By Selene Alcock

Dr. Ramesh Ramachandra believes everyone can benefit from an entrepreneurial mindset. Recognized as “one of the most influential women in Asia” by Asiaweek in 2000, and named one of Singapore’s “Top 50 Barrier Breakers,” Dr. Ramesh argues for “entrepreneurship as a way of life.”

A woman who decides to shave her head is typically met with one of two responses. There’s the “I’m sorry, how’s the chemo going?” or “Why?”, followed by a string of assumptions. They assume that it’s an act of defiance against feminine beauty standards, or that she’s a monk, has mental health problems, or is preparing for combat against aliens.

None of these could be further from the truth for Dr. Ramesh Ramachandra, Founder and Managing Director of the Singapore-headquartered Talent Leadership Crucible (TLC), who one day, 26 years ago, stood in front of a bathroom mirror and decided to shave her head.

It was a milestone marker; shaving her head was symbolic of that moment when she finally saw herself and no longer sought validation from outside. That moment when she had been stripped of all titles and roles, and simply looked in the mirror and said, “I am me.” It was the moment that finally gave her the courage to pursue her path as an entrepreneur, in spite of its trials and tribulations.

Dr Ramesh and Ms Eileen Cheng, General Manager, TLC.

Dr. Ramesh’s unique mindset her entrepreneurial mindset – has not only brought her self-fulfillment but has also taken her on an incredible journey across the globe to inspire others.

In her 20s, she became a trailblazer in the male-dominated shipping industry in Singapore at NOL, where, as the only female, she perfected the subtle art of million-dollar charter hire negotiations, and learned that “you need to leave something on the table.” She intuitively sought out mentors, one of whom quipped, “Don’t be in such a hurry to get up and stab all the people who have held onto the ladder for you to go up, because you will come down, and you will need the same people to hold up the ladder for you.”

In the late ‘90s, after obtaining an MBA from Australia’s Monash University, she began mentoring others, training some 2000 people in how to start and run a business. She also raised several million dollars in capital for her own technolo- gy-related startup business, at a time when startup culture was unheard of and entrepreneurship was not yet a thing. In the early 2000s, as a UNDP/ UNIFEM consultant, she empowered and mobilized North Korean women, who were part of a cottage industry, to upscale their production.

Today, Dr. Ramesh, based in Hanoi, wears many hats, from founding her own boutique corporate consulting company, TLC, in 2013, to hosting a podcast “Thriving in the Age of Disruption,” on crisis-ready and entrepreneurial mindsets, to her most recent venture – co-founding Impact Velocity, a company focused on empowering people and investing in planet renewal and prosperity sharing projects.

Fascinated by the complex relationships, generational differences, and diverse roles played by members in family-owned businesses – a surprising 80% of the world’s businesses – Dr. Ramesh chose this as the topic of her doctorate in Business Administration (Innovation) at Singapore Management University. Today, with TLC, she is passionate about transforming family businesses using a systems approach for all three sub-systems: the business entity, the family unit, and its individual members. Dr. Ramesh’s innovative thinking creates sustainable visions, which in turn fosters business growth and helps the participants find and fulfill their unique purpose.

She recently released the 2nd edition of her flagship book, “The Big Jump into Entrepreneurship 2.0.” Yet, despite the title, she says, “It’s not about the big jump. My advice to anyone who wants to be an entrepreneur is to take the little steps.”

For Dr. Ramesh, the little steps toward entrepreneurship began in her native Sri Lanka. A young Ramesh remembers being constantly surrounded by her extended family and being perceptive enough to know that she wanted something different from the traditional family career path.

Ms Poorani Thanusha, Principal Consultant, TLC and Dr Ramesh Ramachandra, Founder, TLC recording a podcast for THriving in the Age of Disruption series.

“The earliest I started to think about business was when I was six years old. There was this grand uncle who apparently had taken his college fees and who, instead of going to law school in London, had gone off and traded in sugar during the wartime, and made tons of money. Every time relatives got together, they would laugh about his escapades but grudgingly admire the freedom and success he had. I was really intrigued because others in the family were successful lawyers and civil servants, but they didn’t get the kind of attention he did. And I think that’s when I first started to make the connection that one day when I grow up, I want to be a business person.”

Ramesh’s idyllic childhood was abruptly interrupted when her parents decided to relocate to Singapore; she was forced to transition from her extended family life to essentially a nuclear family. For the first time, she became more reflective and began to contemplate the uncertainties of life.

“Most people think it’s only about creating financial value,” she reasons. “But value can come in so many ways, like your social capital, the friends and networks you build, the contribution you make, and the sense of fulfillment you get. So, it’s about the value that you create, not just for yourself but all the stakeholders around you.”

Back at school, Ramesh subconsciously began acting out by refusing to treat her second language studies of Malay seriously. “This was my rebelling and expressing my unhappiness about being moved to Singapore. Of course, this came back to haunt me.”

At that time, a pass in a second language was mandatory to enter university. So instead of doing her A levels, she enrolled in shipping management at the Singapore Polytechnic after her O Levels. By 19, she had finished her studies while her peers were still studying “respectable professions” at university. Not wanting to be on the back foot, the enterprising 17-year-old said to herself, “Ok, I have to work hard and smart.” That’s when Ramesh grabbed her first opportunity as an entrepreneur.

“I started to organize afternoon tea dances. At that point, discotheques had just started, and they were popular.” But she and her friends were only 17 and thus were prohibited from attending discos at night. “I had a friend who had an uncle who owned a discotheque, so we worked out with him to serve tea and snacks, and we would come and dance from 3 to 6 o’clock and have fun. I would collect $10 from my friends; at times we had 100 people or more.”

She reflects on her own astuteness in being able to identify and bring together the free capacity of the discotheque, the large network of friends, and the unmet needs of her target market. “On their own, they were just sitting there, but when you put them together, you created value.”

For Dr. Ramesh, the ability to create value is the third and perhaps most overlooked attribute of an entrepreneurial mindset. First, you need to be able to define the right problem, because if you can’t, you will not be able to solve it. Second, you need to be ok with uncertainty and taking risks, as you cannot “predict what’s going to happen and there are no sure outcomes.”

This sense of creating value was first instilled in her by her mother, who she cites as her greatest role model. But at nineteen, just two years after Ramesh’s first leap into entrepreneurship, her mother suffered a stroke, and she was obligated to take on her responsibilities. It underscored the fact that life is uncertain and that she needed to be ready for change.

Motherhood is a role that Dr. Ramesh knows well. We return to that moment in the bathroom where Ramesh stood staring at herself, ready to shave her head. In fact, she was facing an existential crisis in a hotel room in Sydney, as she prepared to attend court the following day over the custody of her daughter.

Instead, it turned into her moment of power, where, after returning to Singapore with full custody of her child, she took on the courage to be a single mother and to pursue her dreams as an entrepreneur.

She did shave her head and, in the years following, it was a ritual she would repeat several times. Until, one day, it became addictive. Today, with a softer look and a mastered feminine power, the self-confessed people watcher has arrived at another tier in her spiritual journey. Just as she’s ascended the rungs of the ladder, she also stands firm at its base, ready to catch those who may fall just as she did, and has found deep satisfaction in her ability to inspire others to step into their purpose.

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