain relevant to your clients and to the current context. Instinct told me that instead of dialling down engagement with clients we had to dial up and prove why we deserved to be on their budget. Unlike other companies going slower, we worked overtime to help brands find ways to survive.

How do you relax after a stressful work day or week?

Boxing! It’s my passion and it's extremely fulfilling. After a session I always feel as if there is nothing I can’t handle.

What other interests do you have?

Fitness, because the concept of pushing myself and working on myself reflects both in my work and outside of work. I am a bit of a geek with an addiction to historical documentaries and biographies. I am currently reading Barack Obama’s biography, Promised Land, and A Higher Loyalty, a brilliantly written book about former FBI director James Comey.

Bucking the trend to win an award in 2020

Last year was tough for small and medium-sized enterprises. Yet Kenyan brand strategist Shreya Karia, not only survived the pandemic but awarded as one of Africa’s Women Leaders for 2020 by the World Women Leadership Congress. The award recognises women contributing to sustainable leadership, women’s empowerment and workplace inclusion among other qualities. “I am honoured to have been recognised in the company of exceptional female leaders in a year of crisis. I hope that I can continue to inspire and support the aspirations of younger women,” said Ms Shreya. 

In 2012, Shreya left formal employment and founded SHK Consulting, a premium brand agency that represents high-end companies in Kenya, Europe and the Middle East. She was inspired by a quest to challenge herself and leverage her skills to work on diverse projects that fuelled her creativity. SHK Consulting's clients include Fairmont Hotels, French beverage company Pernod Ricard, Cottar’s Safari Camp, Spanish fashion retailer Mango, and Frank Knight’s Annual Wealth Report.

This article was first published in The EastAfrican newspaper on February 20, 2021.