Tuesday, December 5, 2023
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South Asian women breaking barriers: Hema Bhatt

Monica Sethi Darpan, 21 Mar, 2023
  • South Asian women breaking barriers: Hema Bhatt

"Being a woman means being responsible and juggling different roles at work and home. Having been surrounded by strong women while growing up, I have never forgotten their impact on my life. I’ve learnt that there are no limitations—nothing is impossible if you put your mind to it."- Hema Bhatt, Senior Vice President, Natu Oil Services Inc.

This year, Natu Oil Services Inc., one of North America's largest sustainable refined palm oil suppliers, celebrates twenty years in business. The accomplishment seems even more significant when one considers that an Indian immigrant family from Malaysia started the company in Coquitlam (in a basement) and managed to expand its operations and build offices in five countries, including Canada, the USA, India, Malaysia, and Singapore. 

A silent partner until 2014, Hema Bhatt took on the leadership role in the company when her husband suffered a stroke. She had to put out fires immediately, with employees not being used to a female leader on the one hand and the suppliers wanting to squeeze her on the other, thinking that a woman would crumble under pressure.

However, since Hema was privy to the goings-on in the company, she managed to have the right conversations and convince the team to have faith in the female voice at the top. She also fully stocked the warehouse and brought in many more suppliers to reduce dependence on a select few. "At that point, I realized I was completely alone and had to see our family business through the storm. I had a strategy in place, and I stuck to it," she says.

As Senior Vice President, Hema oversees the company's operations, human resources and finance portfolio. She's also transitioning to work only three days a week so her two daughters can engage more fully with different aspects of the business. Her husband has also recovered considerably in the last nine years and works from home. 

Hema was born in Penang, Malaysia, into a family of eight children and wanted to become a flight attendant. However, her parents didn't want her to leave home, so she joined a travel agency after completing her education in the hospitality and tourism industry. Always a keen learner and a go-getter—she speaks six languages, cleared her driving tests and got her license within a week of arriving in Canada, and is Toastmasters certified.

Hema enjoys wearing many hats and is currently chairing the South Asian Health fund at Royal Columbia Hospital Foundation. In 2022, she managed to collect $800,000 through philanthropic grants from the South Asian community.

She also believes in leading a balanced lifestyle and doesn't carry work home. In fact, she cuts off from work once she's out of the office and prioritizes exercising and spending time with her family.


What does being a woman mean to you?

Being a woman means being responsible and juggling different roles at work and home. Having been surrounded by strong women while growing up, I have never forgotten their impact on my life. I’ve learnt that there are no limitations—nothing is impossible if you put your mind to it.

 What has been your most significant achievement?

Having raised $800,000 for the South Asian Health Fund, which I chair at the Royal Columbian Hospital Foundation, is a considerable achievement; also, knowing that I have earned the trust of the community, friends, colleagues and people whom I meet on an everyday basis who believe that together we can make a difference.

My most significant professional achievement was to achieve company growth and success through a challenging time. Since then, we have expanded our business into new markets, recruited excellent team members, and continued building our real estate profile.  

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What or who inspires you to do better each day?

I love life and all the successes and challenges it brings; being able to function with no mental or physical health issues allows me to inspire and be inspired. I’m also constantly inspired by my husband for his resilience in overcoming adversities and being a visionary and my daughters for being my pillars of support.

What is your advice to women who wish to follow your path?

Building the business of your dreams often starts with connecting with things you are most passionate about. Having a passion and a vision makes it easier to have a plan and goals. 

Also, equipping yourself with good education and the best skill set will give you a solid foundation to see you through the many challenges and pitfalls in business.

What is your success mantra? 

Great things can never come from comfort zones!

Photo: A Master Media

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