“Merit always wins, be it man or woman”: Ferriswheel Entertainment Founder Shubhra Bhardwaj


By Papri Das

Entrepreneur, artistic director and a poet, Ferriswheel Entertainment founder and creative director Shubhra Bhardwaj has over two decades of experience in managing large-scale events in the field of sports -- a field assumed to be primarily male dominated.

Her expertise is reflected through the success of some of India’s biggest sporting events like the Doha Asian Games 2006, Commonwealth Games Delhi 2010, First South Asian Winter Games Dehradun and Auli 2011, World Cup Kabaddi 2013 and 2014 Punjab and many more. In this candid chat with Exec Lifestyle, catch Bhardwaj open up on her love for literature, her tryst as a poet, and her journey from starting a company at 20.

Do you see any perks or disadvantages of being a woman CEO?

Gender difference is something I do not understand. There are no privileges based on gender. Expecting an easy or smooth start is the first step towards failing. There are no sign-boards, no guarantees and no given. In fact, as a person who is a non-conformist, I found it thrilling to play by my own rules and engage in an unstructured environment to create the brand and establish the company. 

The biggest challenges were what any man would have faced. Protecting our interest, liquidity crunch, team motivation, competition foul play, structure and procedures within the company were issues I had to deal with constantly. The biggest truth is that merit always wins be it a man or a woman.

What about event management attracts you?

Since childhood, I was always inclined towards art and culture. Music and dance brought soul to my life. Event management and the performing arts industry was the obvious career I saw myself growing in. Thus it was an automatic and gradual progression. I set up my first company at the age of 20 and kept it going for 15 years. With my keen eye for detail, I decided to set up an organisation which challenged norms, conventions in creatives and management practices and which would set a benchmark for the industry.

Ferriswheel was founded in the year 2009 as a result of a few years of wanting to create a cutting edge, niche and extremely professional agency. This whole process was extremely exciting and enriching for me.

What are the major challenges you face in arranging large scale sporting events?

Owing to the sheer scale of it, public events especially game ceremonies involve visualisation, creativity, meticulous planning, communication and venue management at a whole new level. The dynamics of these spaces is so large that there is a fine balance between operations, logistics, finance and creatives on which the end delivered product depends. Most of the times, we have to work in a physically challenging environment sometimes even in extreme weather conditions or a completely new environment.

New environment of course involves dealing with regional issues, language barrier and adaptability to the culture of the new space.  I can give you an example from my past experience of how things can go seriously wrong. During the ‘South Asian Winter Games 2011’, the mercury had plummeted to as low as -16 deg C in Auli. The team was freezing and hence we had to borrow jackets from the army there. During the Commonwealth Youth Games, two of the panels of our 100 by 100 meter set collapsed due to a huge storm. We arranged for extra manpower immediately and worked through the night to put it back in place.

People sometimes have misconceptions regarding an event manager's job. How would you clarify that?

People think that we do not sleep, eat or have fun but just work all the time. The truth is although it is a high-pressure career; we do find time for everything that we love to do. At Ferriswheel, we strongly believe in organisation and teamwork. Hence, even during the most difficult and trying projects, we manage to engage ourselves beyond work. Work from the outside may look disorganized but it is not so. There is a definite science to the chaos and we understand it well and are used to it.

Do you feel that you could have done a better job at some of the events you organised?

I do feel that things could have been done differently and in a much better manner. When I was invited by the Mayor’s office for watching the London Olympics, I realised how well an event could be delivered. It was complete perfection! Due to the mishandling of the event, not only did we lose revenue and tourists but also most importantly, we lost face in front of the whole world. I had never seen a city so unenthusiastic about an event of this stature. If we could have employed all our channels well, everyone would have benefitted from this massive international event.

How do you balance work and family, as a mother?

Life isn’t overwhelming for me. All that I do is well within my capacity. It isn’t about being a superwoman, but just about having your priorities right and utilizing your time well.

I do not waste my time at all. There is no space for negative engagement in my life. I channel all my efforts into something productive and positive. I make sure I have time for my children and family, my team and work. I have limited but close friends and I am always available for them. The peripheral things do not occupy my time.

Do you play any sport yourself?

I do not engage in athletic activities but I love adventure sports. I have done all sorts of adventure activities like river rafting, bungee jumping, mountain climbing and sky diving.  

You are also known to be passionate about literature. Please share a bit about that.

I love writing poetry. It is my release. When something moves me, affects me, I need to write it out. I normally write whenever I can and on whatever I can find right then and compile it later on. 


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