W Power 2024

Shriti Malhotra: On top of the beauty industry game

Malhotra has been the force behind Quess Retail as its group CEO, and has spearheaded the journey of many beauty brands into India, including The Body Shop, Kiehl's, Anastasia Beverly Hills, and more

Rajiv Singh
Published: Apr 1, 2024 12:35:36 PM IST
Updated: Apr 8, 2024 02:00:58 PM IST

Shriti Malhotra: On top of the beauty industry game Shriti Malhotra, Group CEO, Quess Retail Image: Madhu Kapparath
It’s All India Radio. You are listening to the news at 9 pm,” Shriti Malhotra vividly remembers the post-dinner ritual that she performed for years. Every night, four sisters would huddle around a transistor which was perched on a wooden table, all would be armed with a sharpened pencil and a ruled notepad, and the young girls were led by a 10-year-old who was consumed by an insatiable curiosity to know how the world was shaping outside Ranchi, Bihar, and India. “We used to jot down top headlines and discuss with our dad the next day,” recalls Malhotra, whose father was in the Army. The caring father taught his daughters three things. First, stay fiercely independent. Second, don’t be shy of dreaming big. Third, education is the best friend.

Though the teachings stayed, the young girl added her interpretation of being independent. “I was a rebel without a cause in school,” says Malhotra, who loved breaking rules. The teachers at the missionary school tried hard to tame and discipline her, but it didn’t work. What further stoked her fiery spirit and inquisitiveness were her undergrad years at Miranda House at the University of Delhi. “I wanted to do something first, something better, and something different from my peers,” she says. And she did. In the early ’90s, who would have thought of making a career in fashion? Malhotra enrolled in NIFT (National Institute of Fashion Technology) in 1992 and two years later, started her professional innings with Benetton.

The young girl from Ranchi was making a fashion statement. “It doesn’t matter where you come from, but it does matter where you’re going,” she says. Malhotra, for sure, was heading to a clutch of the right kind of places. After a three-year stint, Malhotra decided to teach fashion retail merchandising for two years. Then came her heady innings at Nike, and Planet Sports, and by 2007, Malhotra had carved a name for herself in fashion, sports and lifestyle. Though the world of retail, sales and distribution was skewed heavily in favour of men, Malhotra remained focussed on her work. “I didn’t want my gender to be a reason for me to be less than anybody. So, I worked doubly hard,” she says. But the fact that women were missing in the workplace, and there was no level playing field, started bothering her. The quintessential rebel found the right cause to fight.

Shriti Malhotra: On top of the beauty industry gameIn 2007, she joined the ethical beauty brand The Body Shop. The journey was transformative. Malhotra explains. Back then, the retail business of beauty was confined to pharmacies, and departmental stores and was gradually making its presence felt in the modern trade. “We started from scratch and this time, the journey had a strong gender lens,” she says.

A foreign brand, which was instilled by the revolutionary soul of the founder Anita Roddick, who believed that the business could be a force for good, met a matching cheerleader in Malhotra. Retail stores were set up to meet the aspirations and needs of the women consumers, women were encouraged to join the brand in sales, marketing, front-end and back-end roles, and gradually more and more women were seen behind the retail counter. Malhotra proactively started reaching out to the families of young women who were eager to join the brand, but were still shackled by patriarchy. “We met their families and urged them to let the young girls work and become financially independent,” she recalls. “They were meant to fly high,” she says.

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Fast forward to March 2024. Malhotra has had a stunning professional flight. As the group CEO of Quest Retail, a specialty retailer that is an Indian franchisee for The Body Shop, and has brought a sea of other marquee international brands to the country, Malhotra has spearheaded the India journey of brands such as Kiehl’s, Anastasia Beverly Hills, Kylie Cosmetics, Avon, Max Factor, Boddess, Juice Beauty, Neal’s Yard Remedies, Ecotools, Freeman and The Honest Tree.

Shriti Malhotra: On top of the beauty industry game

Industry watchers are not surprised by the enterprising growth engine steered by Malhotra. “In the realm of beauty, she has not just been a CEO but also the driving force behind the success of brands in India,” reckons Rajesh Jain, managing director and CEO of Lacoste India. “Through the years, I’ve witnessed her transform challenges into triumphs, making her brands synonymous with beauty.”  

Malhotra, for her part, credits her success to her parents, upbringing, education, and the men she has worked with. “If you are one of the few women in the workplace, then somebody must have supported you and played a role in opening up the opportunity gates,” she says. “I’ve been blessed to have fantastic male colleagues, counterparts, and bosses,” she says, summing up her journey from Ranchi. “What I have always fought for is equal opportunity,” she says. Women, Malhotra underlines, don’t need favour. “They just need a level playing field.” 

(This story appears in the 22 March, 2024 issue of Forbes India. To visit our Archives, click here.)

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