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Business Today's 12th annual listing of Most Powerful Women in Business

Alokesh Bhattacharyya and Sarika Malhotra     September 11, 2015

Defining power is not easy. But at Business Today, we have been doing it consistently, with our listing of the Most Powerful Women in Business. In fact, this is our twelfth run, where we celebrate the journeys, triumphs, perspirations and challenges of women who are powerful enough to impact their organisations and the economy in a big way.

In the initial years, women from the banking and financial services arena dominated. The ICICI Bank leaders in particular - like Chanda Kochhar, Shikha Sharma, Kalpana Morparia and a host of others - featured regularly. Then there were the original entrepreneurs, including perhaps the first woman-led garage start-up - Biocon's Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw. She went on to win the award seven times, and was elevated to our Hall of Fame (12 others, too, made it there; read what they are up to on page 128).


As the list evolved, women from IT started to come in a big way, such as Neelam Dhawan (erstwhile Microsoft and now HP), and Vanitha Narayanan of IBM. Slowly we saw fashion designers, chefs and publishers making their way into the list.

One remarkable transition was that of Renuka Ramnath, who went from an executive position in ICICI Bank to starting out on her own. She lost her position on BT's list for two years after leaving ICICI - in 2009 and 2010 - but came roaring back in 2011 after the success of her company Multiples Alternate Asset Management. No other executive in the past 12 years has managed that. Ramnath, of course, went on to join the Hall of Fame in 2013.

{blurb}This year, too, we have an exciting list. As we started the process, we looked for real achievers, who need not necessarily be in executive positions - Meher Pudumjee of Thermax is non-executive Chairperson, for example - or even be CEOs. They could be division heads in large corporations - Geetu Verma and Priya Nair of Hindustan Unilever, for example, who don't head the company, but have immense impact in key areas for the Rs 30,800-crore market-leading FMCG behemoth. What mattered in the ultimate analysis was performance in the past one year, and potential to impact their companies and industries.

We drew up a long list of over 150 such women across sectors ranging from corporate, finance, legal and research outfits, policy makers, media and advertising, publishing, entrepreneurs, family businesses, film production, consultancy and more. This list was chiselled by a group of BT's senior-most editors to a shortlist of 55 contenders.

This shortlist was presented before a power-packed jury. Chaired by veteran businessman Rahul Bajaj, the Chairman of Bajaj Auto and Member of Parliament, the jury included the likes of Kalpana Morparia, CEO of JP Morgan India; Janmejaya Sinha, Chairman Asia Pacific of Boston Consulting Group; and Sam Balsara, Chairman and Managing Director of Madison World and Madison Communications.

After hours of deliberation, 25 made the cut - from first-generation entrepreneurs, marquee deal makers, meticulous litigators, marketing wizards, to PSU heads. The list boasts many first ladies who have reached the pinnacle in traditionally male-dominated bastions. The first woman chief of India's oldest and largest bank; the first lady head of an oil PSU; and the first lady honcho of India's biggest stock exchange.

(From Left) Janmejaya Sinha, Chairman, Asia Pacific, Boston Consulting Group; Prosenjit Datta, Editor, Business Today; Kalpana Morparia, CEO, JP Morgan India; Rahul Bajaj, Chairman, Bajaj Auto and Sam Balsara, Chairman and MD of Madison World and Madison Communications

SBI Chairman Arundhati Bhattacharya continues the tradition of top women bankers in BT's listing. Last fiscal, she put a check on non-performing assets, focused on profitable growth and also introduced initiatives in digital banking. Shining through in India's energy economy is the first lady of Indian PSUs. Hindustan Petroleum Corp Chairman and Managing Director Nishi Vasudeva runs India's fourth-largest oil company (fourth-largest across sectors, too) by revenues. Last fiscal, she took HPCL to record profitability. Just when stock markets were all about men, in came Chitra Ramkrishna. The Managing Director and CEO of the National Stock Exchange has cemented the Exchange's position at the top so much so that it resembles a monopoly.

Then there are the next-gen ladies - the ones who are already in influential positions, and will likely take over from their fathers in the near future. For example, Arathi Krishna, the Joint Managing Director of auto component maker Sundram Fasteners, is the daughter of the company's Chairman and Managing Director Suresh Krishna. Arathi is already No. 2 on the board, and clearly earmarked to take over leadership role once the chairman decides to call it quits.

Another such example would be of Radhika Piramal, who is entrusted with the task of making VIP luggage contemporary and attractive to the new generation. Junior Piramal became Managing Director of the company in 2009, albeit her father Dilip Piramal, who founded the company in the 1980s, is still actively involved in the business. Radhika is entrusted with bringing fresh thinking into the company, and take on the might of international stalwarts like Samsonite.

{blurb}Every year, we celebrate new blood in the list - that is how it evolves over the years. The old make way for the new. Debutants this year include the young Chief Commercial Officer of GE South Asia, Ipsita Dasgupta. A pretty low-profile name that BT has unearthed, Dasgupta is one of those seemingly rare woman executives who thrill in the sounds and smells of manufacturing - at GE, she looks at the marketing strategy for wind turbines, aircraft engines, machining tools, water - the real hard core stuff. She has worked in the US, was Chief Marketing Officer in China before taking up her current role. She has risen rapidly in one of the top companies in the world and also sits on Jeff Immelts Commercial Council.

Another new entrant this year is Jyoti Deshpande, Group CEO and MD of Eros International. The fact that a woman heads India's biggest movie making and distribution company is ironic in an industry where male heroes and directors rule the roost. After making superhits like Bajrangi Bhaijaan and Tanu Weds Manu Returns, Deshpande is now eyeing newer markets - like tying up with Chinese companies for India-China joint venture movies. And then there is her pet project - Erosnow, which is an entertainment portal dishing out latest movies and music. Deshpande is banking on Erosnow to take the company into the digital era as the market leader.

It is a bunch of fascinating stories on the following pages. Stories of courage, of willpower, stories of having overcome extreme adversity, stories of challenge and victory. Turn the page and savour the personalities of India's most powerful women in business.

(Research inputs from Niti Kiran and Jyotindra Dubey; Follow the authors on Twitter: @alokeshb; @sarikamalhotra2 @niti_kiran; @JyotindraDubey)

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