Elected as the first woman President of the Marketing Research Society of Malaysia, this dynamic woman is one of the few Malaysian Indians who have made a mark in the research industry. In the 20 years that she has spent in the corporate world, Datin Kalavalli Sethu has worked for many leading MNCs such as Colgate Palmolive, AC Nielsen and Research International where she spearheaded various leading roles. Currently, Datin Kala is the Founder & Managing Director of Compass Insights Sdn Bhd.

Business issues and challenges excite Datin Kala in crafting the right methodology and adopting the best analytical tool to find the most accurate solution. Being multilingual, Datin Kala facilitates group discussion, workshop and training sessions at ease with her participants. Her all-round industry experience and technical expertise as a researcher are hard to match. Datin Kala has served over 100 clients from over 40 industries, both multinational and SMEs. Her appearance on talk shows on TV on ASTRO and RTM, the demand for her to speak at various forums, whether on business or self-awareness and spiritual growth and her involvement in helping disadvantaged youth, especially youth have made Kala well-known figure in social services as well.

Combating curve-balls

According to Kala, her father has been her strongest inspiration since she was a kid. Growing up in a traditional Indian household, education and marriage were given the utmost priority in the family, but her father differed from this mindset. Kala’s father encouraged her to succeed in her career and be a leader in her own right. Losing her father at a young age of 12 years made a great impact on her. Poverty, being the eldest of four and dealing with a disoriented widowed mom left her with no choice but to fight on. For her, after her father, it is her husband who has been a pillar of strength in this journey of struggle and leadership.

Kala’s story began when she followed her passion and founded Compass Insights with a core vision to build clients’ dreams with a positive difference in the way marketing research is conducted, delivered and applied. Having worked in multinational agencies and on the client side of the industry, she was keen on delivering research insights with greater ROI to client organizations. Having an agency to her name gave her a sense of freedom, which made her conduct research more creatively. The zeal to make a positive impact on everyone down the service chain up to the clients is what drove Kala to start something by herself.

Dreaming ahead and beyond

Making correct decisions is something that Kala thought was a hurdle in this journey. Therefore, she went ahead with “Empowering Decisions” as the tagline to her firm, so as to remind her everyday what principles she stands for. Her aim is to provide insight that leads to correct decisions that save money and time of a client organisation.

Describing herself as a passionate researcher, Kala identifies her firm as not just a research company but also a solution provider. She always finds something new to work on and that is what keeps her going. For her, no two projects are the same. Each one is a new challenge, unique to each organisation and brand. Every time a new project arrives, Kala rolls her sleeves up and dives in with fire to figure out a solution for her client.

Achieving dreams is something she has been doing since her childhood. It all happened due to having “no choice” situations while growing up, which eventually became a habit over time. For now, her goal is to make sure the people around her are able to achieve their dreams too. “Time to serve has come, I want to share with my juniors.” Kala quips. A lover of crafting methodology, she finds the best analysis tool kit a powerful insight to solve business and marketing issues. Her new-found goal is to get ahead into machine learning and combine it with human insights to be able to create something magnificent in research.

Additionally, Kala also plans on venturing into new business sectors and help them grow with renowned insights. She plans on becoming a multi-country provider, making Malaysia as the hub mainly served by Malaysian talents.