Leading Through Crisis: A Story of Transparency with Pooja Bavishi (MBA '15)

Pooja Bavishi
NYU Stern's Leadership Accelerator series, Leading Through Crisis, examines how Stern alumni are approaching leadership during the Covid-19 crisis, and how they exemplify the Accelerator's core values: agility, innovative mindset, continuous learning, action-oriented, inclusivity, and self-awareness. 

In this story, Pooja Bavishi (MBA ‘15), founder and CEO of Malai Ice Cream, conveys the importance of being transparent with her team and shares the ways in which small business owners are working together for the common good. 

According to Nate Pettit, associate professor of management & organizations and director of the Leadership Accelerator, “We need leaders who are fully transparent and who have the courage and agility to know when the right move is to step back and listen. These skills have always been important, but they are absolutely essential today." 

Read Pooja’s story below.

It was March 22nd: six days after we had temporarily closed the doors to our flagship Malai ice cream shop in Brooklyn, given the mayor’s mandate to shutter non-essential businesses in New York City. I hadn’t slept that whole week. Questions had been racing through my head every moment of every day: When would we be back open? Would my team be ok? How will consumer behavior change after this is over? Would Malai rebound? Would the world rebound? 

Ever since I was young, I’ve had a passion for baking and experimenting with spices, recipes, and flavor pairings. I knew I wanted to start a food business with the flavors I grew up with—South Asian spices like ginger, nutmeg, cardamom, and saffron. I chose ice cream as the base for these flavors because of its blank palate, and because ice cream makes everyone happy! With NYU Stern as my testing ground, I experimented with recipes on classmates, conducted surveys, and debuted ice cream flavors at conferences during my final semester in 2015. I officially launched Malai after graduation. 

I love everything about being an entrepreneur. I love that no day is like the previous one. I love pivoting and strategizing at lightning speed. I love that the lowest lows will be counterbalanced with the highest highs. I even love sitting at my retail storefront and just observing—taking it all in, appreciating what I have built with the help of my team and community. An entrepreneur’s journey is a unique and special one. 

If I had to pick out anything positive that has come out of this time, it is that people are coming together. Everyone is going through this together. Fellow small business owners are navigating the convoluted and confusing government aid system together. We’re comparing notes from webinars and sharing links to potential loans. And we’re all doing our best to push forward. Customers and fans are reaching out to ask what they can do to help—even if it’s just to offer some words of comfort and encouragement. They are buying gift cards that they may never use, or clothing merchandise that they cannot wear outside of their homes. 

Given how far we’ve come, I feel like we have no choice but to bounce back. We will figure it out. The truth is that I need to be optimistic or there is no movement forward. I recall discussing risk in Professor Glenn Okun’s entrepreneurship course at Stern, and it is all I think about now. What I want to be sure of, though, is to pass on as little risk as possible to my team. In these uncertain times, I am sure that I must offer my team transparency where there are very murky waters. They need to understand the decisions that are being made, and why. 

Our latest decision was to reopen our ecommerce channel for nationwide shipment of our ice cream. It is our way to still spread small amounts of joy and happiness when everyone can use some! And the entrepreneurial journey will continue. 

More in the Leading Through Crisis series:
About the Leadership Accelerator
Through Stern’s Leadership Accelerator, students gain the behavioral skills and mindset to embrace and drive change in an ever-evolving business world. Through challenging, high-engagement experiences, students repeatedly put themselves outside their comfort zone -- to take risks and fail and to learn from these experiences through skillful reflection.