Sajni Gill and her empire

The Gill story is awe-inspiring and fascinating once you understand where it started

We were meeting after several years. The setting was surreal. As was the journey from our temporary home in Canggu, Bali, to Sajni Gill’s sprawling ocean-front mansion on a cliff in upscale Uluwatu, three hours away and right next to the swish Bulgari resort. Our three hour drive time through insane traffic to chill with Sajni (who’d especially flown in for the day from Singapore), was efficiently halved by a manic cop on a motorbike, shooing vehicles off the road to let us pass. This invaluable service had been organised by Jagdev Singh, Sajni’s husband and business partner.

The impressive estate with an infinity pool, gym, spa and every conceivable modern luxury, serves as an occasional getaway for the industrious Gill family, which includes two children, Sunaina and Sanveer, who are an integral part of the vast Gill empire that spans more than six countries and controls over a 1,000 stores, employing more than 5,000 people, 65 per cent women. As Sajni puts it, “Equality and empowerment are the two fundamental pillars that underpin gender parity.’’ The Gill story is awe-inspiring and fascinating once you understand where it started. As Sajni and I caught up on the spectacular deck that overlooks an expanse of the blue-green Indian ocean, I listened to a charged up woman in a simple Batik kaftan, wearing discreet jewelry, as she discussed her latest passion project—Scoop Wholefoods—which already has nine stores in Singapore, a strong online presence, and several offers to go global. What is Scoop? Sajni describes it as an “organic, zero waste, sustainably sourced, bulk wholefoods store”. Sajni sources the best nuts and seeds from across the word, grown by farmers who understand the value of produce that’s free from additives, preservatives and other harmful chemicals. I sampled her plump, jade green pumpkin seeds and instantly became a believer.

Shobhaa De and Sajni Gill | Instagram@shobhaade Shobhaa De and Sajni Gill | Instagram@shobhaade

Armed with a degree from Harvard Business School, Sajni, today, is a far cry from the woman who opted for an arranged marriage to a near stranger and moved to Singapore more than 40 years ago—future unknown. Brought up by a single mother, who was raising two young daughters on a meagre alimony, Sajni and her sister learnt the value of hard work early in life. As did her husband, the youngest of six children, who, at 18, left his father’s sports goods business in Jakarta and branched out on his own. Today, the two of them work closely together and run Gill Capital, while overseeing the operations of more than 60 top brands in their kitty, including H&M, Hershey’s, Decathlon and the wondrously successful Candylicious (billed as the world’s biggest candy store). The practical and grounded Jagdev said in an interview, “If there’s no money, there’s no fight. Then the money comes and the fight starts. It can destroy everything you’ve ever built.” Wise words.

Sajni handed me an important book, which she credits with having transformed her life after she was diagnosed with cancer over six years ago. Sports Nutritionist Lyn-Genet Recitas, the author of several books, is one of the most sought after practitioners of mindful eating in the world. Her book, The Metabolism Plan Workbook dominates The New York Times best-seller list, along with her other titles. Sajni attributes her cancer recovery to Recitas’s sensible and achievable food goals, which Sajni continues to advocate and propagate to “those who listen.” Well, I was listening keenly. And have recommended the book to friends, who are keen to make changes in their diet, but don’t know where to begin. Seeing Sajni’s glowing skin, shiny nails and bright eyes, I am planning to order my own ‘scoops’ online. Till my nuts and seeds arrive from Sajni’s store, I will be a good girl and start drinking single malt thrice a week—a brilliant Sajni recommendation! Cheers!

@DeShobhaa @shobhaade