There was a time when a popular radio programme called ‘Housewives Choice’ played music requested by women who were essentially housebound homemakers stuck with several chores many would consider drudgery today – and which were no choice of theirs.
Aban Pestonjee, a young homemaker herself at the time, rebelled against the mundanity of the manual chores of the woman working in the home. Pestonjee took her rebellion into a small business she set up in her home’s garage in 1968.
Married and with three children to care for – and a husband who looked askance at the enterprise at the time – she determined to make a real change to the housewife’s quality of life.
“The ’70s were tough years,” she has said, “there weren’t any imports at the time. Washing machines, polishers and so on were considered luxury items.” Housewives often had to do their own washing, polishing floors, cooking and cleaning, and they hardly had any time for themselves. “I wanted to make it easy for them,” she has recollected.
Her initial business model involved purchasing white goods from the diplomatic missions at annual auctions, and refurbishing and reselling them at her corner shop on Galle Road.
A change of government in 1977 opened up the economy and imported goods were seen once more in the local market. Pestonjee immediately responded by attempting to expand her business but met with the reluctance of banks and suppliers to engage with such a small enterprise.
“But I kept on writing to them – I am a persistent person,” she has said of herself – and her tenacity paid off when she secured her first agency with the prestigious British brand Electrolux. And her business expanded with quality brand imports from Thailand, China, Japan and South Korea.
Abans, which she has carefully nurtured since those humble beginnings into a formidable conglomerate, certainly offers the modern housewife more than a choice of appliances to ease housework. The group offers services in retail, manufacturing, logistics, real estate, mixed developments and infrastructure development, with outlets and offices across the island.
Pestonjee now has her sights on housewives across the Palk Strait, and is looking at ways in which to her grow her business in India and Pakistan. She no longer relies on being granted agencies for white goods either, as Abans proudly presents their own branded items to discerning homemakers.
Aban Pestonjee: her perseverance has paid rich dividends.