Brewing transition, one cup at a time!!
Published on June 18, 2022
Boncafe was founded in Singapore in 1962 and established in the Middle East in 2003. They are a leading manufacturer and supplier of fresh roast and ground gourmet coffee to distinguished companies and retail customers across the Middle East and South East Asia, In 2014, Boncafe became a proud member of the Massimo Zanetti Beverage Group, which owns a network of successful companies and international brands such as Segafredo Zanetti, Chock full o’Nuts, Kauai and Hill Bros (USA), and Meira (Finland).

This conversation with Mrs. Aparna Barretto was more than enlightening for us young professionals as she is someone who has broken barriers to reach a leadership position.

A brief introduction to Aparna Barretto:

Mrs. Aparna Barretto was born and brought up in Mumbai, India wherein her dream was to become a medical professional however, life had a different path for her and she discovered Chartered Accountancy as her second passion. Her professional journey from then on involved starting out as a core audit professional at a firm in Dubai and growing on from there to a Financial Controller at Boncafe and eventually climbing the corporate ladder into the Managing Director of the group. This is a highly simplified description of a journey that had several twists and turns.

The start of her professional journey:

Throughout her childhood, Mrs. Aparna Barretto dreamt of becoming a doctor. However, due to a slight percentage difference, she was not able to get admission into a medical college in Mumbai. She was absolutely shattered as this was a dream, she had seen for herself ever since she was a child. The next six months were a difficult period as she battled feelings of failure and distress, little did she know this was going to be a significant contributor to her future successes.

She believes that her not getting admission to a medical college taught her one of the most valuable lessons of her life which are to always have plan B, and if that does not work out then to have a plan C. This lesson is powerfully engraved in her mind and she has inculcated this into her leadership philosophy.

It so happened that her cousin recommended her to pursue Chartered Accountancy and her immediate thought was that from fixing brains and bodies, she will now have to fix numbers. She had never thought of doing Chartered Accountancy but due to her current state of affairs, she thought of giving it a shot. To her own surprise, she ranked 16 all over India and came first in Statistics and this achievement reinstated her self-belief. When she looks back now, she is glad that she did not become a doctor but chose to enter the field of Finance instead as this change in plan was a monumental milestone in her career as it has contributed to the immense success that she has had in her professional journey.

The conversation then moved on to her day-to-day experience in leading a multi-national group such as Boncafe.

How important is it to balance personal and professional life being a woman?

According to Mrs. Aparna Barretto, it is extremely important to understand the definition of balance, she states that initially, it is hard to create a balance between personal and professional life. She states: “women are in a constant struggle to juggle life; we want to be a perfect mom, a perfect wife, a perfect professional only to realize that we cannot be perfect at everything.” Prioritizing which area of her life needs the most attention is her way of creating balance. There are days when her work needs her but there are also days when her family needs her and she has been able to strike that balance by knowing when exactly to prioritize which aspect of her life.

Furthermore, she recognizes her position in her life today would not have been possible without the strong support system she has in place. She especially highlights and gives due credit to the men that have played a crucial role in her life, from her father to her husband, to her mentor; they have truly helped her maintain the optimal work-life balance.

How difficult has her professional journey been in being a woman leader?

She thoroughly believes that she is lucky to have had a career in a country like Dubai wherein men and women are given equal opportunities on most fronts, compared to many other countries in the world.

She remembers times wherein she entered meetings that had no women involved except herself and this initially created a lot of anxiety during these meetings. The dynamic has changed massively in the past 10 years and the direction the region is moving towards is certainly progressive.

In the early days, she often faced resistance because of her gender, however, her perseverance and consistent performance helped persuade everyone that she deserves a place at the table. Her experience has taught her that it is important to let one’s performance to do all the talking.

How does she view competition?

Her philosophy about competition is a motivational tool as long as it is healthy, her aim has never been to put anybody else in the industry down. She believes that multiple companies from the same industry can co-exist and do well, one of the ways to aid this mindset has been to organize events wherein different companies from the same industry come together and help each other grow and prosper.

How was the journey from an audit professional to a Managing Director?

Aparna as an individual is a curious being. She never limited herself to auditing the organization’s accounts but went beyond the day-to-day rigmarole and deep-dived in understanding the business holistically that she was operating in. With the support of her mentor and her tenacious personality, she was gradually able to make the transition from being a finance professional to be the first woman on the board of Boncafe Middle East in 2014.

This was yet another monumental milestone in her life that she cherishes and will continue cherishing all her life. She always had an edge when it comes to understanding the P&L of the company both from a commercial & financial lens given her finance background.

But reflecting on her initial days as a Leader and during the transition, her primary challenge was people management, she said managing people coming from different backgrounds across the levels was particularly a tough skill to learn. Managing diversity on a day-to-day basis while keeping the corporate ecosystem healthy was particularly challenging.

The importance of attitude with regards to success:

She truly believes and embodies the philosophy of seeing situations and circumstances from an empathic point of view. She takes into consideration points of view that are not her own because she thinks that is the optimum way of elevating learning and becoming more inclusive on the other hand, her empathy should not be mistaken for her weakness. She believes her curious attitude and empathy have been two strong traits that have always helped her progress in life.

How is Boncafe different from the big bad wolfs in the industry? What is Boncafe’s USP?

Mrs. Aparna Barretto never claims that Boncafe has the best coffee or the best coffee machine however she said that Boncafe has the best total package which includes their products and services. Everybody has a personal taste and preference when it comes to coffee however, Boncafe provides its consumers with a complete package which starts with a great coffee tasting to having high-quality machinery that compliments it to having a solid after-sales support team. She believes in an industry where organizations are trying to cut corners they heavily invest in their technical abilities and resources.

Closing thoughts:

Major takeaways from the conversation we had with Mrs. Barretto would be to always have a backup plan in place for when things do not go your way, additionally, having a solid support system will help you achieve the biggest dreams you have for yourself.

Lastly be as curious as you can be because that is one of the best ways to elevate your learning, take people along with you on your journey, keep performing consistently and always keep your empathy hat on.