By Vidya Pradhan
Sujatha Suresh knows about dignity of labor. A few years ago, she put in time repairing shoe heels in Boca Raton at 3 dollars an hour. Today, she runs the highly successful event management company Akaar Events, along with partner Suzy Khendry.
After completing her masters in instructional design in the US, Sujatha went back to India for a couple of productive years where she ran a consulting company specializing in admissions to US universities and even published a book about it. When she returned to the US with her husband, she stayed on the mommy track for a few years till her green card came through. She then worked at the Non-profit Development Center as a training manager before joining the corporate world as an educational consultant for HP. Wanting to spend more time with her family, she quit 6 years later and got involved in volunteering for the American India foundation. She ended up being involved in organizing events for the AIF and found her calling. She also found a corporate partner in Suzy Khendry, who had experience in conference planning, and Akaar Events was born. In its first year of operations, Akaar has managed over 20 projects, ranging from corporate events to non-profit fundraisers to private soirees. While Akaar’s core competence is the South Asian design, Sujatha and Suzy have also put together a Latino themed event for Merrill Lynch and a Persian theme for a private function. For Intuit’s launch of its Indian network, Akaar fashioned the event around Diwali. A traditional arch with a performance of the arti welcomed the guests. Care was taken to explain the significance of every tradition on display. A mandap, spice corner, henna corner and a costume corner showcased the colorful diversity of the country. Akaar also organized a fashion show with Intuit employees modelling clothes representing different parts of the country. I asked Sujatha what separated Akaar Events from the herd. “Our strength is our creativity and organizational abilities,” says Sujatha, “and our focus is customer satisfaction.” For instance, in the Dhoom New Year’s event that Akaar co-managed with Anthem Realty and Nirvana Women's magazine, the number of invites was kept deliberately low so the venue would not be crowded. “Human beings need space,” emphasizes Sujatha, “And I would rather lose out on revenue than risk dissatisfaction from my clients.” As for the fear that her ideas could be re-used, Sujatha shrugs it off. “Creativity is 90% of the game. There is no shortage of ideas. How we execute them is what makes the difference.” Their minute by minute planning of events is what distinguishes them from other players in the field. Sohrab Kakalia, Vice President of Infosys used Akaar to manage the 25th anniversary event held at the Galleria in San Francisco. “We were impressed with the level of detail on the event plan. Every minute was planned and accounted for. Once we had made our criteria and budget clear, there was minimum involvement on our part. There were no surprises and the whole anniversary event went without a hitch.” At the events themselves, the Akaar team is careful to keep a low profile. Their name does not appear anywhere and even as guests at some of the events they take care to stay in the background and let their work speak for them. The Akaar duo works with a cadre of consultants to keep overheads down. Through trial and error the team has figured out who the best vendors in each department are. They have also built a good working relationship with the San Jose and Santa Clara convention centers to make large events held at these venues hassle free. For the coming year, Sujatha and Suzy plan to productize some of Akaar’s offerings. On the cards is an event product for realtors wanting to stage homes and conduct housewarming parties. Akaar will also look into the possibility of collaborating with event planners in India to showcase talented performers and artistes from the Bay Area. Akaar events is poised for another successful and interesting year. “And if things don’t work out,” jokes Sujatha, “I can always open a shoe repair shop.” Check out the Akaar website at http://akaarevents.com