Meghana Manay Hemanth COO Of SR Gopal Rao Is An Eco-friendly Go-Getter

Meghana Manay Hemanth had a clear vision of where she was headed when she inherited the historical optical business SR Gopal Rao.

A family-run business with a century-old legacy to upkeep, Meghana Manay Hemanth knows where she comes from and has a clear vision of where she is headed —  when she inherited the historical optical business SR Gopal Rao, to bring her passion for the environment to the business.

SR Gopal Rao was founded by her great-grandfather, and it currently resides in the same NR road heritage building where it was first established in the late 1800s.

Meghana Manay, an IIM-B graduate and entrepreneur by profession, is aware of how the market can be volatile if one does not adapt, but she also is adamant about keeping her brand to its original promise of delivering top-quality eyewear.

Meghana Manay Hemanth brought her passion for “eco-friendly” to SR Goapl Rao

Meghana Manay Hemanth

An environmentalist by passion, Meghana believes that upcycling and recycling is a group activity, where the world comes together and not just focuses on awareness but also actions to support it.

She doesn’t shy away from starting the movement herself, she has made big leaps in making sure her brand not only becomes synonymous with the best optical and optometries in the city but also supports eco-friendly practices.

After working in this industry for approximately 13 years, Meghana notes how she never hesitated when it came to either voicing her opinion or taking initiative.

“The insecurity part of it is left at home and I go guns blazing with my ideas”

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What were the challenges faced by you as a female entrepreneur working in a highly male-dominated medically inclined field?

What came with the business was already an efficient team that knew how to follow the system that we wanted. The business was lacking in understanding what should be the strategy.  It gives me an aerial view, then I’m able to actually dive into those areas that require attention.

As a woman, I have realized that the spotlight has been thrown on because of time, given the fact that the industry is not really a female-dominated industry. From the supply chain to the ownership part of it, You tend to stand out a lot more because you’re a woman.

But the industry itself is very supportive. Especially after the advent of awareness through social media. At the end of the day, the question is, is it strategic enough? Does it align? Our intelligence is genderless after a point.

Being a COO of a family business, can you tell me how you maintain your work-life balance? Does the family aspect permeate the business side?

Absolutely. The good thing is, I come from a business background. So everybody already knows how this works. We all know the pressures that come with the business and how much work actually goes into it.

There are a lot of synergies which are working well for us. On hectic days, it looks like a group project. Like you’re not in this alone, with a lot of emotional support, a good support system.

As entrepreneurs, we tend to always blur the lines between work and life. But over the years we’ve learned that that part is equally important, and so is it to keep it on the desk and come home.

Did the gender demography of the people your company hires change after you took over in 2011?

Staff at SR Goapl Rao

Yeah, I think in terms of women hires, we have a lot more now. Opticians and optometrists are becoming a very women-dominated field. I think it has a lot to do with improved work-life balance. So after 2011, what happened was our team expanded.

Honestly, what I strive for is diversity because I feel like that really adds value to the business. So while women are a very critical factor right now, we are slightly more women than men, I would say, and that equation would be about 55 or 56 women and the rest would be men. It’s not too biased in any direction. But I really aim for diversity. The more diverse it is, the better it is.

What is your takeaway on the current scenario of female entrepreneurship in India?

Just kind of refreshing to see that there is no age bar now. There is no gender bar. Everybody is having something or the other to pitch to social media.  But the fact that people are trying some stuff which is very innovative and creative and that to achieve at a young age, that is amazing!

What new and innovative vision do you have for your brand in the immediate and extended future?

I’m rooted in where it was, that’s for sure. But I would have to make changes to the business to ensure it stays ahead of its game. Most of the heritage brands fail to adapt to the times. Because of that, either a lack of continuity or a lack of creativity.

That is also why our focus is on creativity, expansion, our strategizing, in our portfolio of products and in our team.

Recently, we launched Bangalore’s first ‘Myopia Management Center’. We have realized that this is the direction in which the world should go because Myopia is a growing concern, and we have done anything to tackle the problem at every level, not just at the hospitals.

Your Instagram posts suggest your ideas on environmentally safe practices and recycling. Could you explain what inspired you to start this initiative and what its future looks like?

That’s more like a passion project, as it’s quite expensive. Every time somebody wants to change, say, the frame, either the lenses have to be if they’re changing the frame, then we change the whole pair instead. Around 2019, I realized that there was no proper disposal mechanism.

There are some products that are made from acetate, which are actually biodegradable, but it takes up to ten years for them to biodegrade! Recycling is tough because recyclers only take large quantities of a single material and most of the materials are a mixture of metal, rexine etc. The only way to elongate the life of these products is to actually upcycle them.

We started identifying different partners, but all are very small right now, the ecosystem for upcycling is so niche. We are still trying to find a permanent solution for it because I know our partners are too small to take continuous large quantities right now.

My ideas are: Artists who would like to work with these materials, Second are upcyclers, Third is to see how it can go into some other form of product which has got a very long life, like say, furniture.

I’d like to give you a small example: We recently changed our spectacle cases material. Usually, they are made of rexine, so we changed all of it to recycled paper and recycled boards which can be removed and reused.

We found a partner in Tamil Nadu who makes these for us. I  have a feeling by next year we will have a solution. A lot of other companies are also working on this and this is a group activity. Acceptance is still very poor, but I’m determined to do my part!

Conclusion

Our society is evolving into becoming more than a male-dominated space where entrepreneurs, like Meghana Manay Hemanth, are not only valued but also bear the torch for the women who will come after them.

A path where ideas are genderless and real-time solutions for ecological sustainability are sorted after, then it being just paperwork of social commitment.


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Image source: Courtesy Meghana Manay Hemanth, edited on CanvaPro

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