Flying high after beating cancer

From dreaming to be a pilot to owning an airlines company, Ms Kanika Tekriwal (right) has come a long way.

The CEO of JetSetGo Aviation Services fought all odds, including cancer, to soar high.

"I wanted to become a pilot since I was four years old," the 33-year-old told The Indian Express.

"I come from a typical Marwari business family (in Bhopal) where girls aren't allowed to work, forget about being a pilot.

"I convinced them to allow me to study design and moved to Mumbai. While interning at a design company, I told my boss about my passion for aviation. He asked me if I would help him set up his aviation company and that's where it all started."

Ms Kanika moved to London and pursued aviation from scratch. She was only 16 years old at the time.

But destiny had other plans as she had to return to India sooner than she had expected.

"I was diagnosed with cancer when I was 22 and could not work. I had to pack my bags and return," she said.

"I beat cancer after a year and that was what convinced me to start JetSetGo - all because life gave me another chance."

Once she knew aviation was her calling, Ms Kanika fought all odds, including her parents, to set up her own company.

Today, her company operates and manages 28 aircraft and four helicopters of seven different kinds. With a turnover of Rs150 crore, it has about 200 employees, with offices in Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai and Hyderabad.

But the road to being a CEO didn't come easy to Ms Kanika.

"When we created an app for our company, my father joked about it being a gaming app," she said.

"Nobody took me seriously. I still remember when I went to my first sales meeting, someone thought I was there to serve everyone tea and coffee.

"I wanted to cry but I mustered my courage and told him why I was there."

Ms Kanika added that the biggest challenge is how the aviation industry is dominated by older people and it has not been disrupted.

"I was at the receiving end of prejudices for being a woman and 'too young'," she said.

"There were backhanded compliments and comments that implied I didn't belong in this 'boys-only' aviation club.

"Despite these recurring hurdles, I decided that the success of my business would be determined only by my ideas, my competencies to execute them and my sense of self-worth."

Ms Kanika gave herself no choice except to march forward.

In the last two years, her company handled 100,000 fliers - many of them India's rich and powerful, who leased jets from her company to travel for business meetings or election rallies - and operated 6,000 flights.

With her success, Ms Kanika has tried to change perceptions for good.

"In 2019, we took an oath to be a gender-neutral organisation, and today, about 30 per cent of our team comprises women, especially in critical leadership roles," she said.

Despite reaching the top of the ladder, not every day is a celebration for Ms Kanika.

Self-motivation is her mantra on days when things aren't rosy.

"Some days are really hard, some days I wake up to news about some issue with an aircraft, bad weather, customers screaming, catering gone wrong," she said.

"Sadly, these days happen very frequently, at least three to four days a month. But while it can get difficult to get out of bed, I know I have to keep going and put on a smile.

"It takes a lot of self-motivation, to remind myself that I'm doing this because I love it and I want to change the world."

One of the changes that Ms Kanika has noticed in the aviation sector post-pandemic is in people's perceptions towards chartered flights.

"Pre-Covid, private jetting was considered a sheer luxury or a huge expenditure to impress, but the pandemic has redefined this notion to a great extent," she said.

"Now it's a matter of health and privacy for individuals and businesses, and it has become a new normal."

Ms Kanika has seen new clientele in start-up founders. There is also an increase in demand for personal use, a change from when the flights were mostly for businesses.

Amid the post-pandemic recovery, Ms Kanika is confident her stock will keep rising.

Indo-Asian News Service

"I was at the receiving end of prejudices for being a woman and 'too young'. Despite these recurring hurdles, I decided that the success of my business would be determined only by my ideas, my competencies to execute them and my sense of self-worth."

- Ms Kanika Tekriwal

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