If you were to summarise Maleka Dattu in one word, it would be ‘fearless’. She pursued a career in beauty, despite her father insisting she should follow an academic profession; throughout her working life she relentlessly chased opportunities, earning her senior roles in lauded brands such as Lancome UK and Estee Lauder; and at the age of 48, shortly after the birth of her first child, she founded MERUMAYA Integrative Effective Skincare®.
In 2014, Maleka was heralded as a role model for women in retail and became a Retail Ambassador, so we caught up with her to learn five crucial lessons in growing an exceptional career and business.
If you really want something, stick to your guns
From a very young age and spurred on by her aunt’s glamour, Maleka was fascinated by beauty: “I wanted to be a hairdresser at school and my father was really horrified by that, he wanted me to become a Doctor.” Regardless of the resistance, she did go onto study hairdressing at college and shortly after launched her career in beauty.
“One of the things that spurred me on is my dad saying ‘well you’re just a sales girl’ because he wanted me to have a profession,” she says. “I look back and I am grateful for him pushing me beyond being mediocre, as I believe we should be challenged when we’re growing up.”
And by relentlessly following her goals it’s worked out, more than either of them could have hoped for. “I set out to become the best sales girl and grew a successful career reaching the level of Senior Vice president/General Manager for the Estee Lauder Companies, and now I’ve made mine and my father’s dreams come true by creating MERUMAYA.”
Find your role models and ask for help
A chance meeting can be a pivotal moment, and for Maleka, this happened at while she was at college: “Someone came in from a skincare brand and when she ended her demonstration, I knew I wanted her job.”
But she didn’t stop there; in a courageous move: “I called her up straight away and said ‘I’d really like to be your assistant’. I was then instructed to contact the person who owned the company and so I did. I said ‘I want a job and I want a company car’ She ended up taking me on and I ended up working in a showroom in Chelsea. To this day, I remain close friends with my first mentor.”
Admit your faults, then hire people better than you
“Know what your strengths are and find areas where people are better than you where you’re not strong. If there’s something that you’re not good at, either outsource the task or employ someone who can inject that strength into your business. You don’t have to be the absolute best at everything, but you do have to know when you need people who are better than you.”
Remember that time is precious
“We’re making footsteps on the earth for such a short time and unfortunately we’re already halfway through our lives before we realise the value of time. I was 48 when I launched my brand, so we all need to recognise that if there’s something that you really, really want – you should just go ahead and do it and just make it happen. We all worry about failing but you just need to remind yourself that there are lots of people who have failed over and over again and then one day it worked. ”
She adds: “One of those things that drives me is that I don’t want to get to my rocking chair, look back and say ‘I wish I would have done something.’ If I’m doing to have regrets, I want it to be the things I had the courage to try.”
There’s no shame in self-promotion
On gaining her status as a Retail Ambassador, Maleka fell into the trap of imposter syndrome: “It was a massive surprise, in fact, when they were reading the biography of me I didn’t even realise that they were talking about me. Someone next to me actually nudged me and said ‘this is you’. It was an incredible feeling because this acolade is enormous!”
But that doesn’t stop her from being an advocate of putting yourself forward: “It’s really easy to be nominated, but there’s a lot of reluctance around nominating yourself especially if you don’t win. With women particularly, we are more perceptive of other people thinking that we are over-promoting ourselves or not being modest and that’s why a lot of women don’t nominate themselves or put themselves forward for things” she says.
“I hestiate myself, I do think twice. But I’d say go for it, whatever it is!”
Nominations are open for the Worldpay everywoman in Retail Ambassadors Programme.
Are you a woman working in retail or do you know someone who deserves this accolade?
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