By Maya Lalchandani
Besides kickboxing and yoga, Ayesha Mansukhani has two pursuits that keep her grounded. The managing director of telecom infrastructure company Adino Telecom takes to trekking (in places like Cotopaxi in Ecuador, Stok Kangri in Ladakh, Gokyo Ri Everest base camp, and Mt Kilimanjaro) and scuba-diving among hammerhead sharks, sea lions, iguanas and whales (in places like Galapagos Islands in Ecuador where Charles Darwin’s study of finches led to his groundbreaking theory of evolution) to blow off steam.
These days, Ayesha, who is also a venture capitalist with investments in e-commerce logistics startup Wow Express and pharmacy chain Wellness Forever, is excited about another new venture: semi-professional women’s football. The former tennis player and footballer picked up a stake in Queen Bees, one of four women’s teams in the Adidas Creators Premier League that was launched with much fanfare last year.
“Sport has taught me the art of competitiveness and discipline. It has taught me to get up and try again even after failure,” says Ayesha, who is the daughter of Vijay Mansukhani, managing director of Mirc Electronics, and the founder of Onida, the TV brand that Indian households have been familiar with for almost 25 years. Her own company Adino’s biggest clients are the state governments of Gujarat and Assam. Having graduated from the University of Pennsylvania, and acquired an MBA from Wharton Business School, Ayesha was attracted to all forms of sport since childhood.
“Sport teaches you perseverance, teamwork, dedication, time management, friendship and humility,” says the dynamic young achiever. “I have learnt endurance, acquired more stamina and increased my fitness levels,” testifies the svelte yoga practitioner, who is an articulate and quick-witted conversationalist.
Ayesha, who worked at investment bank Goldman Sachs and private equity firm Everstone before joining her family’s business, wishes more women were encouraged to take up sport in their daily lives.
“I understand that not all women in India get the luxury to cherish sport. I want to promote sport so that they can experience the physical, social and mental benefits,” says Ayesha, adding, “Doing so would also mean breaking the gender divides and changing the conventional stereotypes that exist for women in India. That’s why it’s important to invest in sports to encourage women to come out and play.”
For Ayesha, Queen Bees was her first step to promoting women’s football.
At present, there are multiple professional leagues, more for men and some for women in the country. In the Adidas Creators Premier League itself there are 16 male teams and only four for women, and of course each team has separate owners.
After winning her bids in an all-day auction in Alibaug, Ayesha went on to become instrumental in putting out the best in this sports venture, from designing the logo and the jerseys, to the PR, the sponsorships, to even choosing the best coaches for the women. She brought in two more co-owners: fitness professional and triathlete Kimberly Shah and Marathi actress Manisha Ram Kelkar.
What she hopes to achieve from women’s empowerment is clear: to radically change the climate for women in India. “Conventional media stereotypically portrays beauty as fair and lovely. But strength, endurance and resilience have their own beauty. I would like to shift focus from the external and superficial to inner beauty. Encouraging sport for all women elevates these qualities and brings them to the forefront,” Ayesha affirms.
Maya Lalchandani is a Mumbai-based entrepreneur, writer and the author of Paiso (Penguin Random House).