Mrs. Sunaina Gera, CEO at Gridlines and director of Gera Developments Pvt. Ltd. is the embodiment of the words passion and perseverance. We had the opportunity to sit down with her as she shared her success story, including the challenges she faced as a designer and as a woman.
Sunaina graduated from St. Stephens at Delhi and moved on to pursue higher learning in Interior design from Pune. Having had her roots well anchored in the design space, she’s an accomplished professional having completed over 75 interior design projects to her credit. Being a LEED certified professional was catalytic to adding additional projects under her belt in the Real Estate space.
Since then she has spearheaded various departments in Product Development, Design and Project Execution at Gera Developments before following her entrepreneurial instincts to founding Gridlines and being its Chief Executive Officer.
Almost nine years in the making, the decision of opening her own architecture firm came on a sunday afternoon in the form of an instantaneous answer to the simple question ’where do you see yourself in 5 years?’. Experienced and passionate, Mrs. Sunaina Gera, in her mid 40s has founded Gridlines, ‘an integrated design firm that unites a dynamic team of strategists, futurists, researchers, architects and real estate specialists driven by a singular goal—to help solve clients’ and society’s greatest challenges’.
Aimed at reducing the great void between practical and draw design in the Indian industry – ‘Work’ is the thread that binds the cultural fabric at Gridlines – she believes it is the uncompromising work ethic that makes all the difference to the consistently outstanding output. The “work and work only” approach is what sets Gridlines apart and takes it a notch higher – making it a preferred partner for many in a saturated industry overrun with players. Summarizing the “work only” approach, Mrs. Gera says, “ It is not one or another but ‘We’ and ‘Working Together’ as ‘One’ that makes for stellar collective work at Gridlines.” She further reiterates “The best part about hard work & work ethic is that it makes complex or abstract delivery become just a natural outcome.” With a motivated and unique team backing her, she believes zealousness and the will to learn are necessary qualities of a designer and leader.
A multi-tasker to say the least, Mrs. Sunaina has worked on 11 projects at once with no team. Her motivation? Her passion for design. She states, “there’s no dread in the morning, no second thoughts about going to office- just wake up, get ready and go.” Despite her age, she works tirelessly in order to succeed, to be able to go to bed at peace and to deliver her very best everyday. Sunaina Gera is indeed an inspiration to all working mothers and designers.
A veteran in the industry, she has observed the changes and been victim to a few stereotypes too. Mrs. Gera says – “In the real estate world – segments have changed, segments haven’t. One (ever present stereotype) that always works is the damsel in distress approach. In the design world it’s easy – in my office there are more women than men. In the hard core construction world- that’s a tough one. You won’t see many sites with women around but we (Gera Developments) have one site where we only have female workers -engineers- at that site. So that’s a unique proposition. In the office, I’d say there’s a mixed ratio. There is a bias though. Men tend to think that – oh what does she know about real estate? – and the same applies when we talk about marble – what does she know about the dolomite content of the stone? How does she know the MOH factor? How. Does she know if it’s really going to give it the polish it requires in the long run? What should be the content of the stone? Which marble, of which country, should be used so the polish can really last? So there are all these stereotypes. I can bet on the fact that – the industry in Pune might know–but otherwise, how many quarries I’ve visited worldwide. And I’ve had my own friends tell me ‘you go to the quarries? That’s not your job. That’s Rohit’s (her husband’s) job.’ and I’m like – why? I think one of the most pleasurable trips I’ve had, when I go abroad for material resourcing, is when I go to a quarry. It gives me such a high, I can’t tell you. I actually have a picture on my phone from when I was at a quarry in Italy, which I will never delete. It was March so the snow was melting and everyone said it’s not the time to go but I was hell bent on going. So I did, with boots on and everything. I knew which bench and how much I wanted; and now I have the clarity-how much material, what bench, how many euros. I know what to do now-say in Italy, you land into Bresier, someone comes pick you up and you go (do your job) – it’s not that hard and having done so three times now, I think, how difficult can it be?”
The realty market has seen a slowdown in the last year and a half, with the implementation of new guidelines like RERA, which require builders to shoulder a lot more responsibility and give customers the tools to hold developers accountable to their promises. Mrs. Gera, however, remains unruffled – because her business ethics are as strong as her work ethic. She is of the opinion that no government policy will affect clean developers or real estate companies, whatever policymakers may throw at them – from RERA, GST, and demonetization.
In spite of the apparent slowdown, Gridlines is hiring new talent with more than 75 lakh sq.ft of work underway. And Gridlines has achieved this feat after being around for just 24 months. Gridlines has executed and expanded its business during the Indian realty sector’s most
pressing phase – a testament to what sound leadership and hard work can do! Despite the growing customer demands – thanks to social media and awareness- Mrs. Gera believes she has still not exhausted the market in Pune and is looking for new challenges.
Humble to the roots, the leadership journey that began with Gera’s Park View and expanded with Gridlines, has taken a new course – education. Mrs. Sunaina Gera has now taken over the responsibility of The Gera School as the Managing Trustee. The school is a K-12 school and proposed to follow the Cambridge board. The Gera School is scheduled to be operational in Goa. Inspired by her mother-in-law and her work in the refugee areas after the partition as a teacher to, initially, a mere 20 students, Mrs. Gera knew that down the line she would return to education field – to better the system and provide a secure and fun process of learning her daughter yearned for as a child.
When asked about the brightest feather in her cap, Mrs. Sunaina Gera without hesitation mentions her daughter. Behind every successful woman like Mrs. Sunaina Gera is…another inspiring young woman! Mrs. Gera admits that her daughter is her biggest inspiration. Mrs. Gera says of her daughter “She comes with huge confidence, commitment to succeed and an ability to tactfully deal with people, which I think is key to one’s success. I have a lot to learn from her.”
Definitely aware of the current work culture and misogynistic society, Mrs. Gera believes that sexual harassment and a predominant male-bias still shadow the industry today. Aware of the restraints and responsibilities of as a mother and head of household, Mrs. Sunaina proclaims that “the struggles of working women may have solutions and can be coined as misconceptions but each case differs – it becomes people specific – and to bring about the change for the equality – commitments need to be made” . Taking responsibility, she states “If people like me are gender biased, then we are the ones to be blamed. It starts with people at the top – regardless of gender we must be willing to employ and take a risk.”
“Fight, fight, fight, you cannot give up!” is what Mrs. Gera advices the youngsters, women and those who are struggling in the business world for various reasons.
Ending with the question that made her, when asked where she sees herself in 5 years, Mrs. Gera wishes she is still working in this stream and hopes for continued success.
“Fight, fight, fight, you cannot give up!” –
Sunaina Gera (CEO at Gridlines and Director of Gera Developments Pvt. Ltd. )