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Prateek Walia, Hindustan Times
Chandigarh, November 23, 2012
Here is the story of grit and hard work of a young entrepreneur who transformed her late father’s sick industrial unit in Ludhiana into a profit-making venture. Despite many odds staring her at face and at least 45 different court cases to handle, Sandeep Riat stood firm on her ground under adverse circumstances.

So much so that she is now planning to expand her business in other states and prove that if given an opportunity, women are no less than men. She not only defied this myth that women cannot handle heavy industrial units but also to beat men in a profession, believed to be their stronghold.

The ongoing IT Conclave at Hotel Mountview in Sector 10, Chandigarh, has given a chance to a lot of young entrepreneurs to share their success stories. HT spoke to a young and the only woman leading an auto component ancillary unit. A woman with a vision and on a mission, Sandeep Riat is managing director of Akal Spring Limited, a Ludhiana-based company that deals with truck spare parts (truck suspensions). After completing her graduation at the age of 20, she joined her father’s business.

“Ours was a family business, established in 1979. In 1981, we started with commercial production and then like every other Punjabi family, there were disputes between in ours too and the company could never expand,” said Sandeep, adding that in 2002 her father took entire control of the company after her uncle left it under heavy debt.

Sandeep said when her father took over as MD the company was under heavy debt. Within two years of taking charge, her father died of brain haemorrhage. Sandeep and her sister joined the company as trainees in 2004 and in 2006, she took the entire control in her hands.

“Initially, it was very difficult for me. Being a woman, people would pass certain remarks. However, I used to tell myself that the remarks would have still been there had I been a man. The only difference is that they would have been of different kind,” she said.

During her career, Sandeep faced several hurdles and was once denied a deal by a leading motor company of the country for being a woman. So, she ended up writing a letter to the chairperson of that company. “I was told that he would not reply, but I still went ahead and wrote to him and he did reply,” said a proud Sandeep.

Today, her company has big clients like Tata Motors and Mahindra & Mahindra.

She has transformed a sick unit into a profitable company by raising funds despite odds, especially after being rejected by five nationalised banks of the country. Every day, she would feel like quitting as there were 45 court cases against her company at one point of time.

However, in spite of all this what kept her going was the team at Akal. Soon the sales were back on track and the company had achieved 100% growth in the past three years.

Sandeep was conferred the prestigious Parman Patra by Punjab chief minister Parkash Singh Badal on August 15, 2011. She is also the CII chairperson, Ludhiana Zonal Council.

Sandeep is now at the crossroads, undecided whether she should open a new plant of her company in Punjab or other states like Gujarat and Tamil Nadu, which offer better incentives than the home state.