THE SHE FACTOR: Marching With The Flora General

By Muhammad Riaz Usman
Khaleej Times, Dubai, United Arab Emirates

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) With a humble start of a table office in India back in 1996, today Shalini Bhatnagar, founder of “Fiona Environs” has 4 offices worldwide with total staff strength of 60-plus people. Besides offering landscape architectural and design services, Shalini has successfully forayed into landscape project management, landscape value engineering, way-finding and signage.

DUBAI

Shalini Bhatnagar was drawn towards landscape designing because of her admiration for plants and flowers, something which she feels she inherited from her botanist mother.

“I was interested in art from an early age and then, attracted by architecture. I found that landscape architecture allowed me to have fun with my work and satisfy my creative impulses,” Shalini, founder and CEO of Fiona Environs, says.

“Landscape designing as a subject has always been close to my heart, thanks to my mom who is a botanist. The experience of heading the landscape department for one of the premier hotel chains in India, gave me a great exposure into the designing industry. It allowed me to work with leading international designers, thus fuelled my passion for landscape designing. That’s when I decided to launch Fiona Environs, which till date has been one of the best decisions I have ever made,” she says.

Starting her career in Mumbai during the 1980s, she always felt that landscape designing was seen as afterthought even though it contributed to more than 20 per cent of the cost of project.

With a determination to reshape the perception towards landscape architecture and her doting husband’s support, she went on to start Fiona Environs in 1996 and scoring several prominent clients in India such as the Leela Palaces, Hotels and Resorts.

“When I began my career as a landscape architect, the industry was quite niche. Paving my path into this sector was not really easy, as landscape design was considered more as an afterthought instead of a necessity. Being at the forefront at Fiona Environs has given me the opportunity to subtly influence the perception of decision makers to no longer consider landscape as an option,” Shalini describes.

“My goal is to create imaginative and stimulating landscapes that delight and entertain people, and I see wonderful opportunities to use all of my creative forces, in the future. I am of the opinion that there is more than a lifetime of fascinating work to be done and I always want to break new ground. Our work transcends the tried-and-tested formulas and we intend to take the practice of landscape architecture into the realm of fine art. Landscape designing provides us a unique opportunity to create outdoor aesthetics that a connoisseur will enjoy and appreciate for years,” she adds.

Later in 2008, with the same determination that drove Shalini to found Fiona Environs, she inaugurated the first overseas office in Dubai. During the 10 years of her presence in the region, she has been awarded with several projects that not only allowed her to reflect her creativity and passion but were instrumental in transforming the desert landscape into timeless pieces of art.

“I am not sure if this idea can change the world or the UAE, but my aim is to try and create designs that transcend time, are sustainable, and are a visual delight,” she continues.

Shalini says that the UAE has one of the most supportive startup ecosystems.

“While setting up our office here, our registration process was seamless and completed in no time. I am really grateful to the government of Dubai for the speedy service. However, if there is something that I would like to change, it would be the short time-frame provided to us to complete and deliver a project,” she says.

“The UAE has proved to be an innovation hub with entrepreneurial skills and has also received a strong support from the government, the young are indeed encouraged to precipitate their ideas into tangible actions. This has led to an extremely vibrant environment and is identified as a force behind the technological development in every stratum of life in the UAE,” she says.

With a humble start of a table office in 1996 in India, today Shalini has 4 offices worldwide with total staff strength of 60-plus people. “The practice started from humble beginnings with one desk.

Gradually, as the firm garnered opportunities and successfully completed multiple projects, it was easier to manage finances. However, unlike any business enterprise a professional practice does not demand large amounts of capital. All growth was funded out of business accruals with no dependence on any external bank, institution, family or friends,” she explains.

Besides offering landscape architectural and design services, Shalini has successfully forayed into landscape project management, landscape value engineering, way-finding and signage.

“In recent times, we have also ventured into interior designing which I am really excited about it,” she says.

“Apart from sector expansions, we have successfully made inroads in the region and have worked on projects in Oman, Doha, Armenia, Egypt and Mauritius. We are also looking at expanding our footprints to Calabar, Nigeria. All of this and more has been made possible with the help of our talented team,” she adds.

Shalini urges young entrepreneurs to be honest and consistent and it will help them reach great heights.

“Integrity and honesty in all walks of life gives you an advantage of being above the rest. For budding entrepreneurs, my advice is to have confidence in their work and be firm while presenting your ideas. I always guide youngsters to never over-commit by succumbing to the pressures as it leads to compromising on quality of deliverables and thereby short-changing clients,” she urges.

Shalini attributes her success to her family, especially her husband. “He has always let me go an extra mile and has helped me to believe that if you wish for something, go get it, there is no turning back. Giving up his job, just to help me set up and grow the business, is what he has done. Words fall short to explain the efforts and trust he has shown in me,” she says.

“My success mantra is to be positive in every approach regardless of the circumstances. It’s not exactly new, but I have noticed that a lot of people give up when they see challenges coming their way. Being positive does not resolve the challenges but helps you persevere. Secondly, over the years, my clients, have learned to trust my judgment and know I never over-commit and/or under-deliver. Most of our current projects are from previous clients who believe in us and our ideology, thus helping us with the success of the business,” she concludes.

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