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Most powerful women in Indian business

They span generations and are there in every field, from biscuits to banking, from HR to hospitals. Denied entry into a male bastion, they create another industry. They are the most powerful women in the corporate world.

Team BT       Print Edition: October 19, 2008

Yet another edition of BT's most powerful women in business, together with the rising stars, the start-up heroines, the microfinance mavens and even the inheritors. The women listed here come from an amazing variety of academic and family backgrounds and have established themselves in an equally diverse range of industries despite the near-crippling drag of home and hearth.

 In pics: 25 best women of India Inc.

Some were lucky to have been at the right place at the right time; one admits that she is not the sort of mother who packs their child's tiffin in the morning-and another is "quite unashamed" to say that she eased up on her career to be with her children when they needed her most. And look out for the rising star who takes her two-year-old daughter jetsetting as she shuttles between two cities in the US and her Indian headquarters, and for the lady who came back to India to be near her ailing mother-in-law-but succeeded with yet another start-up.

Consider: would this list have been possible 20 years ago? On the other hand, how far is the day when BT will list the 250 most powerful women in Indian business and not just 25? The answer to the first question is a definite no. The answer to the second depends on how India builds its infrastructure. Not the infrastructure of expressways and trans-harbour links, but the infrastructure of child care and crèches, schools that don't burden children with homework, on-call housekeeping services, et al. Today, if the child of a working couple falls ill or is let out from school early, or if the babysitter goes on French leave, who has to miss office? No prizes for guessing the correct answer.

Read the stories of BT's amazing women, and you will discover that there are no intellectual differences between men and women. But how many men with a PhD in theoretical nuclear physics or two post-graduate degrees from Yale and Harvard would choose to work for an MFI? The workplace brings with it another gender inequality: the woman rushing home to help her child with his or her homework cannot go out bonding or networking.

So, here's to a growing list of women achievers. May their tribe grow, may the list get longer and may they never have to tell our readers the best way to deal with a glass ceiling.

The top 25

They span generations and are there in every field, from tractors to television, from biscuits to banking, from HR to hospitals. Denied entry into a male bastion, they create another industry (as Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw of Biocon did). They love their saris and their cooking, but also frame the laws that govern the world of alpha-male stockbrokers. They are the most powerful women in the corporate world.

Amrita Patel
Amrita Patel
Amrita Patel
64, Chairman, NDDB

Power to me means: Maintaining the highest standards of integrity at all times.
My favourite life-after-work activity: I am actively involved in two movements-ecological security and rural healthcare.
The best way to deal with a glass ceiling: Fortunately, I have not had to fight the glass ceiling. Hard work, commitment and caring in word and deed helps people overcome obstacles.
Mantra for maintaining work-life balance: Meditation.

I am not a businesswoman," says Amrita Patel, Chairman of National Dairy Development Board, the world's largest dairy development programme, which involves over 12.4 million farmer families, 117,000 co-operative societies and procures 21.5 million litres of milk every day. "I'm in the business of putting other women into business and enabling them to earn a daily income," says Patel, chairman since 1998. "We must ensure that we do not become importers," she adds. Patel is behind a National Dairy Plan that looks at demand and supply up to 2021.

-T.V. Mahalingam

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