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 crches, 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.
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.
41,MD & Country Head-India, Fidelity International
Power to me means: The ability to influence and bring about change.
My most memorable experience at workplace: The period when we launched Fidelity's mutual fund operations in India in March 2005.
My favourite life-after-work activity: I love to spend time with my daughters and husband.
The best way to deal with a glass ceiling: Focus on delivering.
The biggest turning point in my career was: When I joined Fidelity Fund Management
Striving for work-life balance? Look at Ashu Suyash, Country Head & Managing Director for India at Fidelity International. The March 2005 launch of Fidelity's mutual fund operations in India coincided with her elder daughter's board exams. Suyash planned the entire promotional exercise in such a way that she could be back home every 3-4 days.The fund was a huge success and her daughter did well. "Leading a brand like Fidelity gives you the calling card and the edge. You have a point of view, you get heard. But the key is to hold on to your own views when others don't agree with you. That's a challenge. But if you remain firm, over a period of time you get accepted," says the 41-year-old chartered accountant who has a 15-year stint with Citibank behind her.
If you want to meet her on weekends, check out multiplexes in Mumbai running Hindi movies. Chanda Kochhar is a die-hard fan of Bollywood. She also helped transform ICICI Bank into India's secondlargest bank, changing the rules of the game using technology. "Now just 10 per cent of our customers visit branches for their banking needs," she says. She has seen it all- from corporate and infrastructure financing to retail, but the last is very close to her heart. "It (retail banking) was new for me and for the bank and for the industry," says Kochhar.
When you are a part of the team that created a world-class stock exchange, it's tempting to talk about that success and bask in its glow. But Chitra Ramakrishna, Deputy Managing Director, NSE, has always shunned the spotlight, though she is used to being at the forefront of framing crucial regulations. During her days at IDBI in the early '90s, Ramakrishna was selected to be part of a small team that prepared a blueprint for SEBI regulations. This led her to study the regulations in developed countries. "Her ability to understand business nuances is amazing," says former colleague G.V. Nageshwara Rao, CEO, IDBI Fortis Life.
SEWA'S work is improving the lives of over a million direct members and about 5-6 million others in India. The SEWA family includes a trade union of selfemployed women with 1.1 million members and a cooperative bank. Her policy advocacy has also spawned the Unorganised Sector Workers' Social Security Bill and a worldwide awareness of the plight of workers in the informal economy.
She is the matriarch of the most powerful media group in the country, estimated to be worth over $4-billion (Rs 18,400 crore). Indu Jain, Chairman of the privately-held The Times Group, hardly fits into any prototype of power-women, but she wears her power with a style that is her very own. Known to be an ardent follower of Sri Sri Ravi Shankar and Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev, Jain has pushed through her unique spiritual, cultural and social sensibility into Bennett, Coleman & Company, her group's flagship. At the same time, she is also known to have pushed through the agenda of internal audit, or, management assurance system, earlier on. She is the founder of The Times Foundation and is also the Chairperson of Bhartiya Jnanpith Foundation.
She has just begun her second innings after retiring last year from India's second largest bank. At 59, Kalpana Morparia, the ICICI Bank veteran of over three decades, has taken over as CEO of JP Morgan's India setup. The assignment came as she was enjoying her non-executive stint at three of the bank's subsidiaries. Morparia also became an independent director on other boards at this time. Now, she has to broaden JP Morgan's footprint in existing areas. "I never let my gender come in the way of my career, why should age become a barrier?" she asks. Why, indeed?
She is among the largest private collectors of paintings, trained in Hindustani vocals and is all for public-private partnerships in city administration. As Biocon's boss, she is the face of the biotech industry. But she makes time for friends and family. "The recent loss of my dearest friend to cancer made me realise how important it is to show you care," she says.
38,Executive Director, HUL
Power to me means: It's having more at your disposal to be able to help others.
My most memorable experience at workplace: Seamlessly moving our Foods Division to Mumbai from Bangalore and also ensuring that the transition was done in a caring manner.
My favourite life-after-work activity: Spending time with my family.
The biggest turning point in my career was: Getting appointed as the first woman on the Management Committee of HUL.
Mantra for maintaining work-life balance: Just don't give yourself a choice and live life to the fullest.
Closest friends in business: Prem Kamath, Gurdeep Singh and HR heads like K. Ramkumar of ICICI Bank, Satish Pradhan of Tata Sons, Santrupt Misra of Aditya Birla Group.
For the second consecutive year, she is on BT's list of 25 most powerful women in business. As HUL itself did well, regaining the Day Zero slots at B-School placements, Nair has been given the added responsibility of being the Vice-President-HR for South Asia. The company has also been able to attract and retain talent, and lower its attrition rate. She also feels that she has grown personally in her job. But the modest Nair credits her achievements to her team.
If you enjoy what you are doing then you are living a wonderful life. That has been Madhabi Puri-Buch's life mantra- which is why she opted for back-office operations work, seen by her colleagues as less attractive, when ICICI and ICICI Bank were merged. "I wanted to learn something new and, in a bank, the back-office is a key area of operation," she says. Buch feels roles that are not glamorous but are difficult to execute create more value for a person. At present, she is busy with a social cause in her personal capacity, and will soon launch a charity website where people can sell second-hand stuff.
Her infectious smile and softspoken demeanor conceals an aggressive and a shrewd persona. India Inc. had a glimpse of Mallika Srinivasan's aggression when Tractors & Farm Equipment acquired Eicher Motor's tractor business in June 2005. Three years later, the combined business (TAFE and Eicher Tractors) reported a revenue growth of 93 per cent, operating profit growth of 151 per cent and profit before tax growth of 183 per cent. Not the type to rest on her laurels, this scion of the Chennai-based Amalgamations Group has set the next objective: to make TAFE the first choice among the farming community in India.
Power to me means: Being able to make an impact or a difference.
My most memorable experience at workplace: When I became the head of investment banking at ANZ Grindlays at the age of 28.
My favourite life-after-work activity: I like to read management-related books, business magazines and the Harvard Business Review. I also like to read poetry, if I get time.
The best way to deal with a glass ceiling: Glass ceilings often exist in one's mind only. If they are real, be patient, analyse the situation and take mini-jumps forward.
The biggest turning point in my career was: The decisions to move from ANZ Grindlays Bank to Morgan Stanley and then to HSBC.
Mantra for maintaining work-life balance: Enjoy whatever you do.
Over the past year, she has been busy nurturing the "two young babies" of HSBC: an insurance joint venture is one of them, and the acquisition of IL&FS Investsmart Brokerage the other. HSBC now offers the full range of financial services. "The challenge now is to manage the 35,000-strong employee force, get the best out of them and attract talent," says Naina Lal Kidwai. As responsibilities increase, hobbies like trekking have taken a back seat. But she makes it a point to go for short family vacations to wildlife sanctuaries.
In 1980, after she graduated from Delhi's St Stephen's College, Neelam Dhawan had to choose between the DSE and Delhi University's Faculty of Management Studies. After a chat with her brother, she decided that she wanted to be a career woman. "There is a change happening with women in the workforce; there were far fewer women earlier," she says. HP has been proactive in retaining women, who account for 30 per cent of its workforce today. "Twenty years ago, this would have been unimaginable," says Dhawan who moved to HP from Microsoft.
The soft-spoken and self-effacing Managing Director of Apollo Hospitals firmly declares that she is not the first among equals among her siblings, (all are involved with the hospital), and that it is age rather than ability that has given her that commanding designation. That done, she reveals her latest healthcare effort, which goes beyond the growth numbers. "We are working (through research and processes) to improve diagnostics by looking at the human body holistically rather than in parts-back to the old approach. If we succeed, this will be a major step forward," she says with a glow in her face.
She appears to come with the trappings of the quintessential business tycoon-a super-connected family. Her sister is Brinda Karat, the first, and only, woman member of the CPI(M) Politburo, and her husband Prannoy Roy, who defined English news on TV. But Radhika Roy, Managing Director, NDTV, has in many ways slogged for every little bit of the success that is NDTV today.
A former print journalist, Roy is known for exacting standards. "She's a terrific person with a remarkable sense of strongwilled ethics and understanding of what is right and wrong…. I owe her a huge debt," says Rajdeep Sardesai, Editor-in-Chief, CNN-IBN.
Tales about her principled approach are legendary and insiders still recall her calm despite the pressures that the channel faced during the Gujarat riots. Roy lets reporters do their jobs without once questioning their coverage or reporting. The group, meanwhile, has launched several new channels and media platforms. This year has been big as it also forayed into the Hindi general entertainment space with NDTV Imagine.
Rama Bijapurkar's 'We are like that only' published in November 2007 and its international edition, Winning in the Indian Market, made many bestseller lists and made her a household name. She is the most respected Indian consultant on consumer affairs and market strategies, and is on the boards of top companies like Infosys Technologies, ICICI Prudential Life Insurance, Mahindra Holidays and Bharat Petroleum.
Renu Karnad's first job interview was at ICICI. The then ICICI Chairman H.T. Parekh was setting up Housing Development Finance Corporation, and offered her a job with the new organisation. Karnad has been with HDFC since then.
Now, as the financial sector grapples with a global credit crisis, Karnad reminds us that HDFC is as solid as ever: "Our lending was always based on cash flows and not assets." She finds the Indian sari her power statement. Married to strategic affairs expert Bharat Karnad, she spends several days a month travelling.
-Shalini S. Dagar
At one point, she almost gave up plans to raise $250 million (Rs 1,150 crore) for ICICI Venture from third-party investors just after the Internet bubble burst in 2001. But she managed to convince domestic investors even as the foreign ones shunned her. "I believed in the strength of the ICICI brand," says Renuka Ramnath. She has increased the awareness about private equity and shown the way-from management buyouts to investing in real estate and new businesses. She remembers the buyout of the Tatas' stake in Infomedia India (Tata Press). "We did not have money to buy the stake initially, but believed in the business as it was getting cash into the company," she recalls.
Power to me means: The ability to influence change.
My most memorable experience at workplace: Setting up a debt and equity desk at ICICI Securities.
My favourite life-after-work activity: Watching Hindi movies.
The biggest turning point in my career was: When N. Vaghul took charge of ICICI.
Mantra for maintaining work-life balance: Prioritise, depending on the situation.
She's the start-up queen of the ICICI Bank group. Life insurance, consumer finance, equity and debt market desks… Shikha Sharma has been instrumental in scaling up these businesses from scratch. And don't forget that she never had any experience in any of these businesses. Sharma remembers taking charge of the market desk at ICICI Securities (ISec) in the early '90s as a key point in her career; within three years, I-Sec was competing with leaders in the business, which included Citibank, DSP Financial Consultants (now DSP Merrill Lynch), JM Financials and Kotak Mahindra. Despite her schedule, Sharma still finds time to learn classical-singing with her daughter.
It has been business as usual for HT Media, as the company delivered good first quarter results this year, and the 51-year-old media baroness would have it no other way. Shobhana Bhartia, 51, Chairperson & Editorial Director, HT Media, known for her fierce time-and-agenda prioritisation, has been chipping away at her vision since the early '90s. Says Rajya Sabha Member Chandan Mitra, Editor & MD, The Pioneer: "I was probably part of her first experiment to engineer change at HT. Way back in the '90s, the paper had forayed with a new segment on 'Infotainment' and later launched its weekend lifestyle magazine… she has been very quick to spot trends and has been aggressive in pursuing change and growth." Mitra was Executive Editor at HT (1992-96). "
Bhartia knows what she wants and gets people to achieve results-the group has already seen key top-level exits, including that of two editors, in the last few years.
She's the vigilant voice that India Inc. wishes was not so shrill-raising questions about pesticide content in colas, groundwater depletion and the Nano project's impact on Singur farmers' livelihoods. "It's a misconception that we are against industry-we want India Inc. to grow but that growth should be inclusive and benefit all sections of society," says Narain. Initially hurt at the personal attacks launched against her, she has learnt to shrug them off. Her own management style is consensual-her organisation has 120 people on its rolls and Rs 7 crore in revenues. "We want to be 'impactful' and we want to be angry-and remain angry," she asserts.
-Tejeesh N.S. Behl
In June this year, Swati Piramal had moved L.K. Advani to tears with a few lines from 13th century poet Shiraz Sheikh Sadi's poem Gulistan as she offered a vote of thanks at the end of a speech by the "Iron Man". Sufi poetry is one of her passions and one is sure to see more of it as Piramal takes over as the President of ASSOCHAM next year. She will be the first woman to head an apex business chamber in India. Professionally, Piramal Life Sciences, of which she is the Vice-Chairperson, is hoping to deliver the first drug developed by an Indian research company soon.
Nearly three decades after she served as an intern at the United Nations, Vinita Bali is headed to New York, this time to be a panellist on the Clinton Global Initiative. The reason for her presence: Britannia's work with Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition (GAIN) on fortified nutrients for the malnourished. There are about 120 million children below the age of five in India, of which around 47 per cent suffer from malnutrition, and Britannia decided to make a difference. "It is important for us to create a sustainable model for our business," says Bali.
Zarina Mehta is one of the founder members of United Television (UTV) and CEO of its Bindass channel. At UTV, she has produced some of the most popular shows. She was also behind Hungama, which became the top kids channel within 18 months of launch and was sold to Disney in 2006. Declining an offer to head Disney's India operations, she came up with the idea of creating an iconic local brand for youth. "The minute everything i going well, I am bored to death," she says. Thus was born Bindass.
In the last one year Zia Mody has been appointed to the World Bank Appellate Tribunal and the London Court of International Arbitration- appointments she is suitably proud of, as she is of the growth achieved by AZB & Partners, where she is a Senior Partner. The firm is probably the second-largest in India now-and advises major corporations on mergers and acquisitions. AZB has advised the Tatas, Blackstone, Carlyle and Lenovo, to name a few. Mody is daughter of India's former Attorney General Soli Sorabjee and is a committed Baha'i by religion.
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