what's the real measure of power? When it doesn't come by virtue
of an office held, but is given unto you for being the real, if
unobtrusive, force behind a powerful personality. In another words,
you, the male CEO with a large corporation to run, are powerful
because the person behind you has not just helped create an environment
where your powers can bloom, but has actually contributed to its
potency. In corporate India, more often than not, such shadow
sovereigns tend to be the wives (or widowed mothers) of powerful
corporate chieftains. They are not just the alter egos of their
powerful husbands, but also accomplished women in their own rights;
women with vision, courage, ambition and energy. It would have
been unfair not to recognise them. Ergo, in this section, Business
Today looks at 10 such women.
Homemaker who became the peacemaker
Like the archetypical
Indian wife, Kokilaben, 71, spent her life in the shadow of her
husband Dhirubhai Ambani as he took Reliance from one great height
to another. But last year, the girl from Jamnagar who married
Dhirubhai when she was just 21 and lost him in 2002, became the
one person millions of Reliance shareholders looked to save the
conglomerate from a debilitating fight between her two sons, Mukesh
and Anil. The mother in Kokilaben did not let either her sons
or the shareholders down. Quietly, but very firmly, she helped
hammer out a settlement between her warring sons. Dhirubhai must
Chief confidante and counsel
Be it reliance
industries' impressive township in Jamnagar or the 140-acre Reliance
Infocomm campus in Navi Mumbai, Nita Ambani's subtle influence
on the group shows up in many ways. But the subject closest to
her heart is education. Nita, 43, whom husband Mukesh consults
on every major decision, runs the Dhirubhai Ambani International
School in western Mumbai, besides the Dhirubhai Ambani Foundation.
With the school growing in size and stature, the next few years
promise to be busy for the mother of three.
It's art that inspires her
and you have to think of Tina. Over the years, the 43-year-old
former movie star and wife of Anil Ambani has turned Reliance's
premium fabric brand into a buzzword in the world of art. Her
annual Harmony show, launched in 1996, has grown from a one-off
event to a movement of sorts. Its mission: Offer a common platform
to both seasoned and amateur artists. Last year's show, for instance,
brought together 200 artists who displayed more than 500 of their
Spreading the sunshine around
For a mother
of two and grandmother of five, Rajashree Birla keeps a rather
busy work day. She's in at the group's sprawling headquarters
every day at noon and puts in at least six hours of work before
calling it a day. On her plate is none of the group's diverse
businesses, but almost all of its social work, including rural
development and hospitals. "The focus on rural development
is important since it's not possible for the government to handle
everything," says the 58-year-old Birla. Agreed.
The lady you ought to know
only one way to figure out your social quotient: Either you've
been invited to a Parmeshwar Godrej party or she's been to one
of yours. For, Godrej, 61, is the epitome of uber-chic: Rich,
beautiful, phenomenally networked, but most of all sophisticated
and caring. Wife of Godrej group Chairman Adi Godrej, the lady
was fundamental in starting in 2004 "the Heroes Project"
to fight the stigma of aids. Once the life of Page 3 parties,
Godrej is keeping a low profile. She even refused an interview
for this profile.
Businesswoman, goodwill ambassador and TV show host
If there were
a way to tap into Geetanjali Kirloskar's energy, her city of Bangalore
would never face outages. Mom to 16-year-old Manasi and wife to
Vikram, Kirloskar, 41, likes to don several hats at one time.
She is the Director of ad agency Quadrant Communications, a 50:50
JV between Pratibha and Inter Public Group, Chairperson of India
Japan Initiative, which promotes better understanding between
the two countries, and a newly-minted TV show host (Life's Like
That on Times Now). "I want to be intellectually engaged
in my multitude of interests," says Kirloskar. It shows.
Writer, teacher and do-gooder
She helped husband
N.R. Narayana Murthy set up Infosys by being its first code writer,
she's authored 20 books (royalty last year: Rs 4 lakh), taught
computer science to underprivileged students, and is currently
the chairperson of Infosys Foundation, which has a budget of Rs
15 crore and works in the area of education and healthcare. "We
have a responsibility to give back to society. Wealth is only
a means to an end and we are just trustees of that wealth,"
says the 50-year-old Padma Shri winner of 2005-06.
Making the world flatter and fairer
While her husband
Nandan sells brand India abroad, Rohini, 47, improves things at
the grassroots. The journalist-turned-novelist-turned-philanthropist
has been spending personal money and time on causes close to her
heart. Rohini's Akshara Foundation and Pratham Books seek to make
education available to poor children in and around Bangalore.
Another of her NGOs Arghyam (Sanskrit for "offering")
works to make access to water, both equitable and sustainable,
to all-its Rs 100 crore corpus is courtesy the Nilekanis alone-while
Sanghamitra offers micro finance to very small entrepreneurs.
Two others, CISED and ATREE, promote ecology. In between all this,
the mother of two (she refused an interview), found time to write
a thriller called Stillborn. Impressed? You bet.
India's answer to Coco Chanel
She got out of
the cosmetic business eight years ago, but Simone Tata will always
be remembered for giving India its first chic cosmetic brand,
Lakme. Seventy five years old today, Tata hasn't lost any zeal
for business. "We will be doubling our turnover in two years,"
says the Chairman of Trent Ltd, which owns the Westside chain
of departmental stores. Last year, Trent acquired Chennai-based
bookstore Landmark and now has big plans in the hypermarket space,
where it debuted last year with Star India Bazaar in Ahmedabad.
A good word for all
I find myself
giving advice all the time," says Maureen Wadia. "My
family, friends, doctors, patients, employees, models...everybody
seems to turn to me for advice," she says jokingly. For good
reason. Wife of Bombay Dyeing group Chairman Nusli Wadia, Maureen,
60, seems exceptionally talented at managing multiple businesses.
She oversees the family's charitable hospital, publishes a magazine
(Gladrags), organises model talent hunt and the Mrs India pageant
every year. No wonder it was past bedtime when this magazine finally
managed to catch the workaholic mother of two for a quick chat.