Rasagna Rao Dharmana Transforming The Indian Male Dominated Beer Industry With India’s First Woman-Led Commercial Brewery, Reybier.
The alcohol beverage sector has traditionally been dominated by men. The gender gap, however, appears to be closing as more women decide to learn about and further their careers in this field, redefining it. Rasagna R Dharmana is on the mission of closing this gap with Reybier, India’s First Woman-Led Commercial Brewery and Myz-Uno, Andhra Pradesh First and Largest Micro Brewery.
In an exclusive interview with Brewer World on the occasion of Women’s Day, Rasagna talks about what it is like to be a serial entrepreneur in a male-dominated industry and the misconceptions and challenges she faced. She also shares a piece of advice for women who are looking to enter the alco-bev space.
Hi Rasagna. Tell us a little bit more about yourself and your background. What sparked your interest in the beer industry?
I pursued Mechanical Engineering, and I am a graduate with double MBAs each in Entrepreneurship and operations from UCM, Spain and Cornell, USA, respectively. I started my entrepreneurial journey with SMART City and Strategy consulting firm VOSSOA along with my husband, Mr Bharath Kamma in Madrid. While I was living in Spain/Europe, surrounded by several Breweries in and around my neighbourhood, I had an opportunity to tour the breweries that made to think about and fell in love with that world; In the due course, I handled operations consulting projects with one of the local Breweries which thrived to set up a Brewery back in my home country. I knew it was going to be the beginning of an incredible journey. My inquisitive nature enabled me to do a lot of research and learn the “Know-how” of brewing. I travelled across the globe and visited multiple breweries where I met outstanding brewers to understand the nuances, technology and recipe formulations. I always believe in the concept – “You think Big, and You get Big,” which fuelled me to commence my Journey with Micro Brewery scaling to Commercial Brewery Segment – Reybier Alco Bev Private Limited in Goa. “To be an indispensable part of people’s frustrations and celebrations-You need a beer that causes a serene environment”- It’s a feeling I love to deliver the best drink for all such reasons.
What is it like to be a woman in the male-dominated beverage industry?
Being the only child to my parents, I always grew up without any gender disparities in mind. My upbringing made me strongly believe that personality type drives how you are seen more than your gender. Scientifically, women have a superior sense of smell, taste and creativity. Therefore, in the beverage industry, women always have the upper hand as we can appreciate and identify the nuances of say, a fine and complex drink. To iterate the fact, the beer drink was first manufactured by Ninkasi, the Mesopotamian goddess of beer and brewing. I believe many women in history have made a significant contribution to growing, improving and evolving the industry, from launching brands to inventing and improving processes. Inspired by history, I have never seen myself as any different from a man in the industry. Being a woman has never come in the way of my being able to perform. As my mechanical engineering and management background has helped me a lot to outperform in the leadership role.
It’s been especially rewarding to incept an organization, Reybier that supports women in the building of their careers in a male-dominated industry. At Reybier, 75% of the employees are women, who are not only in HR and Marketing but also on the shopfloor as machine operators. I find this journey exciting and challenging Since both ends of the supply chain are male-dominated where the product is facilitated by women! In building Reybier, the talent of the individual, opportunity and the urge to perform outrightly ride the gender, race and domicile of any individual.
What challenges did you face when you first entered the industry?
In India, if a woman enters the hospitality industry, people fling free bits of advice, “Don’t. You can’t manage.” It takes a lot for a woman to turn a deaf ear to these spirit-dampening remarks. Unfortunately, it’s been considered uncommon for a woman to own a brewery but the world at large continues to evolve rapidly. The first and foremost reaction I get when I say I own a brewery is completely Bizarre (shock and disbelief). My initial challenge is to identify the Premise, Equipment Suppliers, Brewer, and Staff and arrange the financials. It was a tough time while searching for the lands as I encountered the most derogatory comments from known and unknown people. So, first of all, I had to convince them that yes I am! People say to me that I wouldn’t last in this business for more than months, But it’s been seven years and I am here today with and lot more to go. So rather than getting caught up in the challenges of being a woman, I am just trying to move forward and make the best I can.
The industry structure is completely complex and regulated. Dealing with regulations is the biggest challenge of doing business in the alcohol industry. Licensing is a big challenge. Policies and Regulations vary from state to state, exemplifying the Ironic concept of “Unity in Diversity”. People don’t trust that you can manage this business.!
You have to work twice as hard to earn respect. Being ahead of the curve and embracing new trends are very important for us. Like any woman in the corporate world, I too shall continue to face challenges in the industry, my focus has been not on my gender but on the technical and creative skill set required to get the job done. I have been blessed to have a team that helps me take on challenges, and calculated risks and expand the business horizon along the way.
What do you think about the evolution of the craft beer industry in India?
India is a land of diverse cultures with a wide variety of people with varied interests and preferences for almost everything including food and beverages. Craft beer is becoming more and more popular among Indians, so this market has grown a lot in recent years. As the market growth continues, the future looks extremely promising. New Gen Brewers particularly play a prominent role in this trend by experimenting with different flavours and tastes.
You are the founder of Myz-Uno, the first microbrewery in Andhra Pradesh, can you tell us a little about it?
Myz-Uno – Incepted in 2017 the name represents the first (UNO) beer brewed out of Maize (MYZ) for Andhra Pradesh. Myz-Uno the 1st Microbrewery of Andhra Pradesh, located in the heart of Visakhapatnam serves craft beer fresh from tank to tap to glass, cutting out the need for kegs, casks or bottling in this state-of-the-art facility spread across 10,000 sq. ft palatial seating segmented for Families, Youth and Party lovers. The vast dining menu includes the 7 state cuisines of India (270+ dishes) for food lovers, beer boys and drinkers. Myz-Uno also has one of the largest dance floors in the state which enthrals the customers. Myz-Uno’s USP lies in striking the balance between the youth and families to celebrate their joyful moments at designated areas.
What does your typical day at work look like? How do you manage work-life balance?
Every professional day comes with a bundle of challenges and recognitions. The day is effectively spent at the shop floor, understanding the traits to optimize the brewing processes, exercising measures to eliminate non-value-adding activities resulting in the design of lean systems, team meetings and knowledge-sharing discussions – round the clock! I am a passionate traveller, and have visited more than 60 countries to understand varied cultures, business dynamics and livelihoods – To balance the work-life!
To burn the stress and restore my energy levels, my day starts with vibrant yoga sessions. I practise the Spanish Baile – Flamenco and Kuchipudi as a hobby. If that takes care of my physical fitness, on the spiritual front I am passionate about astrology as it is a combination of Astro-Physics and Planetary Mathematics.
Tell us about the projects you are currently working on. What goals and objectives do you plan to achieve this year?
Currently, we are working on the supply of our beer brands – Royal C’zar (Super Strong & Lager), Mr BOB (Pilsner) and Marengo (Hefeweizen) to the global markets from Reybier Alco Bev Private Limited, Goa facility.
As an ever-growing organization, we have set sustainable goals for this year, to optimize our business operations and hence increase our stakeholders’ value. Also, we proudly announce that Reybier is “a Zero-Coal consumption organisation across our processes”
Sustainable Goals :
- Implement the Six Sigma measures to achieve quality standards
- Utilize all of the water; adhering to a zero water wastage policy
- Reduce the carbon footprint.
- Installation of Solar Energy to meet the Green Energy Industry Standards – In the process.
Reybier is India’s First Woman led commercial brewery. How do you feel about it and what would you like to tell women who are looking to start their own business in the beer space?
Well, I have always seen it as an opportunity not just to prove myself with my work, but also to open doors and be an ally to other women and help them make an impact. Being the first woman entrepreneur in the genre of Brewing Industry, I take this as a strong responsibility to lead and deliver it to future generations with passion and success. I strive to bring out a “Value Creation” from Reybier rather than just “Valuation’.
As every crisis gives rise to an opportunity; the Low presence of women in this industry enables them to go for it and prove themselves to the fullest potential. While the alcohol business is the toughest with a lot of barriers to entry, there is also a lot of room for making a significant difference. The beer category is more of a blank canvas than ever to do something special. It’s equally important to help other women navigate this business and craft balance in life, all while having a successful career. I always wanted to tell Women that Rest in the end, not in the middle. Have a dream and go for it till you achieve using the 3Ps of Entrepreneurship.
My 3Ps of Entrepreneurship :
- Prudent – Act right on time, every time
- Persistence-Making mistakes will help you improve
- Passion-Feel the urge to succeed
What is the best piece of advice you received when you started? Has it helped you in your journey?
The best advice that I received was, “A good plan shrewdly executed now is better than a perfect plan next week. You should not wait for all the circumstances to be just right before you undertake something that you have been planning, maybe for a great number of years, you will never start because circumstances are just never RIGHT.”
The above advice has influenced my work life to a greater extent, at every crucial juncture!
According to you, are there any misconceptions about the industry?
Owning/Consumption of alcohol is still considered a taboo in Indian society. Women venturing into this industry have to face a lot of criticism and wrath. The biggest misconception is “women cannot handle the alcohol business.” Women are not intellectually as capable as men to understand the engineering sciences, R& D and business – which is completely a myth. And I believe one of the most challenging aspects of the brewery business is branding and marketing, where women play a crucial role in it.
What is the significance of mentoring? Have there been any professional inspirations in your life?
Mentoring is extremely important in today’s fast-paced lives as it provides valuable and rich guidance to avoid repetitive mistakes; shorten the learning curve, and deliver the combined output for a humongous impact!
With her unmatchable communication skills, Oprah Winfrey inspires me to be a great orator at work, where clear communication at the right time, will erode most of the problems in work life.
The Grande Dame of Champagne, Madame Clicquot has always been impressed with her leadership skills. Being widowed at age 27, Madame Clicquot took over her late husband’s wine business in 1805. She invented the riddling rack/process for making Champagne and made Veuve Clicquot one of the leading Champagnes in the world.