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Power of women

Or should that be Women of Power? It doesn’t matter: at BT’s annual event to honour the most powerful women in Indian business, both were on ample display.

     Print Edition: November 2, 2008

Crème de la Crème: (From L to R) Aroon Purie, Editor-in-Chief, India Today Group; Kalpana Morparia, CEO, JP Morgan India; Shikha Sharma, MD, ICICI Prudential Life; Leena Nair, Executive Director, HUL; Swati Piramal, Director, Piramal Healthcare; Naina Lal Kidwai, Country Head, HSBC India; Ashu Suyash, MD & Country Head-India, Fidelity International; Shelly Lazarus, Chairman & CEO, Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide; Zia Mody, Senior Partner, AZB & Partners; Madhabi Puri-Buch, Executive Director, ICICI Bank; Renuka Ramnath, MD & CEO, ICICI Venture; and Rama Bijapurkar, Management Consultant
Crème de la Crème
There’s little to differentiate India’s powerful women in business from their counterparts in the West: They’re as driven, if not more; they lead from the front; and they enjoy their day in the sun.

But if there’s one visible feature that sets Indian professionals apart, it’s their utter disregard for the business suit. No blazers, or skirts with coordinated jackets, or grey-andblack-tweed suits for them. They’re at home—or should that be at office— in exquisite saris and salwar kameezes, doubtless of the designer variety.

The Indian businesswoman’s preference for the homehemmed was amply on display at the Business Today bash to honour the 25 Most Powerful Women in Indian Business on October 1 in Mumbai. To honour the women were present Aroon Purie, Saluting women: HUL’s Nitin Paranjpe Editor-in-Chief of the India Today Group (of which Business Today is a part); and Shelly Lazarus, outgoing Chairman & CEO, Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide. That Lazarus was present to honour India’s finest female minds is significant because the Ogilvy veteran of 35 years has been on Fortune magazine’s list of 50 Most Powerful Women in Business ever since the American magazine conceived the rankings in 1998.

Saluting women: HUL’s Nitin Paranjpe
Saluting women
Purie underscored the need to celebrate the success of women and appreciate their achievements. “I have always wondered why, even though women start their careers with the same level of intelligence, education and commitment as men, relatively few of them reach the top echelons. This event and the special issue of Business Today shows that things are changing for the better,” he said. But even though the special issue of Business Today has become a reference point for charting the rise of Indian women in the last five years, the magazine didn’t have a clear picture of the road ahead when it first thought of recognising the success of women in business through a regular annual issue and an event in 2003. “We weren’t sure how far we could go with this initiative after the first year. As we approached the second year, we wondered if we would end up repeating the same names as in the list of 2003,” he said.

But as BT discovered to its surprise, there was no dearth of women who were making a mark in diverse fields. “Not only was 25-30 per cent on the list of 25 that we prepared new, we also discovered some amazing stories of successes outside the traditional definition of corporate India,” Purie said.

Kalpana Morparia, CEO, JP Morgan India
Kalpana Morparia
Paying a tribute to successful women, Purie noted that the lessons learnt from them are valuable to people across genders, ages, geographies and professions and are especially instructive for dealing with the modern-day workplace challenges. Besides, women have unique solutions for challenges, like maintaining a work-life balance, blending ambition with pragmatism, multitasking successfully and considering personal and professional growth as two sides of the same coin. “These somewhat overlapping challenges are also the key essentials of modern leadership,” he observed.

Naina Lal Kidwai, Country Head, HSBC India
Naina Lal Kidwai
But the evening belonged to Lazarus, who had the audience captivated with her wit and insight. Having taken the plunge into advertising way back in the ’60s, Lazarus illustrated how women have evolved over the years from invisible facilitators (as passive stenographers and secretaries) into glorious, effortless and often game-changing decisionmakers. “I needed a job to get married… and I didn’t want to have to type, so I thought an MBA might be a handy way to avoid the typing pool,” she said of her decision to join Columbia Business School. About women leaders, she said, one particular quality of them is that they are extraordinary team builders. “Female leaders know that leadership is not a solo act.”

Rama Bijapurkar, Management Consultant
Rama Bijapurkar
The stage was perfect for the stars of the evening themselves to take centre stage. Kalpana Morparia, CEO, JP Morgan India, suggested that women were capable of making their mark even in a list of 25 powerful businesspersons. “In the first 25, you may not find 12 women, but give us some time and you will probably see 20 women among them,” she added. Renuka Ramnath, Managing Director and CEO, ICICI Venture, acknowledged that the BT awards had led to a revolution in women aspiring to get to the top. But she admitted to feeling awkward when she was nominated for the first time. “I must confess I was very embarrassed to come here and accept the award,” she said.

Renuka Ramnath, MD, ICICI Venture
Renuka Ramnath
One couldn’t help but notice that of the 10 women who attended the show, six were from the field of financial services (of the 25, nine are from this sector). This prompted Sam Balsara, Chairman & Managing Director, Madison Communications, to quip: “BT has a strong weakness for financial professionals.” Well, we all know what happened on Wall Street. But then, as somebody said that evening: “If a few of these good women were calling the shots at those troubled banks, perhaps we wouldn’t have had such a crisis in the first place.”

The ceremony ended with Aseem Kapur, Publishing Director of Business Today, thanking the guests and the sponsors, including New Dove Haircare, presenting sponsor; ITC Grand Central Mumbai, hospitality partner; and Kaya Skin Clinic, associate sponsor.

“You Can’t Ignore Half the Talent Pool”

Shelly Lazarus
Shelly Lazarus
Shelly Lazarus, Chairman and CEO, Ogilvy & Mather Worldwide, Chief Guest at Business Today’s Most Powerful Women Awards ceremony, has been featured in Fortune magazine’s power lists a number of times. In her keynote speech, she exhorted the winners to help inspire the next generation of leaders. Excerpts:

The accomplished women we honour tonight, and others like them, are proof that not only are more and more women working in business and government, they’re seizing leadership positions. One thing we can probably agree on is that women who are afforded the opportunity to lead, exceed most of everyone’s expectations, including their own. I believe that we are all the products of our own expectations. When the world portrays us in a certain way, we tend to see ourselves as pictured, accept it, and expect it.

And that is why tonight I applaud Business Today’s honourees for their achievements. We must all thank them for their fortitude, wisdom and the example they set. We admire these women. They inspire us. We applaud their talent and what they have achieved. We want to be them. We want to join them. They change the expectations of the women of the next generation. And that moves the world forward.

So, I encourage all leaders in the crowd tonight to extend their hands to those who haven’t quite figured it out yet. Share your experiences, tell your stories. Help inspire the next generation of women leaders. Sometimes even a short conversation can transform a life.

The world can hardly afford to ignore half the talent pool. We need women. We need women to be successful. We need women to lead. Onward.

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