From Vadodara, Gujarat, where a three week visit has been unexpectedly extended into two months of quarantine, Southeast Michigan native Pranadhi Koradia, the chief operations officer of Transphere, a logistic and shipping company her parents founded over 30 years ago, talked to the Indian SCENE about her business goals, non-profit work and what life is like in India right now. (“Indians and social-distancing, she jokes. “I mean, clearly the world has been turned upside down.”)
This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.
The Indian SCENE: Tell me about yourself.
Pranadhi Koradia: Hello! My name is Pranadhi Koradia. I am a second-generation Indian-American born and brought up in Southeast Michigan.
I grew up in a joint family with parents and grandparents from Gujarat, who played a big role in keeping me connected to my Indian background. I grew up learning Bharatnatyam, watching Hindi movies, going to Garbas, attending Jain Temple events, and visiting India every year.
Southeast Michigan is a place with such a solid community of people that worked hard to give 2nd generation kids a platform to learn about and partake in Indian traditions and festivals.
This exposure allowed me to feel just as comfortable in India as I am in America, and I find it is such a gift to be able to call two (vastly different) places “home.”
IS: I know that you are currently in India with your grandmother. What’s the quarantine been like for this of you there and how has it impacted your work?
PK: Yes, I reached India in the beginning of March for what was supposed to be a 3.5-week trip. I had meetings scheduled in different cities, but was only able to make it to one before the situation worsened and borders closed. I am now stationed in Vadodara.
My grandmother lives here, so at least one family member is with her throughout the year. Since we are regularly visiting, I am set up to work remotely. I can continue monitoring ongoing projects, but many plans have been put on hold until the situation and its impact become more clear.
As a business owner (and in general), this global crisis has been such a glaring reminder of the importance of strong leadership in an organization. After seeing the responses by different governments worldwide, it’s become apparent that access to a wealth of resources does not necessarily determine successful outcomes. Tools are only as valuable and effective as the hands that wield them.
Even with less resources, when leaders act with responsibility, foresight, and decisiveness, and are backed by a competent and qualified team, positive results are still attainable. Furthermore, it has shown me how being “in-touch” at a ground level, and creating a sense of solidarity is key in effectively problem-solving.
IS: How has the quarantine affected your experience in India? Can you describe what it looks like on the streets and how people are responding to the pandemic?
PK: It has been such a unique experience in India. I could never have imagined the streets empty, devoid of the rush of people and sounds of honking horns. The animals roaming freely is the only enduring feature right now, haha. The cows and dogs must be so confused!
The people’s response to the quarantine has definitely been impressive so far in Vadodara. Everyone quickly accepted and adapted to the lockdown instructions. The government started to spread awareness at the beginning of March with a PSA during every outgoing phone call educating the masses on the situation and precautions to take. 2 days before the official twenty-one day quarantine, there was a 14-hour lock down intended as a trial so people could get accustomed and prepare for what was to come, and the government could gauge cooperation.
Now the police heavily monitor the streets, essential stores set-up delivery services and limit the number of people permitted to enter their shops, and the majority of people are adhering to the social distancing rules. Indians and social-distancing— I mean, clearly the world has been turned upside down.
IS: You are the COO of Transphere. What is the nature of your family business and how were you appointed as the one to lead it?
PK: Transphere Inc. is an international freight-forwarding company that handles the logistics of all types of cargo (personal, commercial, and relief) to/from all parts of the world. My parents started the company a little over 30 years ago, and I joined in 2011 after graduating from college, where I studied Economics and Psychology, and minored in International Studies at the University of Michigan.
I began working at an entry level position, learning the ABCs of freight-forwarding. Once I understood the company’s system of operating, I suggested new processes and softwares that could streamline the work. It was definitely a perk of working with family that I had the opportunity to easily share and test out ideas.
Many times working in established businesses, introducing changes that disrupt the current system is met with resistance. I did face this in the beginning and could empathize. But, as the saying goes, “The 7 most expensive words in business are: ‘We have always done it that way!’” I chose to integrate the changes slowly, which eliminated redundancies and minimized room for errors.
I slowly took more under my wing, and this eventually led to me becoming appointed COO in 2015. But, to be honest, titles in your own business tend to be a moot point — you have to be ready to wear any hat and do any job.
IS: How did you take the business from what it once was to what it is now? In other words, how have you made it your vision? I know that you have also started a subsidiary, TranSend. Can you tell the readers about how you came to start this?
PK: Our company began in the relocation niche, where we focused on household goods and automobile moves.
My vision was to become a one-stop shop for all logistics needs. I wanted to expand our customer base, the scope of commodities we handle, and the services we provide. I also wanted to provide the most up-to-date and advanced customer experience.
My parents and mentor guided me on the best steps to take in order to achieve this goal. We discussed specific strategies, and created a clear plan that would lead me in the right direction. Then, like any goals, the pace and speed of reaching them would heavily be determined by the amount of work, focus, and sincere effort put in.
There were many times I moved off track and became absorbed in the immediate tasks, taking my eyes off of the big picture. But having a tangible plan and people to check-in made it much easier to shift back gears.
I first studied to become a Customs House Broker which allows the company to handle imports. With this license, Transphere can now handle both inbound and outbound cargo. Next, I vertically integrated by creating a subsidiary called TranSend International, a steamship line agency providing vessel space to freight forwarders like Transphere. More recently, I have widened our commodity range, including cargo from the manufacturing, chemical, and food industries.
But, there is a long road ahead, and many more steps to go!
IS: How has your role at work encouraged you to serve in other endeavors within your community?
PK: Transphere has been fortunate enough to be a partner to international organizations that move relief cargo across the world during times of crisis. After learning about the shortage of PPE in Michigan and across the States, I’ve linked up with suppliers and reached out to my network in hopes to source gear for American healthcare and frontline workers who have been selfless during this time. I want to continue looking for ways to contribute and be of service from my logistics platform.
IS: I heard that you are currently on the Board of Directors at Global Ties. Can you describe your role there and how you are using your voice?
PK: Global Ties is a hidden gem in Detroit! I was immediately drawn to GT and their mission of promoting global diplomacy and international exchange, and of course, showing international visitors and delegations the beauty, spirit, and potential of Detroit.
This is my first experience sitting on a board, so I have been learning a lot about the mechanics of running a non-profit organization. Our role is to monitor finances, ensure all decisions align with the organization’s mission and expectations, and plan for and around long- and short-term goals and barriers. We are advocates of Detroit, using our voice to promote local businesses and organizations to an international audience.
IS: What does being Indian mean to you? How do you embrace it?
PK: It means great food, beautiful clothes, fun festivals and traditions, dance, music, and huge family gatherings. It means rich values, spirituality, and learning to coexist and enjoy diversity.
IS: Do you have any insight for the readers of the Indian SCENE about why it is important to value our culture?
PK: Indian culture is steeped in so much history and spirituality. There is so much depth and vibrance to our culture. Born in America, we are lucky to be in a position where we can learn about it from a more open-minded lens. It’s such a privilege– we shouldn’t let it go!
I have been teaching Bollywood dances to young kids over the last 5 years for the Holi Program to share my love for Indian dance and music, and hopefully encourage them to embrace it too!
IS: Any words of advice that you can offer to the readers who are wishing to pursue a business degree, specifically those who are young women?
PK: Well, for those wishing to pursue business and entrepreneurship, I can say you do not necessarily need a business degree! Learning through experience and involvement have been the best teachers for me. My parents and mentors have successfully built their businesses by moving off the path of least resistance and taking risks. I have tried to imbue this same spirit, and push boundaries in my own way.
Inevitably you will face moments of self-doubt and make mistakes, but don’t be afraid of failure. It’s a process. As my grandma says, “try again, and again, and you will get success in the end!”
Don’t wait until you “learn everything” to start– this is a trap. That day will never come! Just get the ball rolling, and then be ready to learn (and stumble) along the way.