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Profile of Vandana Luthra

Published by Current on 2009-03-18

Not too many entrepreneurs can be said to be embodiments of their enterprise. But Vandana Luthra of New Delhi is certainly one.

She is slim and svelte. She is, of course, beautiful in the classical Indian mold, and she carries herself with the grace that only comes with enormous self confidence.

It’s the sort of self confidence that is engendered, quite possibly, from the knowledge that one is entirely self made. And that Ms. Luthra certainly is. She’s founder and mentor of VLCC, India’s leading slimming, beauty and fitness brand, and one with seven outlets in Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Sharjah, and an eighth center scheduled to open in Al Ain in May. There are VLCC slimming, beauty and fitness centers in Muscat and Bahrain, and by next year there will be a total of some 28 across the Middle East.

The largest number of VLCC centers, of course, is in Ms. Luthra’s native India – 150 of them in 75 cities. She facilitates professional development through her vocational training school, the VLCC Institute of Beauty, Health & Management, which currently has 43 campuses in 35 cities.

“The entrepreneur as an educator – that would be a fair way to characterize me,” Ms. Luthra said. “Fitness and wellbeing are a matter of education, and for that you need skilled trainers.”

Her own training after graduating from Delhi University was in nutrition and cosmetology in Germany. Then Ms. Luthra took a series of specialized courses and modules in beauty care, fitness, food and nutrition and skin care in London, Munich and Paris.

And then she returned to her middle-class home in New Delhi, India’s capital, and started a neighborhood beauty parlor. It was an instant success, and it emboldened her – with the canny assistance of her swarthy but handsome husband Mukesh – to start VLCC.

“I like to think that I seamlessly married scientific slimming programs with cutting edge skin and hair treatments,” Ms. Luthra said. “This was at a time when the Indian market was still nascent and the concept of combining fitness and beauty, as an approach to holistic wellness, was a completely new paradigm.”

What was it about that paradigm that made her want to bring it to the United Arab Emirates?

“It made eminent sense to look at the Middle East market as our first overseas foray, given that obesity in this region is rated as being amongst the highest in the world. In the UAE specifically, more than 60 percent of the population is either overweight or obese,” Ms. Luthra said. “Secondly, after a detailed study of several countries in the region, we decided to make the UAE as the base for our expansion in the Middle East on account of its highly investor friendly environment and its ideal location as an entrepôt for the region.”

Ms. Luthra makes another point about health and fitness that wouldn’t be ordinarily associated with a purveyor of slimming centers – the link between personal health and personal finance.

“To my mind, there is indeed a direct link between personal health and personal finance or rather personal health and the ability to manage personal finance,” she said. “A healthy population is an active population that contributes directly to the long-term economic prosperity of a nation. And, completing the cycle, a prosperous nation contributes directly to the prosperity of its populace. Ergo, if personal health is good, personal finances too will be great!

“On the flip side is the fact that individual prosperity, without a healthy and disciplined lifestyle, very often leads to deterioration of personal health -- most often linked to gaining of weight if not outright obesity -- and that is the danger individuals and nations as a whole must always be conscious of,” Ms. Luthra continued. “Obesity and overweight pose a major risk for serious diet-related chronic diseases, including adult-onset Type Two diabetes, cardiovascular disease, hypertension and stroke, and certain forms of cancer. The health consequences range from increased risk of premature death, to serious chronic conditions that reduce the overall quality of life. The collective impact has massive public health consequences, as is being currently experienced in the United States and Britain.”

Vandana has worked painstakingly to help the slimming, beauty and wellness industry be recognized as an organized sector industry; setting quality standards, benchmarking services and customer satisfaction while employing top-of-the-line technology and applications. Her endeavors have been towards placing the Indian fitness and beauty industry at par with those of the most advanced countries internationally. In recognition, the Government of India has appointed her as a member on the Special Task Force for Empowerment of Women. Most recently, she has has been listed as one of the 100 most powerful Indians in 2009 by Indian Express.

The ethic of sharing and teamwork is intrinsic to Vandana’s philosophy of life, whether it is with members of her own profession or with society at large. Hence, she is very active in partnering with the medical profession in the drive against health problems caused by obesity. To this end, she has set up the Anti-Obesity Foundation to encourage scientific research on obesity. The Foundation also raises awareness about the fact that obesity is a medical problem and is fast becoming a public health hazard in India.

She is also a keen educationist and a social worker. She spends a lot of time with young enthusiasts who wish to make their careers in the ever-expanding Health, Fitness and Beauty industry. As part of her philanthropic efforts, she actively helps the underprivileged and the physically challenged by providing them scholarships for free education. She was also recently appointed as a trustee of the National Children’s Fund, constituted by the Government of India under the aegis of the Ministry for Women & Child Development.

Vandana Luthra represents a movement for a healthy lifestyle, which is gaining momentum the world over at a very rapid pace.

3. Can Vandana make the link between personal health and personal finance? How does better health make a person more economically productive?

4. What are the advantages of being in the UAE?
That indeed would be a long list! To name a few, its investor friendly environment, its great cosmopolitan cultural and social environment, outstanding infrastructure and the warm and welcoming nature of Emiratis.

5. How does vandana find dealing with Emiratis, and how did she help in establishing National Obesity Week?
As I said earlier, I have found Emiratis to be warm and welcoming. Their respect for women is particularly noteworthy. And I do find it most heartening to see women holding office at some of the most important positions in the land. For me this is personally significant, given that women comprise over 75% of VLCC's employee base of 8,500.

As regards the Anti-Obesity Day, a property which VLCC conceived and created 9 years ago, it is an acknowledged fact that Obesity is a silent killer and VLCC has taken upon itself the task of spreading awareness about not just the health risks involved but also about the psychological and social effects of Obesity. Every year, VLCC observes 26th November as the Anti-Obesity Day and holds various social awareness programs/ health camps / Free Body analysis etc. across UAE, Oman, Bahrain, India and Nepal, through a public-private partnership effort.

Pranay Gupte,
Senior Writer and Global-Affairs Columnist

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