Sitting with Chitra (Chitra Stern Nee Rathinasabapathy ) is nothing short of a soulful experience.
She is universal in her mindset whilst being deeply rooted to her own unique Indian-ness and simultaneously challenges any notion of stereotypical identity. If there were ever a Jason Bourne of the Indian world she would be it. With her colourful personality and melodic accent, she proudly exhibits the cultural layers that have shaped her own remarkable journey of success from leaving the shores of Singapore through to building a gross development value of over €400- million. Chitra is at ease showing her lighter side as her laughter merges into positive commotion for her unique chain of child-friendly, (happy) hotels. Ever since speaking to Chitra on the phone prior to my journey series to Portugal, I had been fascinated by her achievements and numerous discussions she had been invited to speak at. She is both impeccably persuasive whilst being genuinely down-to-earth in her approach and interestingly, she speaks candidly about the deeper connections that bridge investors, communities and countries together. For her, life is clearly based on the power of emotional intelligence and driving forward whilst understanding how her own unique Global Indian identity has enabled her to glide through societies.
Over a unique blend of organic juices, that Chitra advises me holds a whole host of health benefits, she invites me to listen to her story that has shaped a nation. Although she is far too humble to admit it. Chitra was born in Singapore to Indian immigrant parents during the years of Lee Kuan Yew. She recalls her luck of having had “top-quality education and health care for free – in the middle of South East Asia in the 70s and 80s,” she reminisces. What Singapore gave her was rigorous education, tough discipline, a strong work ethic and religious and racial tolerance. Despite Singapore being home, she had her eyes set on education abroad, as she felt that she needed exposure beyond her immediate shores to really develop as a person. She smiles as she recalls wanting to be immersed in the European culture. As such, she found herself studying engineering as an undergraduate in London and then going on to work at PWC in which she qualified as a chartered accountant. The ambition to rise and invest in education had been instilled in her by her parents from a young age, especially being the oldest child of 6. “Nothing like the responsibility of being the first child in an Indian family. There was definitely a duty to blaze the trail for the others!” Chitra’s voyage into entrepreneurship started when she met her Swiss husband, Roman, and how, when she was studying her MBA they were open to the fact that opportunities would come in all shapes and sizes and by 1998, they had earned their first capital investment in an entrepreneurial venture. By 2001 they came to Portugal to analyse opportunities in real estate in the Algarve – “ The California of Europe”. She recalls the compelling factors at the time to convince them to enter the Algarve: including membership into the EU, key infrastructure and industry investments and the overall growth potential including the low-cost airlines that were changing travel within Europe. Besides some macroeconomic factors, there was no doubt that there was something about Portugal which made it the perfect place to live and invest. I ask her to narrow it down to one word and without hesitation she mentions “safety”. Fast forward to 2010 in the aftermath of Europe’s deepest financial crisis, against all the odds and whilst being heavily pregnant, they finally completed their first development and have since expanded into 3 other prime locations. It is heart-warming and inspiring to see how beautifully Chitra and Roman have woven together such distinctively different cultures and backgrounds and sketched what most would only imagine as a dream, into a reality which today exists in the form of their family at home, and the one they have built at Martinhal! Without doubt the melodies of building a better tomorrow is equally represented through their various ventures including an international school and a community living development, equipped with electric cars. What inspires me the most about Chitra is that she sees her role as not of a business owner but as a developer of empowerment. Even when we speak about female empowerment and entrepreneurship, she not only talks the talk but equally puts her money where her mouth is. Chitra is arranging a variety of empowerment events for women in business and she takes it on from her upbringing. For her, Hindu mythology is full of female power and so is the religion – Shakti, Kali, Durga are all female powers invoked by male Gods to surpass demons they could not confront themselves! The half-male-half-female form of Ardhanareshwara is half Shiva and half Shakti – which tells us that true power is to be shared she tells me. There is so much more to write about Chitra and her story that a mere article would not do it justice. However for me Chitra is not only a trendsetter but a beacon of value based success that illuminates the Global Indian world.
For her, life is clearly based on the power of emotional intelligence and driving forward whilst understanding how her own unique Global Indian identity has enabled her to glide through societies.
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