NOV 23, 2003
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Motherhood In

Motherhood appeals in Indian advertising were once assumed not to change very much. Well, guess what?

Universal Advertising
So, which shall it be for the Indian market—universally watchable or culture-specific ads? The debate.

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Business Today,  November 9, 2003
The 25 Most Powerful Women in Business

Mammon may be the deity of choice of the corporate world but there is one higher authority to which he must pay obeisance. This is power itself. It is the ability to shape and change organisations, careers, markets, entire industries, sometimes, the lives of an entire nation. It is the deafening silence that falls upon a meeting when someone with enough of the commodity to spare raises his or her voice to make a point. It is the raw envy an individual's achievements provoke in people around. It is, in equal parts admiration, respect, influence, and it is more.

Definitions are important, for they delineate who we are and what we do. When we at Business Today set out to identify the 25 most powerful women in Indian business, we started off by looking for a largely-objective quantifiable methodology (confession: we are partial to numbers) that could accomplish the task. Power, unfortunately, confounds most available metrics. So, we decided to do the next best thing: define our universe and the criteria we would use to identify the most powerful women in business.

All About The 25
Column by N. Vaghul
Safest Cities for Working Women

The universe we decided on was, simply, women in business. Entrepreneurs, executives, wives, sisters, mothers, and daughters inducted into the family business, everyone would be considered. That left out women who weren't actively involved in business, but who exerted considerable influence (sometimes more than those in business) simply by being close to those in power. Infosys' N.R. Narayana Murthy, Reliance's Mukesh Ambani, and Godrej's Adi Godrej are all powerful men and they are married to strong women (Sudha, Nita, and Parmeshwar, respectively) who serve, more often than not, as muse, confidant, and sounding board rolled into one. Does that make them powerful? You bet, but the fact that they aren't actively in business disqualifies them from this listing.

The criteria we used was equally straightforward: to qualify for the listing a woman needed to have done one of several things. She had to have achieved something really of note such as becoming the country's first woman Revenue Secretary, like Vineeta Rai did. She should have helped change her company, much like Mallika Srinivasan changed, and is changing, TAFE. She must have created an industry like Shahnaz Husain did the beauty one. She could have pushed at the frontiers of commercial science like Kiran Mazumdar Shaw and Villoo Morawala Patell did and continue to do. She had to have helped her company chart unexplored waters (and successfully at that), much like Shikha Sharma and Chanda Kochhar helped ICICI Bank do. She could be at the vanguard of change in her industry, like Meenakshi Madhvani has always been. She should have pioneered good business practices like Anu Aga did. Or she might be in charge of a company that through money-power, innovations, products and services, or a combination of all changes the direction of other companies and of individuals. Put simply, merely being a senior woman executive wasn't enough.

Armed with these definitions Business Today's correspondents and editors fanned out meeting consultants, analysts, executives, the women themselves, and just about anyone else who could provide a perspective of power. The result is the first ever listing of The 25 Most Powerful Women in Indian Business.

61, Chairperson, Thermax

India Inc's
Ms Conscience

Anu Aga will certainly not feature in the next listing of India's Most Powerful Women in Business. She turns 62 in September 2004, and will hand over charge as Chairperson of the Pune-based Thermax to her daughter, 37-year old Meher Pudumjee the same month. And it isn't a certainty that Pudumjee will inherit her mother's place in the roster, although it is likely that she will. That's because it isn't just chairing a Rs 771-crore energy- and environmental-engineering major on the threshold of going global that gets Aga into the list; it's her standing as India Inc's Ms Conscience, and one with a voice at that. India first heard this voice on July 21, 2000, when, as a precursor to some much-needed organisational restructuring, Aga convinced the entire board of Thermax, including her daughter and son-in-law to resign. And it heard it again in early 2002, when following sectarian violence in Gujarat, she criticised the state government for its handling of the issue. It doesn't come as a surprise, then, that Aga plans to work actively with non-governmental organisations such as Mumbai-based Akanksha that work towards educating underprivileged children. "There is so much to be done, and not enough time," says Aga. Don't write off Aga as a softy; the lady is capable of hard-nosed business decisions, although she admits that, "professionally, the most difficult thing I have had to do is to ask people to leave." Personally, too, Aga has been through a lot: her husband Rohinton, Thermax's founder died unexpectedly in 1996, as did her son the following year. "Pain is inevitable," says Aga. "But suffering is up to you."

46, Vice Chairperson & Editorial Director, The Hindustan Times Ltd


When Shobhana Bhartia, then a 29-year old mother of two boys in their sub-teens (she is married to Shyam Bhartia who runs the Jubilant Group), joined The Hindustan Times Ltd as a Director in 1986, the eponymous newspaper owned by the company was considered the voice of Delhi, and just that. Today, The Hindustan Times (ht) is a 10-edition national daily that will soon launch an edition in Mumbai, the bastion of its archrival The Times of India, and India's largest advertising market.

That Bhartia is the daughter of Chairman K.K. Birla helped, but only in terms of getting her first break. "Thereafter, you have to find your place and sustain it," says the lady who is quick to give the credit for ht's success to the entire team. Still, Bhartia has led ht's revival from the front. Why, she even managed to get into the history books by inking the first foreign direct investment deal in India-she sold a 20 per cent stake in Hindustan Times Media to Henderson Global Investors-in the media business after the Government of India changed its FDI-in-print-media policy.

Not everything Bhartia touched has turned to gold. Her company's television venture, Home TV, launched in the 1990s, went belly up soon after. "It was the right media at the right time," says Bhartia. "Only, it had five partners and two were exiting television altogether." She decided never to get into business with too many partners after that.

Unlike her father who was a hands-off manager, Bhartia delegates responsibility to professional editors and managers but prefers to oversee everything. That rules out things like long holiday breaks although Bhartia, a self-confessed "stickler for time" manages to find time to catch up with her reading, especially in areas of interest such as public affairs and international affairs by "planning my day rather than letting things drift". It helps that "ht is more than work; it is a passion". She'll need all of that to make a go of the Mumbai edition.

54, Chairperson, Jumbo Group

Mother's Day Out

She's the chairperson of a $2-billion enterprise, comprising 28 companies, 20,000 employees spread over 25 countries, and businesses as diverse as consumer electronics, liquor and machinery. Till a little over a year ago, she was just another corporate wife. But when Manu Chhabria passed away last April, Vidya Chhabria suddenly found herself in the hot seat of the group, which has $600 million worth of assets in India, including such companies as Shaw Wallace and Mather & Platt.

So how did Chhabria slip into the role of Chairperson (and in the process into sundry global listings, the latest being Fortune magazine's 50 most powerful women in international business)? For a woman who still misses her housewife days-she still plays that role in her free time, during which she spends all the time she can with daughters Bhavika, Komal and Kiran-leading a $2-billion Goliath may appear overwhelming, but Chhabria does it her own way. Working out of Dubai, she presides over the Jumbo Group Corporate Management Board, which is responsible for outlining group strategy and vision. Most of her companies are professionally run, so her role is to empower her managers, and define business policy. Human resources are indeed her primary priority, and that's why recently she called in Mercer, the world's largest hr consulting house, to chart out an hr roadmap for group flagship Shaw Wallace. And McKinsey is drawing up a strategy to enhance professionalism within the group. Would Manu Chhabria have approved? Why not!

The Poster-girl

55, Joint Managing Director, ICICI bank

ICICI bank is a great place to look for powerful women. The bank, and the financial institution that was reverse-merged into it in 2002, ICICI, have always been great places to work for women, largely due to Chairman N. Vaghul's desire to create an equal opportunity workplace. Lalita Gupte could well be the poster girl of this revolution. She joined icici in 1971 straight from Jamnalal Bajaj Institute of Management Studies. Twenty-three years later she became the first woman to sit on its board. In 1999, she was made Joint Managing Director and COO. Today, Gupte heads the bank's international business group, the great-white-hope-for-growth (apart from retail banking). Since 2001, she has traversed the globe pressing the flesh with regulators, customers, and bankers and keeping an eye open for opportunities in business process outsourcing. "This has been the most challenging job," says Gupte, who is respected within the bank for her ability to create leaders. Networking done, Gupte now has the task of implementing the bank's global strategy.

ICICI Bank's leading ladies (from left): Lalita Gupte, Chanda Kochhar, Renuka Ramanath, and Kalpana Morparia

P.S.: By the time you read this, she would have opened the bank's fifth office outside India, this one in London.

The New New Manager

42, Executive Director, ICICI bank

Every time ICICI (now ICICI bank) has done something new, Chanda Kochhar-another Bajaj alum (she was the topper in the class of 1984)-has been involved. In the course of the past 19 years, Kochhar who is also a cost accountant has handled project finance; been part of the company's computerisation drive and its new initiatives group; helped conceptualise the strategic direction of ICICI Bank; and driven retail finance initiatives as Managing Director of ICICI Home Finance and ICICI Personal Financial Services. That reads like the CV of a complete banker and Kochhar admits the retail-experience-she built a 8,000-strong team and enabled ICICI Bank to become a large player in the market-helped her become just that. The secret of her versatility: " The right mix of strategy and implementation." Kochhar, an Executive Director at ICICI Bank since 2001, has extended that fine sense of balance to her personal life. Sure, the avid dramatist may not have the time to don the greasepaint (she listens to music instead), but she has managed to find enough time for her children, Arti, 14, and Arjun, 8. She claims a good support system and an understanding family help. As, indubitably, does ICICI Bank's culture.

Lawful Presence

54, Executive Director, ICICI bank

If Kalpana Morparia had had her way she wouldn't have been Executive Director, ICICI Bank, and, more significantly, the organisation's most visible face. The science graduate just wanted "to get married and have children". But once she graduated in law, her husband insisted that she join a law firm. After brief stints with two, Morparia signed on with ICICI, which was looking for an in-house counsel in 1975. It was in 1996, when CEO K.V. Kamath was looking for someone who could head ICICI's treasury department and also serve as its public face, that Morparia got her first big break. She was named General Manager in charge of the legal, planning, treasury and corporate communications departments. In 1998, her portfolio was expanded to include human resources, planning, strategic support, and special projects, and in 2001, she was named an Executive Director in charge of the corporate centre of ICICI Bank. "If you treat your job as work, you tend to be mediocre," says Morparia, "but if you think of yourself as an entrepreneur you rise above everything else." She also brings a woman's touch to her job. "I am sensitive to the pulls and pressures outside the office (for my team)." Understandably, Morparia isn't afraid to present herself as the very opposite of the archetypal career woman. She likes shopping, cooking, and dressing up, as she does Hindi motion pics and popular English fiction; Robert Ludlum and James Clavell are favourites. No Grisham for the lawyer?

Late-stage Angel

42, Managing Director & CEO, ICICI Venture Funds

Three months in 1999 changed Renuka Ramnath's life. It wasn't that the engineer-MBA wasn't an achiever before that; she was, as her stint as head of the corporate finance and equities business at ICICI Securities proves. In 1999 Ramnath took a sabbatical to complete a three-month Advanced Management Programme (amp) at Harvard Business School. "That was a mind-boggling experience," she gushes. "It brought about a great transformation in me." She came back with a desire to do something different. That turned out to be e-commerce and September 2000 found her ensconsed as CEO of ICICI Eco-net. In early 2001 ICICI merged the company with ICICI Venture and named her CEO. Ramnath had a tough mandate. She had to motivate her team; convince domestic investors to put in money in the late-stage investments she decided focus on; and clean up the company's portfolio. She also hit the road 15-18 days a month, looking for companies to invest in, and meeting with companies in which she already had. The recent acquisition, by the company, of a 50.17 per cent stake in Tata Infomedia (it outbid the likes of CDC Capital and Citigroup Ventures) for Rs 140 crore may well signal ICICI Venture's emergence as a dominant player in the private equity business. Having raised Rs 750 crore through the India Advantage Fund this year and with Rs 2,250 crore under management Ramnath would like to think so. "ICICI Venture is ideally positioned to dominate the private equity scene in India," she says. And it all goes back to three months in 1999.

44, Managing Director & CEO, ICICI Prudential Life Insurance

Ms Start-up

Even in the ICICI family, with its profusion of super-achieving execs, Shikha Sharma stands out as a start-up specialist. The IIM Ahmedabad alum, and ICICI-lifer (she signed on in 1980) had always dreamt of running her own company and ICICI, recognising this start-up hunger, has sated her appetite by allowing her to hone her entrepreneurial skills at ICICI Securities and ICICI Personal Financial Services. "I refuse to be bound by history," says Sharma, trying to explain what makes her a start-up person. "I will always question anyone who says something has been always done like this, 'so, do it this way again'." She pauses for a moment and adds, almost as an afterthought, "Perhaps, that's why I have never hesitated to accept assignments in areas that are alien to me." Not surprisingly, when ICICI was looking for someone to head its insurance joint venture, it singled out Sharma for the job. Three years after its launch, ICICI Pru has sold 450,000 policies (sum assured: Rs 10,000 crore), and boasts a 33 per cent share of the private insurance market. The lady's start-up mantra of defining a vision and work towards it, all the while perfecting things as you go along, seems to have worked.

58, Chairman & Managing Director, Shahnaz Husain Group

Flower Power

She's India's own Anita Roddick and she lives in a house that's straight out of a Charles Perrault-meets-Ekta-Kapoor scenario (it is called Bramblebush Cottage) in Delhi's tony Greater Kailash borough. A somber-looking Great Dane keeps vigil from its first floor residence; anxious-looking gofers move around rearranging the furniture and the assorted bric-a-brac; Sistine frescoes adorn the ceiling; a shag carpet, the floor; and exotic birds chirp the day away in golden cages. Everything screams that this is the residence of India's high priestess of the beauty business, Shahnaz Husain just as the curios from all parts of the world (Masai figurines, anyone?) advertise the eponymous chain's 600 outlets across 100 countries.

Husain is reticent about her group's turnover-a recent report puts it in the region of Rs 400 crore-but it isn't money or showiness that earns Princess, as she is called by most people around her, a place on this list. Husain arguably founded India's now-booming beauty business, took Indian herbal beauty products global (and this was 32 years ago), and inspired a clutch of entrepreneurs (mostly women like her) to follow her into the business. Engaged at 14, married at 15, mother at 16, and businesswomen at 26, Husain today runs a business empire that employs 4,000. And to think the lady, with her feathery red mane and heavy make-up, doesn't believe in advertising.

28, Creative Director, Balaji Telefilms


In television-mad India, anyone with an idea of the 400-million audience's prevailing tastes wields a power that is close to super-human. Not too many people have come close to that: Ramanand Sagar did with Ramayan in the 1980s, as did B.R. Chopra with Mahabarat, but these were mythologicals. Vinita Nanda and Zee did with Tara, a soap opera in the true sense, in the early 1990s, but satellite television was still in its infancy then. The closest anyone has come to this, however, is in the past three years; the person in question is a 28-year old school dropout whose company has churned out a seemingly unending series of weepies, all beginning with the letter K. Ekta Kapoor is it and she dropped out of school because she scored 53 per cent in the preliminaries of her school-leaving examination although she was, by her own admission, "a good student".

Kapoor's first job was with an ad-film maker. "I was a flunkey," she says. "I used to coordinate an artiste's bangles with her clothes-that sort of thing...." She trails off. The experience is obviously a distant memory for a creative director who has created 35 shows, whose serials now occupy nine out of the top 10 slots in terms of audience ratings, and whose company Balaji Telefilms has grown into a Rs 186-crore television-programming behemoth.

Kapoor got into television when she was 19, but she hit upon the K-formula when she was 25. "Look at it this way," she says. "All of us want to be the perfect role model in whatever it is we do and that's what all my characters, in the context of a family, are trying to do." The fact that she can change the lives of her characters, and affect millions of viewers, is a power-trip, admits Kapoor, but the pressure to maintain ratings brings her back to earth. As they say, those who live by TRPs...

46, Vice Chairman & Managing Director, HSBC Securities & Capital Markets

Iron Lady

She's the first Indian woman to have graduated from Harvard Business School (in 1982), one of the very few Indian professional managers to repeatedly figure in Fortune's listing of powerful women (amongst sundry other surveys), and one of the best-paid bankers (male or female) in the country. "It does puzzle me (the presence in the various listings), but I know the day I drop out from the lists, it will make bigger news," quips Naina Lal Kidwai, easily India's most high profile professional investment banker.

Kidwai has been in the public eye ever since she put together the J.M. Morgan Stanley joint venture in the mid-nineties. Since then she's been at the forefront of a number of high-profile deals, including the initial public offering (IPO) of Bharti Tele, Wipro's overseas listing and the Tatas' acquisition of VSNL. At HSBC one transaction that Kidwai is visibly proud about is the Maruti IPO, as she had to work concurrently with the bank's equity banking and corporate finance arms.

Always a team player-"investment banking is about getting people with various dimensions and skill-sets together"-Kidwai looks for that "inner exuberance" in people. "The passion to excel is extremely important to close a deal." Such passion has a price. So a three-week business trip to Hong Kong- it meant missing Diwali and the husband's birthday- is par for the course. Yet, Kidwai does make time to listen to Indian and western classical music and for wildlife tours.

The world of investment banking may appear very much a male thing, but Kidwai's never been fazed by the men around her. Still, she's always been conscious of being a woman in a man's world-which might not be such a bad thing. For, as she puts it: "That's why I've always felt the need to work harder and excel even more." Perhaps it's now time for her male counterparts to play catch-up.

39, President, Star News

High Plains Drifter

In many ways Ravina Raj Kohli is near-perfect manifestation of the dualities that exist in the Indian marketplace-for the business suit-clad, Classic Milds-puffing woman who is head honcho of Star News, spending a traditional Diwali with the family is high on the priority list. The graduate from the London School of Journalism, who's also studied broadcast news at the New York University, may communicate most of the time in English, but she's equally at ease talking (and thinking) in Hindi. "Most of us in India are bilingual, but this is a Hindi market," asserts the former advertising professional who's done stints at HTA, Lintas, Grey and a couple of years in the Singapore ad world.

Advertising, radio, entertainment, music-and now news-Kohli has been there, and is still doing it all. Still only in her late thirties, Kohli didn't do the B-school grind (and she's grateful for that). Career moves have always been accompanied with dollops of risk. "When I returned from Singapore (in 1996, to Sony), I walked into Mumbai blind. I ventured with Prasar Bharti (when with Kerry Packer's Channel Nine) blind, I came into news blind. I am not afraid to fail but once I get into something, failure is never an option."

Failure hasn't been a stranger for Kohli. Her dalliance with Kerry Packer and Doordarshan didn't go beyond 12 months, but as she inimitably puts it: "I've learnt to minimise my circle of concern and widen the circle of influence." Star News happened in April 2003, but not before a few months of persuasion by Star TV CEO Peter Mukerjea. "Everyone said I couldn't do it. And Peter said you are the only one who can do it." Kohli for her part feels that women are capable of lending a higher degree of sincerity, belief and passion to a job than men. It's difficult to disagree with that as she goes about rewriting the rules of news broadcasting in India.

57, Chairman and Managing Director, Indian Bank


It's a punishment-posting," they said. "She's just a woman, and she can't pull it off." Three years ago, these were some of the responses that the news of Ranjana Kumar's appointment as Chairman and Managing Director of the Chennai-based Indian Bank evoked. Once a star in India's banking firmament, a combination of imprudent asset management, political interference, and plain old-fashioned corruption had turned the bank into an ongoing advertisement for banking reform. But Kumar, who believes that the large workforce of public sector banks is an advantage-"If this force is channelised properly, each worker to his or her abilities, the private sector would be left way behind," she says-had other ideas. "When I came here, the workforce turned up in numbers and gave me a rousing reception," recollects Kumar. "I felt I owed them my best."

Her best included: a whistle-stop tour of almost all of the bank's 1,376 branches; a new vision statement; an emphasis on training; recapitalisation; a focus on systems and marketing; cost reduction; and an effort to prune non-performing assets (NPAs). Today, Indian Bank is back in black and Kumar, who has been chosen to be the next Chairman and Managing Director of NABARD (the official notification could come any day now) would like it to emulate some of its brethren and go down the initial public offering route.

A career banker who was educated "all over the country" (her father was in the airforce), Kumar had earlier worked in Bank of India and Canara Bank. But nothing could have prepared her for the Indian Bank assignment, although the lady herself downplays the magnitude of the challenge. "In good times, the halo around the organisation hides everything bad within; and in bad times, the halo hides everything good," she explains. "I just spent all my time and energy convincing employees of their inherent strength." Like all good leaders, she makes it all sound so simple.

44, Managing Partner, Spatial Access

The Media-planners' media-planner

Even had she not founded India's first media audit agency Spatial Access Solutions, Meenakshi Madhvani would have been a shoo-in for the listing of the most powerful women in Indian business. The lady has been there, done that, and then some: she was a successful media planner at Lintas and worked with clients such as HLL, Cadbury India, and J&J; she served as Zee's marketing chief, at a time when the channel was rewriting the rules of the television business; and she served as the head of India's first specialised independent media outfit, Carat.

If that weren't enough, the month-old Spatial Access has already ruffled a few feathers among media outfits in the country. "My outfit will find out whether an advertiser gets value for the money spent (on media)," says Madhvani. "Of course, I will point out a few wrong deals, but it will increase the efficiency of media output." That's just what some media outfits fear. Spatial Access is a labour of love (and a smart business move). "I learned people management skills at Lintas, legal and financial skills at Zee, fine-tuned these at Carat, and now I am setting up an ideal organisation," says Madhvani, listing Subhash Chandra, the late Shunu Sen, and Alyque Padamsee as her mentors. Spatial Access has built a team of 15, and bagged two clients; it is also considering alliances with UK and Singapore-based media-audit firms and plans offices in Bangalore and Delhi by end-year. Her family, adds Madhvani (she is married to renowned ad-photographer Nrupen Madhvani and has a 15-year old daughter) is "fundamental part of her success". Still, it's a success she has scripted herself.

32, Joint Managing Director, Kinetic Engineering

Easy Rider

She may have been inducted into her father's company, Kinetic Engineering in 1996, but there's no arguing the fact that Sulajja Firodia Motwani has left her own mark on it. Back in those days, Kinetic was known as Honda's joint venture partner for automatic-start scooters and as a manufacturer of low-end mopeds. Today, it has split with Honda, entered the go-go motorcycles segment of the two-wheeler market, put its mopeds legacy behind it, and diversified into new businesses such as auto-design and auto components. Motwani's father Arun Firodia today oversees only the technology aspect of the business; the lady manages all else, finance, sales, marketing, product development, planning, and communications, with a little help from siblings Vismaya and Ajinkya and from a clutch of professionals the Kinetic Group has inducted since 1996.

"In 1996, we realised that the mopeds market was shrinking and that the joint venture with Honda was preventing us from entering the booming motorcycles segment of the market," says the scuba-diving enthusiast. Motwani doesn't get much time for that, though. She may have taken just four days off when she gave birth to a baby boy, Sidhant three years ago, but she admits that it isn't easy being a working mother. "The child needs you and wants to be with you and you end up living with guilt," says Motwani. To achieve some sort of balance Motwani divides her time between her three priorities, son, work, and fitness, to the exclusion of all else-shopping, partying, doing up the house, and hanging out with friends. And she makes shorter business trips. "I end up with crazy schedules, but am able to manage," she smiles. Motwani will be making a lot of those short trips in November visiting Kinetic's new-look dealerships and monitoring customer response to four new products.

42, Director, Centre for Science and Environment

Radical Chic

Sunita Narain's designation is director, CSE, an organisation founded by her late mentor Anil Agarwal in 1980. She's a 'green' by disposition, imploring this writer not to react to a few wasps that have decided her room at CSE's HQ in Tughlakabad Institutional Area, a verdant Delhi suburb, is the ideal place for an afternoon ramble. To companies that cross CSE's path-all it requires is the willingness to put profits before the health of customers and that of the environment-however, Narain is the personification of Nemesis. A recent list of such would include the Tata Group, which sent a legal notice to CSE seeking damages of Rs 100 crore during the centre's anti-diesel campaign, most bottled-water manufacturers, and cola majors Coca-Cola and Pepsi. If people are known by their enemies, Narain is indeed powerful. Narain rose through the ranks at CSE to become Director in 2000, but only after much prodding by Agarwal who was battling cancer and wished to pick a successor. She acquired her loathing of businessmen along the way, for "their fixing mindset". Still, Narain hasn't let feelings cloud judgement. "Vindictiveness never builds trust," she says. The lady is single, but with a network big enough (120 employees, 40 volunteers) to make a difference.

60, Chairperson, National Diary Development Board

The White Duchess

Not too long ago, chroniclers of India's white revolution-the milk co-operative movement-would have been content to consign Amrita Patel to the footnotes of history as an add-on to the larger doings of her mentor Verghese Kurien. Today she will get a chapter or two of her own. That's because Patel has the requisite passion for the co-operative movement . And it's because Patel has taken NDDB to the next level by forging marketing alliances with milk co-operatives in various states, taking on, in the process, the organisation's former chairman Kurien, who believes NDDB has no business in marketing. "My mission is to professionalise the co-operatives," says Patel, a spinster by choice and a vet by education.

Next step: Patel would like the government to pass the Infectious Disease (Livestock) Control Act-she is lobbying for it-which will address issues related to livestock production. Patel's other passion is the Foundation for Ecological Security, an organisation she chairs; it works with village communities to revegetate denuded land. "Ultimately, if we want more milk, we will need more water and more fodder," says the lady. FES is a voluntary body and has to raise the funds it requires. "Between nine and six, I am a rich woman," laughs Patel, a reference to her day job as head of NDDB. "For the rest, I am a beggar."

48, Founder & CEO, Avestha Gengraine Technologies

Genetics' High Priestess

At 21, she got married. By 31, she was the mother of two daughters and held a steady job at Hyderabad's International Crop Research Institute for Semi Arid Tropics (icrisat). At 37, she completed a PhD in plant molecular biology from France's University Louis Pasteur. At 45, she founded a company. And Dr R.A. Mashelkar, the Director-General of India's Council of Scientific and Industrial Research describes her as "a committed and enthusiastic visionary whose emphasis on creating intellectual property is important to a country like India". Doesn't read like the typical introduction to a CEO, does it?

Meet Villoo Morawala Patell, a diminutive Parsi who attributes all that has happened to her to a childhood habit of pushing herself to the edge. "At St Ann's Boarding in Hyderabad, the Italian nuns who taught us used to depasir of me," laughs Patell. "I used to sit on a chair and push it behind to find the tipping point where it would topple; in life, I always push myself to find the tipping point." Right now, Patell's company Avestha Gengraine (from Avestha for the Parsi holy book, and a portmanteau of gene and grain) is pushing at the edge of genetic crop research, influenced in part by the lady's childhood. "While growing up in a well-off family, I saw farmers starving because of drought; I wanted to help them."

It wasn't easy as Patell discovered when she returned to India in 1995. "I went to Dr Anji Reddy, who is a good friend, and explained what biotech could do. He gave me a budget of Rs 50,000 and asked me to write a report; I did a thing called DNA To Drugs; he made polite noises but nothing came of it because he felt it was way ahead of its time." Then came efforts to start-up a R&D hotshop but "all these guys would ask for a revenue model". So, Patell went back to Belgium and to a company called Plant Generics System. "PGs didn't have a revenue model but was eventually acquired by Bayer for $800 million, all because of its IP," says Patell. "That opened my eyes." Research grants from Rockefeller Foundation helped provide the seed capital-other early funders include the Tata Group, Global Trust Bank, and ICICI Ventures, which recently exited in favour of two multinational VC funds-and Avestha was born. In three years, the 95-employee company has filed for 42 patents and been granted seven, including the global patent for genetically-modified drought resistant seeds. Money still remains a problem but Patell is confident that Avestha will get there. "I am passionate about fundamental research," she says.

37, Chairperson, Apeejay Surrendra Park Hotels

Boutique Lady

There's an image of falling silver lines on Priya Paul's business card. It's the new corporate logo of the Apeejay Surrendra Park Hotels and it is symbolic of (what else) change. For one, popular perception of the group has changed in the past two years after the launch of two new Park hotels, one in Chennai and the other in Bangalore. Both have received rave reviews for their funky interior and exterior design, and reinforced the chain's positioning as a boutique one. "Through the 1990s, we were constantly renovating, repositioning, and refreshing the product," explains Paul, a natural consequence of trying to succeed in a business dominated by mega hotel chains. "In the recent past, we have been able to carve out this niche of boutique hotels-small, specialised, and able to deliver an exciting product." And there's a change in the life of Paul herself; she recently announced her engagement to Chennai-based businessman Sethu Vaidyanathan. "I just about managed to get engaged," she laughs.

Time may have been a problem. In 1990, two years after Paul returned from the US after graduating in economics from Wellesley College-she started working for her father Surrendra Paul, literally days after that, helping him manage a chain of hotels- Surrendra Paul was shot dead by terrorists. And Paul found herself one of the few women CEOs in an essentially male-dominated business community, something that she describes as "not so bad" in the Indian context. Next step? "Kids," laughs Paul, and then adds that the chain is looking for new opportunities to grow. "The quest to reach higher is unending, and we will always keep trying," she says. And somehow, she'll have to find the time between all this to schedule her wedding.

47, Head, Strategic Alliances, Nicholas Piramal

A Doctor In The House

Swati Piramal pretty much calls the shots at Nicholas Piramal," says a Mumbai-based pharma analyst. The lady demurs. "It is my husband Ajay who is the business whiz," she says. "I just bring the value of being a doctor, thereby being able to speak the language of the trade." Piramal is probably saying it as it is; still, her background as a doctor played a part in the 1988-decision of the Piramal Group-it was a textiles major then-to acquire Nicholas, and diversify into pharmaceuticals. "I was involved with Nicholas Piramal right from the beginning," admits Piramal.

That wasn't her first brush with business, though. That came soon after her marriage. The 22-year old new bride was unwilling to see her qualification go waste and bravely marched up to patriarch Gopikishen Piramal. His response was to build a hospital for the family's newest member in central Mumbai, where most textile mills were located. "I was just 22 and he just handed the hospital to me, allowing me to run it; I had to determine everything," says Piramal.

The entry into pharmaceuticals convinced Piramal that she needed to upgrade her skills. So, she jetted off to Harvard Business School for an MBA in 1992. "I live in a joint family," she laughs. "My sisters-in-law and mother-in-law simply took charge of the kids (they were aged seven and 12 then); none of my colleagues at Harvard had that advantage." Back from HBS in 1993, Piramal has been part of an enthralling growth story. Nicholas Piramal acquired the likes of Roche, Boehringer Mannheim India, Rhone-Poulenc, and ICI's pharmaceuticals division to grow from a Rs 11 crore company in 1988 to a Rs 964.2 crore (net sales) one in 2002-03. And Piramal served as the company's Director, Medical Director and Chief Scientific Officer, before taking on her new role. Some journey, that.

59, Revenue Secretary, India

Woman On Top

Room 128-A in Delhi's north block, the seat of the Ministry of Finance, has a macho masculine feel to it. After all, some of the country's most powerful bureaucrats-think N.K. Singh, Member, Planning Commission or S. Narayan, Economic Advisor to the Prime Minister's Office-have occupied it. The room, the office of India's Revenue Secretary, is now occupied by Vineeta Rai and she is the antithesis of the coldly cordial bureaucrat, fussing over this writer's coffee. The 1968 batch Indian Administrative Service officer is blasé about her achievements. "You know, I am actually quite a boring person," she says repeatedly. For the record, the history major from Delhi's Miranda College and Massachusetts' Brandeis University, is India's first woman to hold the post of Revenue Secretary. "But I believe my success has more to do with my professional commitment and work than gender," she says firmly. That the lady takes more than a passing interest in her job is evident from the enthusiasm she displays while explaining how, during her short stint in the banking and insurance division of the ministry she interacted with stalwarts like RBI's former and present governors Bimal Jalan and Y.V. Reddy, and brought about some much-needed reforms. "We were able to produce a good Securitisation Act, help in the restructuring of financial institutions, ...." She rattles off more; and so, when Rai, whose husband R.P. Rai recently retired from government service mouths the platitude about the civil services being a great place to work because it helps you "make a difference", this writer believes her. Now, if she can achieve her stated objective of meeting the tax targets presented in Budget 2003...

50, Chairman and Managing Director, Biocon India

Biotech's First Lady

If Shrikumar Suryanarayan, an alum of IIT Delhi (he specialised in biochemical engineering), is the President of Research and Development at Biocon, when the 41 others from his batch work outside the country, blame it on green tiles (not greenbacks). And if a core team of biotechnologists (including Suryanarayan) is to become India's first biotech billionaires early next year, blame it on Biocon. Common to both is Kiran Mazumdar Shaw who founded Biocon with an initial investment of Rs 100,000 in the late seventies. It helped that her father was a master brewer at UB and that the company started life researching enzymes that could be used in the liquor industry, but Shaw's move was nothing short of a revolution. "Remember, this was the 1970s when even men rarely ventured into entrepreneurship," says Vijay Mallya, a childhood friend (he was the boy next door) of Shaw. Shaw herself attributes this to her belief in "doing her own thing", support from her father, and from her husband, John Shaw, the former Managing Director of Coats Viyella India (her close associates believe he has been the stabilising influence in Mazumdar-Shaw's life).

Biocon will end this fiscal with revenues of Rs 520 crore, net profits of Rs 130 crore, 915 employees, and more than 100 patents in various stages of approval to its name.

Along the way, Shaw has built a core team of pros like Suryanarayan. The biotechnologist contacted Biocon in the early 1980s because he wanted some enzyme samples for his research at IIT Delhi; the enzymes cost Rs 300, more than a student could afford those days; Shaw agreed to waive the amount but insisted that Surayanarayan meet her in Bangalore; he did, they chatted, he saw Biocon's existing facility in a garage and a new one the company was building. "Kiran was paying meticulous attention (to the new facility)," he recollects. "Even to the extent of choosing green tiles for the labs; and I had worked only in dull labs with white tiles." And next year, when Biocon's initial public offering hits the market, some of those tiles could just become greenbacks.

44, Director, Tractors and Farm Equipment

The Quiet Empress

Not too many people north of the vindhyas have heard of Mallika Srinivasan. Few know that she heads one of India's most progressive tractor companies (TAFE, and it boasts a turnover of some Rs 700 crore). Even fewer know that she is the scion of one of the largest, most respected, and most closely-held corporate groups in the country, Amalgamations, and that she is married to TVS Motor Company's Venu Srinivasan. The lady, one of the earliest Indian women to graduate from the Wharton School of Business (this was in the mid-1980s), would like things to stay just that way. While discussing TAFE's response to the depressed market for tractors-the market size has shrunk from 260,000 units in 1997 to around 160,000 units now-Srinivasan always resorts to the plural; it's always 'we', never 'I'. "It was always teamwork," she stresses. The company, explains P.B. Sampath, its head of finance, "was the first tractor maker to cut production rather than incur heavy losses," a move aped by its competitors. In her own way, however, Mallika is a revolutionary: she went to Wharton when she was the mother of a ten-month old daughter and she has strong views on what people should do with their lives. It is important know what one is best suited to, she stresses, and take that up, no matter how challenging it is, without being influenced by peer pressure or parents to do something else, which is a better material prospect. At the end of this short homily, she adds that she was always interested in business. And in her own understated way, Srinivasan is the public face of her group and is a member of the Board of Trade and the Economic Development Board of the Government of Rajasthan. She is also on the Executive Board of the Indian School of Business, Hyderabad. But you didn't know about that, did you?

73, Chairman, Trent


With a perfect coiffure, pearl strings, and all-white office in Bombay House, the Tata Group's stately headquarters, Simone Tata looks pretty much like a time-traveler from an earlier era. That she is: In the early 1960s-the company was founded in 1952-Tata helped build Lakme, arguably India's best known brand of cosmetics; since then, Lakme (now owned by HLL; The Tata Group sold out in 1998) has introduced generations of Indian women to beauty-aids. Time, however, hasn't dulled Tata's passion for business, her current obsession being Westside, the retail chain owned by her company. A tepid conversation opener from this writer about the range of apparel at Westside is quickly converted into a feedback session on the preferences of working women; Tata furiously scribbles notes on an oversized pad. "I believe in listening, observing, and backing my decisions with a lot of market research; at Lakme, we were once-removed from the customer; here we face the customer and there is always room for improvement." As Chairman of Trent, Tata is a "springboard for ideas, and a sort of mentor"; Westside is managed by son Noel. Then, that's always been Tata's style. Even in Lakme, she was a hands-on manager only as long as she needed to be. Once the company started hiring good managers, she was content to step back and play a guiding role. "I believe if somebody is good, talks sense and has valid contrarian views you must let him have his way," she says. Now, with Trent planning a foray into the food-retail business, Simone Tata can look forward to playing springboard, or, in her own words, "keep moving the cheese."

60, Deputy Governor, Reserve Bank of India

The Governor's #2

Is the deputy governor of RBI, India's central bank, powerful? well, functionally, this Deputy Governor is in charge of regulating and supervising the entire banking and finance sector as well as the not inconsiderable property of RBI; the central bank is among the richest landholders in the country with some 49,41,027 sq m in its name. Then there's history: past Deputy Governors include Y.V. Reddy, S.P. Talwar, S.S. Tarapore and D.R. Mehta. And Kishori Udeshi is the first woman to hold the post. The buck, says the career central banker (she has been with RBI 38 years, having signed on as a trainee in the public debt office in the Bangalore branch in 1965), now stops with her. "So you have to be ready for everything (that could happen) and be sure (about everything you do)," says Udeshi, who believes she has never worked as hard as she does now. In her own way, the post-graduate in economics is also representative of the country that is India, an asset (not a requisite one, though) for anyone holding public office. Udeshi hails from Kerala, was born in Karnataka, grew up in Maharashtra, and is married to a Gujarati. The lady also used to play a mean game of badminton-she was the junior badminton champion of the country once-although she indulges in the less rigorous pastimes of reading and theatre now. Still, Udeshi has stuck to the first rule by which competitive sportspeople all over the world live: "I always play to win."