Arnavaj 'Anu' Aga
Aga gives up one source of power and,
not surprisingly, taps into another.
India Inc. Has
enough male industrialists and CEOs who have grown into the position
of elder statesman-Ratan Tata, Rahul Bajaj, N. R. Narayana Murthy-but
Anu Aga is the first woman who qualifies for that distinction. With
her patrician features and striking cropped silver mane, the lady
is a regular at industry fora, and when she talks, people listen.
That's not just because Aga built the Pune-based Thermax Group into
a Rs 830-crore energy and environmental engineering major. It is
not because of her stated objective of "doubling turnover and
trebling profits in the next three years". It is because she
speaks (and acts) from the heart (one reason why this magazine dubbed
her India Inc.'s Ms Conscience in last year's listing of powerful
women). This is evident in Thermax's practice of putting aside 1
per cent of its profits for social causes and its generous contributions
towards efforts to beautify Pune. And it is evident in Aga's own
association with Akanksha, a non-governmental organisation that
strives to provide education to children who live in slums and on
Last year, one of this magazine's writers wrote
"... Aga will definitely not feature in the next listing...
She turns 62 in September 2004 and will hand over charge as Chairperson...".
Now, with the date of her retirement drawing close, it emerges that
Aga's power was never positional (arising from the post she held);
it was always personal-arising from truth, fairness, transparency
and corporate ethics. That could explain why the economics graduate
(she also has a post-graduate degree from Mumbai's Tata Institute
of Social Sciences) was motivated by a letter from a concerned shareholder
to put aside her grief at the death of her husband and Thermax's
founder Rohinton, and focus on the ailing company. As it could,
her outspoken criticism of the way the government of Gujarat handled
the sectarian violence that broke out in the state in early 2002.
Vipassana, a form of meditation, Aga claims,
has made her stronger and helps her keep in touch with her inner
voice. "I feel very blessed," she says. "Every time
something dear has been taken away, a lot of good has been given
in return." Goodbye Chairperson. Hello Stateswoman.
Managing Director & Head (Investment Banking)
The unassuming Bhandarkar is quite a rainmaker.
you perceive investment bankers as machinists fuelled by greed,
hypocrisy and high risk-you could blame Michael Lewis' Liar's Poker
for that imagery perhaps-you obviously haven't met Vedika Bhandarkar.
A few minutes into a conversation with the MD & Head of Investment
Banking, J.P. Morgan India, are enough to wipe out those vivid images
of fat-cat, short-sighted traders dancing in your head.
Bhandarkar has been in financial services for
14 years now, but you don't see too much of her in the media, pontificating
about corporate prospects and fiscal well-being. Along with her
penchant for the low profile, her candour too is refreshing. For
instance, she'll tell you that when she went on maternity leave
to deliver her second baby, it was pretty much a tumultuous period
for the firm, which was being restructured to become J.P. Morgan
Chase. "My fear was: Would I have my job when I returned? Fortunately,
my firm surprised me positively."
It's not for nothing that J.P. Morgan surprised
Bhandarkar positively. In the past six years, Bhandarkar has earned
plenty of laurels for herself and the firm, the most recent and
significant one being the $1.1-billion (Rs 5,060-crore) TCS public
offering, where J.P. Morgan was the joint bookrunner. You won't
find her taking individual credit for such deals, and that's largely
because the "star" culture is pretty alien to J.P. Morgan.
Yet, when it comes to executing and closing out deals, it's difficult
to leave out Bhandarkar. Like, for instance, in ONGC's acquisition
of MRPL from the A.V. Birla Group. Right from the outset-when ONGC
Chairman Subir Raha called up Bhandarkar and evinced his interest-the
odds were tipped against the deal. mrpl's balance sheet was a mess,
loaded with $1.5 billion (Rs 6,900 crore) of high-interest debt.
Bhandarkar and her team pulled off a minor miracle by convincing
the 15 lenders to the project to take an average 25 per cent haircut.
Today, MRPL has a comfortable capital structure, a healthy bottomline
and a share price that's climbed over five-fold (in the Rs 40 range)
since the restructuring.
Does that make Bhandarkar a star in Indian
investment banking circles? She'll probably recoil with horror at
such a suggestion. "It's a lot of grunt work. It's the visible
results that add a touch of glamour-you either raise equity/debt
or you don't; an M&A either works or it doesn't." In Bhandarkar's
case, it invariably does.
Vice Chairperson I
The Hindustan Times Ltd
Bhartia is still making news and if it isn't
the headlines, it is still on Page 1.
time last year, Bhartia was making the news a lot: The Hindustan
Times was set to launch a Mumbai edition; she had inked the first
foreign direct investment deal in print media by selling a 20 per
cent stake in Hindustan Times Media to Henderson Global Investors;
and popular opinion was coming around to the view that the newspaper,
once considered the parochial voice of Delhi, was good enough to
be labelled a national daily (this was no doubt bolstered by its
Today, Bhartia is still making the news, and
if it isn't always the headlines, it is still material good enough
for a Page 1 anchor. Earlier this year The Hindustan Times challenged
the findings of the National Readership Survey 2003 in a much-publicised
battle fought in the courts and on the front pages of newspapers.
"The reason we challenged the NRS findings was not because
there was a minor difference, not because The Times of India came
out ahead of us, but because those figures were ridiculous,"
she says. The Mumbai edition is yet to launch and the lady admits
that "the infrastructure is time consuming" and sets 2005
as the deadline. Meanwhile, she has pulled out a series of innovations,
some unique, others not so, to retain reader interest: 2-Minute
HT, a headlines-only newspaper; Brunch, a large-format magazine
that comes with the Sunday paper; HT Premiere, a supplement on movies;
and HT Sports, a four-page-pullout upgrade of the newspaper's sports
pages. Bhartia is candid enough to admit that the benefits have
to kick in. "This kind of product (Brunch) has to catch on.
Though reader response has been great, advertisers have still not
found a slot for a magazine that comes with a newspaper."
As if that isn't enough, Bhartia, who burned
her hands on a failed diversification into television (Home TV)
in the 1990s, says, "We may possibly look at the television
business, not in the immediate future, but more on a five-year horizon."
That leaves her little time to pursue her interests, especially
reading (areas of interest include public and international affairs).
Still, she is manfully wading through Bill Clinton's 900-page autobiography.
"I enjoy my work terribly," says Bhartia. "So, in
a sense, I do not feel I am working (at all)."
Chhabria has consolidated the business she adventitiously
She's grown revenues
of flagship Shaw Wallace by 20 per cent in 2003-2004. Pre-tax profits
are 2.5 times higher than the previous year's. And Royal Challenge
whisky has become a 1 million case brand. But easily the best thing
Vidya Chhabria, Chairperson of the $2-billion (Rs 9,200 crore) Jumbo
group, has done since taking over at the helm two years ago is to
"mutually resolve all disputes" with liquor baron and
arch rival Vijay Mallya after decades of seemingly never-ending
combat. "A lot of time and effort was being spent in litigation
by both parties. (The patch-up) augurs well for both Shaw Wallace
and the liquor industry."
There's a lot more that keeps her busy in the
endeavour to, in her words, "add definite value to (the late)
Mr. (Manu) Chhabria's legacy". For instance, compensation structures
have been aligned to boost productivity and motivation, aimed no
doubt at helping Shaw Wallace meet its vision of doubling revenues
and trebling profits in three years. And although tyre company Dunlop
continues to be in the dog house, other group companies like Falcon
Tyres and Hindustan Dorr-Oliver are making headway in competitive
Helping her grow the Chhabria legacy are daughters
Komal and Kiran, who, as the Chairperson points out, "have
carved a niche for themselves...in the company of seasoned professionals".
Along with Komal and Kiran, Chhabria treats every day as a "new
learning experience. As a custodian of shareholders' interest, I
feel morally obliged to maximise value". She's learnt the lingo
The Next Big Thing
Sulajja Firodia Motwani
Joint Managing Director I
Firodia Motwani is still the quintessential
easy rider; only, this time it is scooters that have caught her
am always looking forward to the next big thing," says Sulajja
Firodia Motwani. "I am a restless, on-the-go kind of person."
Well, she and her company have gone some distance in the past year.
"We are in the middle of new and exciting opportunities that
will transform the face of the group," gushes the lady. The
first of these is outsourcing, where Kinetic will leverage its design,
tooling and manufacturing expertise to supply engine components
to companies in other parts of the world. The company has already
bagged its first outsourcing order and it is for components for
something even more exciting than motorcycles, speedboats. The second
is the humble scooter. Kinetic recently acquired seven product lines
from Italian scooter design firm Italjet. These, with engine capacities
ranging from 50 cc to 250 cc, are, to quote Firodia Motwani, "kick-ass
bikes that will transform scootering in India".
Kinetic wasn't in such great shape when Firodia
Motwani, a scuba diving, kick boxing, motorcycle riding (she met
husband Manish while gunning a Ducati down a Berkeley, California
highway) MBA from Carnegie Mellon signed on with the family business
after a brief stint with BARRA, a California-based portfolio management
firm. This was in 1996 and the eldest daughter of Managing Director
Arun Firodia has since transformed the company, strengthening its
core business, steered it through a divorce with partner Honda,
and diversified into profitable new areas such as motorcycles. With
help from siblings Vismaya and Ajinkya, Firodia Motwani has turned
an inward-looking family business into a wannabe-global-player.
In the process, she has brought down the average age of the senior
management team at Kinetic to under-40. No doubt, she skews the
age distribution a bit.
Joint Managing Director I
ICICI Bank is going global, and Gupte is spearheading
In 1971, when
Lalita Gupte signed on with what was then called ICICI (she came
aboard straight from campus, Mumbai's Jamnalal Bajaj Institute of
Management Studies), the company was a development finance institution,
and her brief was to appraise projects. Today, ICICI Bank is a universal
bank with global aspirations and it is Gupte who is in charge of
the last. Since November last, she has presided over the launch
of subsidiaries in the United Kingdom and Canada, branches in Singapore
and Bahrain, and representative offices in Bangladesh, Shanghai,
the US, and the United Arab Emirates. That's two subsidiaries, three
branches, and four representative offices in eight countries, and
the lady has been involved in the creation of almost every one of
That's meant a lot of flying for Gupte, who
spends a minimum of 15 days a month outside India. Helping her is
a cross-cultural team, 70 people from 17 cultural backgrounds. "It
has been a tremendous learning experience," she says. "From
setting up the international banking operations to getting ICICI
OneSource up." The last is a reference to ICICI Bank's business
process outsourcing arm. Gupte was the first woman to be named to
ICICI's board (in 1984, and there are now three women on the bank's
board) and she has featured in past editions of Fortune magazine's
listing of the most powerful women in business. However, it is as
a role model for all the women who came after her-there are five
other executives from ICICI in this listing-that history will remember
A Woman of Balance
Managing Director I
ING Vysya Mutual Fund
Hurry is the Indian mutual fund industry's first
to her name, Kavita Hurry is not a woman given to extremes. For
one, balance is important to her. "Life is about balance,"
she muses philosophically. It is a Monday, Hurry is in her 13th
floor apartment in Cuffe Parade, a tony downtown Mumbai neighbourhood,
having taken the day off after all the excitement of an initial
public offering of an ING Vysya scheme that has just closed, and
she is checking on the status of her children's homework over the
phone (she has two, aged 13 and 10; they have been packed off to
their grandmother's place for an uninterrupted homework session).
The lady's career is an embodiment of that
balance. First, the class of 1984 MBA from Mumbai's Narsee Monjee
Institute of Management Studies opted to join Bank of Credit and
Commerce despite juggling offers from a hotel and an advertising
agency because her parents weren't too comfortable with their daughter
working in hospitality or advertising. Then, she opted to stay on
in Mumbai when she signed on with ING (after a stint at ANZ Grindlays).
"I can't really leave Mumbai," she admits. "My husband
runs a business here and the kids are in school." "In
several corporations that could be an issue, but I picked something
like private banking where customers want long-term relationships
and the business, therefore, requires that you be stationary."
That moderation extends to Hurry's work too.
She would rather not set any targets for the quantum of funds she
manages (she currently does Rs 1,800 crore). "I look at size
very differently," she says. "It matters but what is the
point of managing Rs 4,000 crore if you are not making money."
Then, there's her articulated objective of transforming the mutual
funds industry from being driven by large investors (wholesale)
to being driven by retail (read: small) investors. And finally,
there's her abhorrence for burning money on advertising. "I
believe we need to talk to people, actually make eye contact, and
talk," says Hurry who hasn't spent anything on advertising.
"I have clenched my teeth and decided to do it my way, which
means a lot more pr." This piece should help.
Executive Director I
The quiet Karnad may one day succeed Deepak
is a tough act to follow. He is the man who built HDFC into the
force it is (although the company has, like any market leader coming
off a near-monopoly situation, recently lost share to arch rival
ICICI Bank in the mortgages business). He is a respected manager
who is on the board of 19 companies, a skilled networker who rarely
misses power dos in Mumbai, and a preferred choice to head or be
part of government-formed committees, irrespective of the political
dispensation of the day. Now, the buzz in Mumbai and Delhi's corporate
circles goes, Renu Karnad may one day succeed Parekh, at least as
far his organisational role is concerned.
The lady herself is quick to scoff at such
suggestions, pointing out that she is #3 in the organisation, and
that she reports to Managing Director Keki Mistry. Still, Karnad
isn't just in this listing because of some unsubstantiated rumours
(60-year-old Parekh has just been given a three-year extension by
the board). She is, because she heads HDFC's core business, retail
and corporate lending; Mistry looks after treasury and funding operations.
Last year, Karnad's team disbursed loans of
Rs 12,697 crore, 28 per cent more than they did the previous year.
That translates into a marketshare of 40 per cent; and HDFC's non-performing
assets (NPAs, or bad loans) stand at an industry-low of 0.89 per
cent. "Our credit checks are very thorough," says Karnad
whose biggest challenge has been transforming a near-monopoly into
an aggressive marketer. Having done that, she now wants to go a
step further and recently created a separate distribution arm, Home
Loan Services to push mortgages and other financial products in
small towns, even rural India. "Distribution is the key now;
the way we do business has changed completely," says Karnad,
who signed on with HDFC as an assistant (not an officer) in 1978.
The unassuming Karnad sits not in HDFC's Mumbai
HQ, but in Delhi where husband Bharat Karnad, a strategic affairs
expert, is based. That, though, isn't a handicap: she also serves
as her company's chief interlocutor with the government and the
regulator, the National Housing Bank.
The 'Third' Woman
Executive Director I
Kochhar is the person to watch at ICICI Bank.
Chanda Kochhar is one of the hottest execs in the bursting-at-the-seams-with-talent
ICICI Bank, it is because the retail banking business, which she
oversees, has carved out a third of the market. And not content
with that dominant position, she is striving for improvements in
processes, productivity and customer service. "Remaining a
leader isn't just about marketshare," says Kochhar. And so,
in the past year, the lady and her team have spent time on shop
floors at the Hyundai and Ford factories studying assembly line
operations, learnt about service orientation from Jet Airways, and
benchmarked the bank's standard of customer service with that of
some Australian banks. Kochhar has also tried to derive learnings
on retail management from Wal-Mart and on how to push paper faster
from a logistics company. And oh yes, last year, ICICI Bank implemented
the Japanese manufacturing practice of 5S (Sort, Straighten, Shine,
Standardise and Sustain) across all its branches, undertook Six
Sigma initiatives (these reduce defects to about 3.4 in a million)
for cash delivery processes, and rolled out several training programmes
on customer service.
In short, since 2000, when Kochhar, an alum
of the Jamnalal Bajaj Institute of Management Studies, and then
a corporate banker, moved to ICICI Bank's retail business, she has
stirred things up. The resultant market leadership position, she
stresses, has its advantages. "We are able to drive the market,
determine trends, and, in fact, change the landscape of consumer
finance." And it could well decide whether she pips ICICI Bank's
other executive director Nachiket Mor to the post in succeeding
CEO K.V. Kamath.
Naina Lal Kidwai
Deputy CEO I
Simple, she is one of the country's best-known
As Naina Lal Kidwai
sees it, power isn't gender-specific and it's all about impact,
control and position. It's the individuals in that seat of power
who make the difference, depending on how they exercise their power:
For instance, they could be megalomaniacs, preferring to project
the self. Or they could be those who prefer to leave a mark on the
business they run, or on the environment around them. As Deputy
CEO, HSBC, Kidwai clearly doesn't see herself in the self-projection
category. "From my position I would like to make an impact
on (HSBC's) performance, on the regulatory regime and within the
Kidwai has been able to align herself pretty
much with HSBC's focus on education and environment, be it with
initiatives like micro-lending to schools, adopting villages and
promoting water harvesting there, or doing her bit for women's education
But if you think that Kidwai is getting soft,
you couldn't be more wrong. A founder member of the Association
of Merchant Bankers (formed way back in 1987-88 along with other
capital market stalwarts like J.M. Morgan Stanley Chairman Nimesh
Kampani and DSP Merrill Lynch Chairman Hemendra Kothari), Kidwai
is still very much the hard-nosed, tough-talking deal maker. Her
role at HSBC clearly is to sharpen the investment banking edge and
"bring in that killer instinct". She's made her presence
felt by helping some of India's biggest corporations-Tatas, Reliance,
A.V. Birla and Wockhardt-fund offshore acquisitions, using the HSBC
balance sheet. At the same time, she appreciates the safety that
comes along with a prudent institution like HSBC. "We never
piss away our money."
Chairman and Managing Director
She isn't there yet, but in five years, Mazumdar-Shaw
and Biocon could be there.
Mazumdar-Shaw will definitely not like the headline of this piece.
She and her husband John Shaw own 65 per cent of Biocon; she herself
does 39 per cent; and at the current market price of Rs 528 (on
September 2, 2004, and the company went public in March 2004) that
translates into Rs 2,059 crore. That makes Mazumdar-Shaw India's
richest woman, a title she says she abhors (think how she will react
to biotech billionairess then?). "Biocon is my baby,"
she concedes, "but all this is paper wealth and I am a mere
custodian." We beg to differ, but will not press the point.
Mazumdar-Shaw would have figured in this listing
(like she did last year) even had Biocon not gone in for an initial
public offering (she is, like this magazine dubbed her last year,
Biotech's first lady). The lady has, time and again, demonstrated
the ability to spot an opportunity as it emerges: for instance,
she recognised the potential of statins (drugs that help reduce
cholesterol) in the early 1990s. "Remember, even traditional
Indian pharmaceutical companies had not got onto this," she
says. Biocon is also the first Indian company to receive the US
Food and Drug Administration's (FDA) approval for fermentation-derived
molecules for pharmaceutical use. Do not write Mazumdar-Shaw off
as an R&D-diva, however; she is extremely business-oriented.
Biocon may have 130 patents to its name, but as she points out,
it is a "commercial organisation". Next step: to become
a major player in the global bio-therapeutic segment, where its
first product, recombiant human insulin, will soon compete with
offerings from Novo Nordisk and Eli Lilly. These days, much of Mazumdar-Shaw's
time goes in overseeing the development of a Rs 750-crore manufacturing
facility on the outskirts of Bangalore. All these, she claims, will
help Biocon become a company that boasts $1 billion in revenues.
She won't say when, though. "We are listed now, you know,"
Corporate Lawyer I
AZB & Partners
Mody's firm has been involved in most big ticket
M&A deals of recent times.
First, there is
her pedigree. Zia Mody is the daughter of India's attorney general,
and noted jurist, Soli Sorabjee. Then there is her education: Mody
has law degrees from Cambridge, England, and Harvard (she started
her career with a New York law firm, Baker and McKinsey). Finally,
there's her firm's involvement in most cross-border M&As. For
instance, AZB & Partners advised Tata Steel on its acquisition
of the steel business of Singapore's NatSteel for $285 million;
Rupert Murdoch's DirectTV Group on the disinvestment of its controlling
stake in Hughes Software (to Flextronics); Tata Motors on the acquisition
of Korea's Daewoo Commercial Vehicles; and Apollo Tyres regarding
Michelin's investment in the company. If that isn't resume enough,
the lady is also a legal consultant to investment banks such as
J.P. Morgan, Merrill Lynch, and Goldman Sachs, advises transnational
companies on joint venture strategies in India, and works with foreign
institutional investors and venture funds. Phew!
Today, AZB boasts a presence in three cities,
Delhi, Mumbai and Bangalore and has over 70 lawyers on its roster.
Mody sees more work ahead in the areas of intellectual property
rights and brand names. Chamber practice is a 365-day affair, and
Mody, the mother of three, is hard-pressed to balance work, family
and religion (she is a follower of the Bahai faith). She may not
have read a good book in years or be able to fit in a regular exercise
regimen in her schedule, but there are not too many lawyers in this
country who wouldn't want to trade places with Mody.
Woman of Substance
Deputy Managing Director I
Morparia is ICICI Bank's key troubleshooter.
Morparia is the second of the 16 women common to last year's listing
of the most powerful women in Indian business and this year's whose
designation has changed (Naina Lal Kidwai is the other). Early this
year, the lady was promoted to Deputy Managing Director. Given the
range of Morparia's responsibilities, that's only fitting. For instance,
she was at the forefront of the ICICI Bank issue that raised around
Rs 3,050 crore ("This was a big project," says Morparia.
"It was in the first week of February that we decided to raise
capital and by April 6, it was done."); earlier this year,
when S. Mukherjee, an executive director with the bank moved to
ICICI Securities as CEO, the special asset management group handling
distressed assets was moved to Morparia's portfolio; and more recently,
in August, when Nachiket Mor, an executive director with the bank
went to Yale on a fellowship, his portfolio too was transferred
An ever-enlarging portfolio seems to be a constant
in Morparia's career: In 1998, she was put in charge of human resource
development, planning, the strategic support group, and the special
projects department; and in 2001, she was named Executive Director
(Corporate Centre), responsible for ensuring strategic consistency
between all the bank's business units and the group's strategic
initiatives. Today, in addition to everything else she does, Morparia
is responsible for risk compliance, the bank's audit functions,
corporate communications, and corporate legal services. That's a
bit, but she isn't complaining.
Centre for Science and Environment
CSE may not have indicted any corporates last
year, but it still casts a long shadow over India Inc.
In many ways 2003
was a stand out year for CSE: its reports on pollutants in bottled
water and bottled beverages (think Coca-Cola and Pepsi) made the
headlines, and industry woke up to the power activists could exert.
Circa 2004, things are a little different. Companies continue to
tread warily around CSE, not knowing when it could unveil its next
explosive report (and there is no doubt Sunita Narain is planning
something), but at the organisation itself, it is business as usual.
And so, the centre's campaigns on air pollution, climate change,
water management, and river pollution continue, although the emphasis
seems more on making a point than making news. "You know, we
carry umbrellas upside down to highlight the potential of water
harvesting," says Narain who can quite understand the way India
Inc. feels about her. "I am from a business family and know
it is important to make money," she says. "All CSE is
trying to do is to temper that progress, making sure there are checks
and balances." That doesn't mean the lady, who started her
career as a librarian at CSE, believes in old-fashioned socialism.
"Protectionist policies end up damaging the country,"
she insists, pointing out that the artificially-low price of diesel
in India is a travesty. "Who runs diesel engines?" she
asks. "Not poor people." And so, Narain, whom this magazine
termed Nemesis last year carries on, using, as she admits, everything
from "legal resources to the media" to get her point of
view across. "I love democracy," she gushes.
Queen of the Equity Cult
Chief Operating Officer I
J.M. Morgan Stanley
Neelakantan's progress is the Indian capital
the early eighties, when Dipti Neelakantan had just completed her
chartered accountancy, she strode out confidently to join the motley
world of company secretaries. She was in for a rude shock. Both
the companies (both listed) that interviewed her for a posting in
the company secretary department rejected her. The reason is predictable:
Neelakantan was a woman, she wouldn't be able to do late nights,
live out of her suitcase, deal with government departments, blah
blah. "All things being equal, at both companies they preferred
to select a male," grins Neelakantan, who subsequently has
had the, well, pleasure of working with both those companies.
For Neelakantan there's little to regret. She
applied for another job, with a firm called J.M. Financial &
Investment Consultants, an investment bank, which wasn't considered
the greatest of career opportunities two decades ago. One Nimesh
Kampani, who was running the firm along with his uncle, uncle's
son, and one professional director, was looking to build a team.
Neelakantan was one of the first members on board.
Twenty-three years on, Neelakantan hasn't looked
back. Currently Chief Operating Officer, she's grown along with
J.M. (which Kampani eventually bought out from his uncle in 1989;
a decade ago he formed a joint venture with Morgan Stanley). Neelakantan
had plenty to learn, and so did Indian capital markets. Investment
banking as we know it barely existed. "Not too many believed
that there was money to be made without being speculative,"
Neelakantan was instrumental in the launch
of India's first retail non-convertible debenture, which basically
ensured that an investor's Rs 100 would appreciate to Rs 270 in
seven years. "It was hot," recollects Neelakantan, "and
signalled the awareness and acceptance of fixed income paper.
Towards the mid-eighties, Neelakantan along
with her husband (also from J.M.) moved to Delhi to set up J.M.'s
Delhi office. The arrival of the Delhi operations was heralded a
few years later when Neelakantan handled four IPOs of Rs 100 crore-plus-a
major event in those days (when mutual funds and FIIs didn't exist,
and retail selling was the priority).
By 1996 she was back in Mumbai in tragic circumstances
after her husband passed away. Today, as coo, Neelakantan, whose
experience spans everything from capital markets to corporate advisory,
is #2 at a super-specialised investment bank. Ask her if she's reached
the peak of a career, and she'll reply: "When I got back from
Delhi, most people wondered if I could handle the trauma and move
ahead from here. But there have always been opportunities and there
will always be more opportunities going forward." Equal opportunities,
if one need add.
National Dairy Development Board
Patel will do anything it takes to keep the
co-operative movement alive, even change it.
In many ways,
the past 12 months have not been as eventful as Amrita Patel would
have liked them to be. True, the low-intensity fracas between her
and her former mentor and the man behind the dairy co-operative
movement in India Verghese Kurien (simple, he believes NDDB has
no business in marketing, hitherto the domain of the parallel organisation
GCMMF-Amul-that he created) continued, but the government dragged,
and continues to drag its feet over passing the Infectious Diseases
(Livestock) Control Act, which will address crucial issues related
to livestock health and productivity. Not one to be deterred, the
lady has kicked off an ambitious NDDB-led initiative in the southern
state of Kerala to check the foot-and-mouth disease in cows that
is rampant there. And she has launched a Clean Milk Production Programme
at the village level to improve the quality of milk.
Nothing Patel has done, however, is as radical
as what she plans to do. As the head of NDDB, Patel is, directly
or indirectly, in charge of 96,000 dairy co-operatives, 170 milk
producers' co-operative unions and 15 state co-operative milk marketing
federations; put simply, she is responsible for the dairy co-operative
in India and she would hate to see it grow inefficient and obsolete
from inaction. "The share of private business in milk and milk
products is growing rapidly," she says. "Co-operatives
have to professionalise fast, (everything) from production to marketing."
And so, the spinster by choice and veterinarian by education is
mulling some radical alternatives. "Why cannot we have multi-state
co-operatives that span two neighbouring states?" she asks.
Patel is treading on dangerous terrain: apart from Gujarat, the
post of managing director of all other state dairy co-operatives
is a political appointment; and any attempt by her to change the
co-operative structure is sure to invite the wrath of Kurien. Then,
Patel has hardly taken the easy way out in her six years as the
head of NDDB.
Apeejay Surrendra Park Hotels
Paul is doing everything to ensure her hotel
chain doesn't miss out on the Indian hospitality boom.
one would expect of a year that was generous to the Indian hospitality
industry-at the Park chain, for instance, occupancy rates remained
in the high nineties for most part-Priya Paul has spent a hyperactive
12 months. She has overseen modifications at the chain's hotels
in Delhi, Kolkata and Vishakapatnam as also at Flury's, a Kolkata
institution renowned for its patties and pastries; "It has
been an exciting time and the business has been amazing," gushes
the lady who has somehow managed to make work fun in the exacting
business of hospitality. She is contemplating expansion but is tempering
her urge to go ahead with caution; "There are certainly not
enough rooms to keep up (with the demand)," she says. And in
between all this, she married Chennai-based businessman Sethu Vaidyanathan
and now divides her month equally between Chennai and Delhi; "I
have a very supportive husband and we do get some time together
every weekend," she points out.
At Delhi's Park Hotel, where this writer met
with Paul, the change the lady has effected is sweeping. The dull
interiors are now awash with colour, bright fuchsia and reds, and
complemented by beaded glass curtains. "We are a collection
of luxury boutique hotels, high on creativity, and we try to make
things more vibrant for our guests," says Paul as she goes
through samples of fabric and glassware for the chain's restaurants.
Fourteen years after the Wellesley college economics graduate was
pitchforked into the hot-seat when her father Surrendra Paul was
shot dead by terrorists, it is evident Paul, and the Park chain
(aided by some good times) have come into their own.
Managing Editor I
The Smart Manager
Piramal is India's best-known business historian
and the editor of its only management magazine of note.
I am not sure I
think of myself as a powerful businesswoman," starts off Gita
Piramal. "Power seems to imply authority, even coercion, even
money power possibly and I would like to think there is none of
these in my case." The lady is right, of course, and her opening
remarks to this writer (reproduced above) are indicative enough
of the reason for her inclusion in this listing: not because she
is Director (Corporate Communications), Blow Plast and VIP, but
because she is India's best-known business historian. And because
she founded and edits the country's only management magazine outside
journals put out by various business schools.
Leveraging her position as the wife of Dilip
Piramal, Chairman, Blow Plast and VIP Industries, Gita has parlayed
her access to some of India's leading business houses into six books
on business history and strategy, including two co-authored with
the late management guru Sumantra Ghoshal, and contributions on
the same subjects to a similar number of books authored by others.
Piramal's career as a corporate chronicler
started with a four-page supplement titled Industrial Entrepreneurship
Under The Raj (1854-1954) that she put together for The Economic
Times in 1979 (that was the title of her doctoral thesis; she holds
a PhD in Business History from Bombay University, 1989), meandered
into occasional columns, and blossomed in 1988, when she became
the Bombay correspondent for Financial Times, a post she held till
1992; 1994 saw the publication of her best-selling Business Maharajahs.
Other books followed, and in 2002, she launched a quarterly journal
titled The Smart Manager. "We carry articles that take up to
three years to put together since they are based on empirical data,"
says Piramal. "Then, we have articles based on personal experience,
nothing that is based merely on opinions." Today, she adds,
"My books are used as text books by the nearly 200,000 MBAs
India produces every year and I am in the process of helping the
London Business School change its MBA curriculum." In the next
three years, Piramal hopes to recruit a new editor for The Smart
Manager, as the first step towards institutionalising the product.
Maybe that will give her the time to fulfil her secret ambition:
writing a potboiler.
Director At Large
Head Strategic Alliances and Communications
Piramal's influence outside the company is growing.
was Swati Piramal's background as a doctor that tipped the scales
in favour of the Piramal Group's 1988-decision to diversify into
pharmaceuticals (it was a textiles major then). So, it isn't entirely
surprising that the lady has been in the thick of the action for
the past 12 months: as the head of strategic alliances, she has
helped seal some 10 deals across the areas of licensing, cross-selling,
and technology and been part of four to five acquisitions (of path
labs); and she has been working towards the November opening of
the company's largest research centre yet (it will house 400 scientists).
However, the year has also seen wider recognition
of Piramal's stature. She is now on the board of the Council for
Scientific and Industrial Research, and pretty excited at being
so. "It is an opportunity to understand various streams of
science and technology from space research to agricultural science,"
she gushes. "That is what I love most." She is on the
economic advisory council of the state of Rajasthan (the Piramals
hail from the state's Shekawati region) and will look at health
and biotech initiatives. And she has been named to the board of
SBI Life, the State Bank of India's life insurance company. "All
appointments outside of Nicholas help me understand a whole host
of related issues and businesses," says Piramal. "Everything
is relevant to our business finally."
Madhabi Puri Buch
Country Head Operations & Service Delivery
At ICICI Bank, Puri Buch has steered several
businesses to success since 1997. And she is only 38.
2004, Madhabi Puri Buch is the head of ICICI Bank's brand management
group, the head of the product and technology group for corporate
banking, the country head of operations and service delivery, and
the head of transaction banking and technology. One would have expected
nothing less of the lady. Since 1997, she has donned several hats
with distinction. She has mobilised resources through ICICI Bonds;
headed the corporate brand management function and has served as
CEO of ICICI Capital Services (it grew into the largest distributor
of mutual funds during her tenure), ICICI Web Trade, and ICICI Home
Finance (she grew the home loans portfolio seven times). And right
now Puri Buch is working towards leveraging technology to improve
efficiency and reach out to a greater number of people. ''We have
leveraged technology to take world class products hitherto available
only to the crème de la crème of the population that
banked with foreign banks, to the middle class,'' she says.
There's more: Global Finance magazine recently
named ICICI Bank Best Consumer Internet Bank and Best Corporate
Internet Bank; and ICICI Bank has gone ahead and applied for a patent
for its model to manage operational risk (developed by the technology
group that Puri Buch heads, and this is part of the bank's efforts
to adhere to BASEL II norms).
Now, the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad
alumnus who quit her job at ICICI Bank to move to the UK when Unilever
transferred her husband there (she worked as a salesgirl in a small
town called Chester and enjoyed the stint) only to rejoin it on
her return to India, after a brief stint with a market research
company, hopes to do one better. ''If we can use technology to further
reduce the cost of delivery to the level where we can serve a bhajiwala
(a roadside food vendor) at Dadar (a Mumbai borough) or a fisherman
at Koliwada (another Mumbai borough), it would create a significant
impact,'' she says. It would.
Private Equity Diva
Ramnath has shaken up the private equity business
isn't just her success at raising money for investment-ICICI Venture's
India Advantage Fund raised $240 million, Rs 1,072 crore at the
then exchange rate, and some 50 per cent above the target in May
this year-but the kind of deals that she scripts with the $400 million
(Rs 1,840 crore) she manages that sets Renuka Ramnath apart in the
private equity business. There was something innovative about each
of the eight deals ICICI Venture closed in the last one year. There
were investments in mid-size companies such as Samtel for capacity
expansion; there was the effort at mezzanine funding the Hyderabad-based
Arch Pharma; and there was even the investment in real estate (by
acquiring a large swathe of land in Mumbai's Worli from pharma major
GSK Pharma, ICICI Venture got its foot into the real estate development
segment). "By making the right investment and by nurturing
these companies we gain the trust of investors," says Ramnath,
who believes it is this goodwill, ICICI's institutional brand, and
the company's demonstrated capabilities that bring in more deals.
In her 18 years at ICICI, Ramnath has had stints
heading the corporate and equities business of ICICI Securities,
the company's structured finance business, and its e-commerce arm
(ICICI Eco-net and this was merged with ICICI Venture in early 2001).
It is as the CEO of ICICI Venture, however, that the lady has really
come into her own, making up the rules as the still nascent business
evolves in India. That could explain why her firm's investment philosophy
revolves around broad themes (there isn't enough depth in most sectors
to warrant focussed funds, is her logic). "Each sapling has
the potential to be a big banyan tree in the future," says
Ramnath, confident that ICICI Venture will be around to reap the
Senior Vice President and Group Head, HRD
Ravichandar's team processed over a million
applications last year and hired 10,000 people.
The numbers have
been well aired, but they are mind-boggling enough to bear repetition.
Last year, Infosys Technologies received over a million applications
and recruited around 10,000 people. That's a hit-rate of less than
1 per cent (an applicant would have a better chance of securing
admission to any of the Indian Institutes of Technology or Management,
IITs and IIMs or qualifying for the Indian Administrative Service,
IAS). Today, the company employs around 30,000 (including those
employed by subsidiary Progeon); its workforce spans 33 nationalities;
and over the past six months, it has added an average of 1,000 employees
Since 1992, when it was a Rs 5-crore, 250-people
organisation, Hema Ravichandar has managed the people function at
Infosys (she took two years off between 1996 and 1998 to spend more
time with her children, then four and eight years old, but was back
to see the company through a period of accelerated growth). And
the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad alum's brief doesn't
just end with recruitment: she is responsible for learning and development,
compensation, employee relations, even visas and work permits. That's
definitely more complex than the post she gave up (her peers were
shocked when she did that) to sign on with Infosys; she was then
heading the hr function at blue-chip mico, which employed around
2,500 people. It was a meeting with Infosys founders N.R. Narayana
Murthy and Nandan Nilekani that helped her make up her mind. "There
was this vision, an energy, a commitment that attracted me to the
company." The lady signed on, and with a little help from Murthy,
who she says, "believed in creating and sharing wealth",
went on to create history of sorts with the first all-company employee
stock option programme (ESOP) seen in India. Today, she says, "unlike
the past when we just used to be leaders in India, we are setting
global benchmarks in hr practices". Scalability is a challenge,
as are retaining the organisational DNA and preventing key executives
from moving on, but Ravichandar remains unfazed by the challenge.
"I have always believed that if we do the small things consistently
right, everything else will follow." Well, she has sure followed
Her Father's Daughter
Managing Director I
Apollo Hospitals Group
Reddy is the first lady of India's organised
family works as a team and my father continues to be the decision
maker,'' says Preetha Reddy, but there is no denying the fact that
the lady is a power to reckon with in the organised healthcare business.
It may have been circumstances that forced the artistically inclined
Reddy (she finished schooling from Chennai's Kalakshetra, the famous
dance school founded by Rukmini Arundale) into entering the family
business-her sister Sangeetha Reddy moved to Hyderabad after her
marriage and someone had to fill in for her-but once in, she set
out to learn the ropes with her characteristic doggedness and humility.
''I did not have the advantages of a B-school student,'' she recollects.
''I learnt hands on.''
Apollo Hospitals was India's first real organised
healthcare company and its founder and Preetha's father, Dr Pratap
C. Reddy, had to actually lobby government to allow banks to lend
to corporate hospitals. Preetha has followed in his footsteps: she
is working with JCI, an organisation that provided accreditation
and consulting services to healthcare providers all over the world
to create an accreditation process for all hospitals in India.
Today, Apollo Hospitals is a Rs 500-crore organisation
that treats 10 million patients, boasts a presence in nine countries,
manages 37 hospitals and 30 health and lifestyle clinics, and runs
seven nursing colleges. Along the way it has diversified into related
areas such as hospital networking, telemedicine, business process
outsourcing (of hospital services), and pharmacies. As Managing
Director, operations is Reddy's main responsibility, but she hasn't
allowed that to obscure the need to return wealth to shareholders.
''Healthcare delivery is our vision,'' she says, ''but we run a
business; our investors have displayed continued confidence in us.
And we cannot afford to be careless.'' She can say that again.
ICICI Prudential Life Insurance
Sharma heads India's #1 private insurance firm.
It is now easy
to see why Shikha Sharma acquired the reputation of a start-up specialist-she
started up both ICICI Securities and ICICI Personal Financial Services-within
ICICI. For the third consecutive year, ICICI Prudential is #1 in
terms of premium income, among all private insurance firms in India.
And having focussed on the retail segment in its first two years
of operations, last year the company turned its attention to the
corporate segment and signed on 100 clients. Along the way, it became
the largest of Prudential's 23 life and mutual fund operations in
this part of the world (it was #5 the year before). "To be
the pride of both parents-that was our aspiration when we started
off," says Sharma, an alumnus of Indian Institute of Management,
Ahmedabad. "And we have already got there." To date, ICICI
Pru has issued over 850,000 individual policies, with a sum assured
of Rs 20,000 crore. Its marketshare: a healthy 34 per cent among
the private firms. The lady who has always dreamed of running her
own company is clearly proving her mettle at it. Now, she says,
the challenges before the company are those related to talent management,
scalability, and the unending quest for greater efficiency. That
should be a cakewalk for Ms Start-up (as we dubbed her last year).
Tractors and Farm Equipment
The quiet Srinivasan still prefers to let her
company's performance do the talking.
the numbers. TAFE closed 2003-04 with revenues of Rs 804 crore and
it hopes to close this year with Rs 1,005 crore. Much of that growth
can be attributed to an upturn in the agricultural economy, but
credit must also be given to Mallika Srinivasan's efforts to use
the preceding years (some of which were bad for business) to good
effect, putting in order everything that needed to be within the
company (for the record, the company never returned losses, even
in bad years, preferring instead to cut production and absorb a
hit to the topline). Among these are a Vision To Reality plan that
the Warwick Manufacturing Group helped TAFE with and an organisation-wide
effort to map competencies. It is on the strength of these that
Srinivasan is confident of operating in a market that has, much
like the market for motorcycles, moved to a three-variants-and-one-new-platform-a-year
Srinivasan belongs to one of Indian industry's
first families and is the scion of the closely held Amalgamations
Group. The MBA from Wharton is also married to TVS Motor Company's
Venu Srinivasan. However, it is a luncheon with the late Aditya
Birla the lady chooses to recount to this writer. During the lunch,
Birla keenly questioned her on a business TAFE had just entered,
engineering plastics. He was convinced that the business was one
with a future. Work the factory three shifts, he told Srinivasan.
She followed his advice and today TAFE's engineering plastics division
boasts one of the highest capacities in the business and is growing
at a rapid clip. "One has to learn from the environment to
succeed," says Srinivasan. She has.