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Nothing is impossible: On the power track

October 2, 2008

The 25 most powerful women had better watch out—they have some serious competition snapping at their heels. The Rising Stars range from the CEO of a foreign bank to legal eagles and marketing whiz-kids. Some stumbled into their dream careers by chance, some are entrepreneurs and there is even a bureaucrat. The 10 rising stars chosen by BT this year are the epitome of today’s women, for whom nothing is impossible.

Amisha Vora
Amisha Vora
Amisha Vora
42, Group Joint MD, Prabhudas Lilladher Group

Power to me means: The ability to make a difference in my areas of influence.
My favourite life-after-work activity: A walk on the beach or in my garden with some music.
The best way to deal with a glass ceiling: Your conviction in what you communicate and your persistence.
The biggest turning point in my career was: When we started the Corporate Advisory Business in September 2005. Within 16 months, we helped companies raise $1 billion through private equity, among other things.
Mantra for maintaining work-life balance: Prioritising.

Working in an industry where women are hard to spot, this Chartered Accountant from a Gujarati family started off as an equity research analyst with JM Financials in 1988. She joined the broking firm Prabhudas Lilladher in 2000 in the midst of a slowdown and bearish market. As the market sentiment changed for the worse in the wake of the Ketan Parikh scam in 2001, she and her colleagues took a two-thirds cut in their salaries. She helped the firm expand its institutional client base from 21 in 2001 to 225 in 2008. Vora also expanded its presence in Corporate Advisory Services and set up a non-banking finance company (NBFC). In 2007, she became a shareholder, owning 25 per cent in Prabhudas Lilladher Group. But Vora has even higher goals. “I want to transform the company into a respectable global brand,” she says. Vora, who travels 15-20 days every month, says it’s the support of her husband and her 16-year-old son that keeps her going.

Rachna Monga

Anisha Motwani
Anisha Motwani
Anisha Motwani
43, Executive VP, Max New York Life Insurance

My favourite life-after-work activity: Spending time with children. The best way to deal with a glass ceiling: Demonstrate subject matter expertise.
The biggest turning point in my career was: When I quit my job for six months. I accepted the choices I had made by being a career woman. I became free of guilt.
Mantra for maintaining work-life balance: Define priorities and be very clear about them.
A little-known interesting fact: Wants to write a comprehensive book on the “Business of Understanding Life”.

Less than a year in the insurance business, Anisha Motwani, who was earlier with General Motors India, believes that “in marketing, inputs are based on science but the output is an art.” Her sector has shown a CAGR of 27 per cent over the last five years, and over 20 players compete for the consumer mindspace. She is quite clear that individual players can make inroads into this space only through consistent brand positioning that resonates with the core audiences. A mother of two, Motwani is among those modern women who have thrown off the guilt of being a working mom, of course, ably supported by a joint family. “I have not been a mother who gets up early and packs tiffin for my children, but I share a good understanding with them,” she says. “And as they have grown they take pride in what I do,” she says. That certainly helps.

Shalini S. Dagar

Bharti Gupta Ramola
Bharti Gupta Ramola
Bharti Gupta Ramola
49, India Leader (Transactions Practice), PricewaterhouseCoopers

My favourite life-after-work activity: An avid reader of both fiction and non-fiction books, I like spending time with my daughter Divi, 22.
The best way to deal with a glass ceiling: To think that it is not there, to aspire high and work at becoming the best.
The biggest turning point in my career was: When I was given the responsibility to lead the Transactions & Sustainability Practices of PwC because I believe that this is a unique combination and enables me to focus on the sustainable growth of business and entrepreneurship in India.
Mantra for maintaining work-life balance: Strive to clarify what you want most and prioritise life accordingly.
A little-known interesting fact: My current passion, architecture.

As a young girl, Bharti Gupta Ramola wanted to be a doctor, but changed her mind later when she realised that a doctor takes almost 10 years to become economically independent. Arming herself with a degree from Delhi’s St Stephen’s College, she was thinking of the IAS exams, but the Emergency made her change her mind. She opted for an MBA from the Indian Institute of Management (IIM), Ahmedabad. Joining PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) in 1984, Bharti rose to a leadership position in a few years. “In 1992, I became the first female partner in PwC India,” she says. Very rare in those days.

Manu Kaushik

Deepa Misra Harris
Deepa Misra Harris
Deepa Misra Harris
50, Vice President (Marketing), Taj Hotels Resorts & Palaces

My favourite life-after-work activity: Anything that de-stresses and recharges. Spending quality time with my family, doing yoga, writing or reading copiously (I am a compulsive reader).
The best way to deal with a glass ceiling: To imagine there is none.
The biggest turning point in my career was: Three years ago when the company asked me to take up the marketing function.
Mantra for maintaining work-life balance: Never to take your work home and vice versa .
A little-known interesting fact: Was a features editor of Fashion

It was a chance meeting with an Executive Director of Taj Hotels Resorts & Palaces on an assignment that landed her a job offer in the hospitality industry— a career she had never planned. A Masters in English and Mass Communications, Harris has been with the Taj Group for 25 years. Starting off as a Sales Executive, she now heads the Marketing function across all four brands. Over the last one year, she says: “We have vastly improved the quality of marketing deliverables.”

Anusha Subramanian

Meena Chaturvedi
Meena Chaturvedi
Meena Chaturvedi
49, Executive Director, PFRDA

My favourite life-after-work activity: Spending time with my daughters.
The best way to deal with a glass ceiling: I have never perceived it. Hard work is important.
The biggest turning point in my career: The big moment is yet to come.
Mantra for maintaining work-life balance: Don’t feel guilty about being a working mom.
A little-known interesting fact: Did 10 years of street theatre under Badal Sircar before joining the government.
Her advice to other women in public service: Hard work, honesty and neutrality.
Long-term ambition: To set up a residential school for poor, meritorious children and provide alternative education.

Meena Chaturvedi begins by saying: “I have no stories to tell you as I have had it relatively smooth.” But as the conversation progresses, it is clear that the way to the top has been an arduous one. Chaturvedi has been at the cutting edge of secondgeneration fiscal reforms in the last few years—as Executive Director of the Pension Fund Regulatory & Development Authority (PFRDA) now and earlier as Director of the Budget Division during the passage of the Fiscal Responsibility & Management Act, and as Director for Commercial Audit in the Comptroller & Auditor General’s office. On deputation from the Indian Audit & Accounts Service in her present job, she says most of the PFRDA staff, like her, “believe passionately in pension reforms.” Mother of two daughters, Meena is clear that bringing up her children is as important a job. “After all, I will give society two good quality assets,” she says.

Shalini S. Dagar

Meera H. Sanyal
Meera H. Sanyal
Meera H. Sanyal
46, Country Executive-India, ABN AMRO

My favourite life-after-work activity: To have dinner with my family.
The best way to deal with a glass ceiling: To be yourself.
The biggest turning point in my career was: When I moved from Investment Banking to set up BPO operations in 2001.
Mantra for maintaining work-life balance: To give your 100 per cent, whether work or home.
A little-known interesting fact: After graduation, she joined a journalism course. She also won an all-India short story writing competition.

Meera H. Sanyal, the second woman CEO at a foreign bank, is on familiar terrain nine months into her job, having been with ABN since 1992. Sanyal is not fazed by the turmoil in the global financial markets, the domestic slowdown and the formal integration of ABN with Royal Bank of Scotland. (RBS is awaiting the Reserve Bank of India’s permission to re-brand ABN. “If we combine the two, you have real global powerhouse,” says Sanyal.)

Anand Adhikari

Pallavi Shroff
Pallavi Shroff
Pallavi Shroff
52,Partner, Amarchand Mangaldas

My favourite life-after-work activity: I like to relax in my garden and listen to music.
The best way to deal with a glass ceiling: Show your ability in a quietly aggressive way.
The biggest turning point in my career: In 1991, a client was so keen I handle a matter that he chartered a flight for me to travel to Allahabad, something unheard of in those days.
Mantra for maintaining work-life balance: Cut down on socialising to spend more time with my family.
A little-known interesting fact: I am a student of kathak and have given several public performances.

To think that she never wanted to be the legal eagle she is today! Her father P.N. Bhagwati is a former Chief Justice of India, but she opted for a degree from Lady Shri Ram College in Delhi and an MBA from Jamnalal Bajaj Institute in Mumbai with her eyes set on a corporate career. Then she got engaged to corporate lawyer Shardul Shroff. “My fiancé… usually kept late hours in office,” says Pallavi. “So I thought I may as well join him.” After a law degree, she joined Amarchand Mangaldas, her husband’s family firm. The rest is history.

Rishi Joshi

Punitha Arumugam
Punitha Arumugam
Punitha Arumugam
41, Group CEO, Madison Media

My favourite life-after-work activity: Varies from “doing nothing” to travelling to gymming/swimming to movies to sleeping.
The best way to deal with a glass ceiling is: Work like there is none.
The biggest turning point in my career: Every boss I had, especially a former boss Lynn De Souza (of Lintas Media Group) and my current boss Sam Balsara.
Mantra for maintaining work-life balance: “Live like there is a tomorrow” in work and “live like there is no tomorrow” in my personal life.
A little-known interesting fact: Was doing her Masters in Forensic Science before switching to management.

As group CEO of one of the three most powerful media agencies in India, Punitha Arumugam has added over Rs 800 crore of business in the last one year, pocketing new accounts and retaining the buying activities of Procter & Gamble, which was in danger of being shifted to JWT. She loves everything about her job— the numbers, the logic, the negotiations and the people.

Anusha Subramanian

Smeeta Neogi
Smeeta Neogi
Smeeta Neogi
40, Head (Marketing), West Side

My favourite life-after-work activity: Cooking and spending time with my daughter. Listening to Indian classical music—Bhimsen Joshi, Kishori Amonkar, Rashid Khan.
The best way to deal with a glass ceiling: Assume that it is not there and it will not be an issue.
The biggest turning point in my career was: Joining Trent.
Mantra for maintaining work-life balance: When at work, focus on work, when at home, focus on home.

From client services director at ad agency Ambience and working on the West Side account, Smeeta Neogi joined Trent as Manager (Communications) and Head (Research) in 2004. By April 2008, she was Head (Marketing) for West Side, the largest private label store chain in India with 32 stores. Neogi also helped create a separate identity for the West Side brand, associating it with the Lakme Fashion Week and making designer wear available at the store. She has chalked up major expansion plans for West Side moving on to the Tier II and Tier III cities.

Suman Layak

Vuppalapati Madhavi
Vuppalapati Madhavi
Vuppalapati Madhavi
36, Chairperson, Prithvi Information Solutions

The biggest turning point in her career: Losing my job for the third time in the US because of a market downturn.
The best way to deal with a glass ceiling: Ignore it but if you think you are the rightful owner of place or position, then fight for it.
A little-known interesting fact: My husband lives in Seattle, US. I travel between Seattle and Pittsburgh (where I am based) and India, always taking my two-year-old daughter along.

She was the first to pose a question to US President George W. Bush when he met a group of entrepreneurs at the Indian School of Business (ISB) in Hyderabad in 2006. Vuppalapati Madhavi wanted to know whether he had a political strategy to balance the backlash against outsourcing. She was 26 when she set up Prithvi Information Solutions (an IT solutions company) in 1998, armed with an M.S. in Computational Mechanics from Carnegie Mellon University, US. Prithvi’s revenues today: close to $300 million (Rs 1,380 crore).

E. Kumar Sharma


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