Three women CEOs talk about life beyond the boardroom.

Pallavi Jha, Chairperson and MD, Walchand PeopleFirst Ltd.

Pallavi Jha (50) says that she first realised gender could be a problem when assets of the family business were being divided. Until then, she said, she was raised in a liberal manner. “I had to assure my father that I could take over part of the business and could also lead the company.”

After securing an MBA from the U.S., she decided to join Procter and Gamble because she did not want to get into family business. “But when my first daughter was born, I took a break and started helping my father with the business. After a while, I told him I wanted to dig my heels in it,” says daughter of Bahubali Gulabchand who was the last chairman of a unified Walchand Group.

In 1996, she finally took over as CEO of Walchand PeopleFirst (formerly Walchand Capital). It was a small office. “I took over and was thinking of how to take it further. My husband Sanjay Jha soon came on board. We ventured into the web world and launched cricketnext.com and moneypickle.com. Soon we realised that there was a demand for training. In 2003, we brought Dale Carnegie to India. Since then, we established ourselves in the training field.”

Her desk has a photo of her two daughters, now 23 and 17. She talks of how she learned to balance professional and personal life. “I learned to forgive myself for missing deadlines at work or going late to pick up my daughter. But I also learned that managing work and home require the same set of skills: planning, scheduling, delegating and rewarding.”  

In her free time, Jha likes to watch films in the theatre with her family. Or, her family brings films home and creates its own film festival. Yoga and music have been a passion for 15 years. “I go for walks in the evening with my husband. That way, we get to spend quality time. We take family vacations together but if my husband and I go to the same place on work, we take different flights.”

Avani Davda, CEO Tata Starbucks

Avani Davda (34) has risen to be CEO of Tata Starbucks. Although she says she is privileged to head the joint venture between two iconic companies, she believes work does not equal identity.

“I am thankful for the values that my parents instilled in me at an early age. Your work does not define your identity. I thoroughly enjoy my work and the support from family has been critical to successfully delivering at work.”

She believes that every person can chart his/her career path, which is why she thinks the glass ceiling is “irrelevant”. “It is completely up to an individual, be it a man or a woman, to drive one’s career in the manner that suits him/her. If you have the determination and passion, you will find the way to accomplish your goals. It is not easy and takes courage.”

How does she manage to balance work and home? Davda thinks the key is in loving what you do. Then everything else falls in place. “When one enjoys work, discipline comes naturally. One needs to be honest and set right expectations.”  

Davda says that working with the Tata group for over a decade exposed her to several business and management opportunities, which equipped her for her current role.

And what is it that gives her an impetus to enjoy her work? “I have always believed that whatever industry you are in, you need to find people who have the same values as yourself. It will never work if you are in an organisation or team that you are disconnected from.”  

As told to SUKHADA TATKE, Mumbai

Kiran Mazumdar Shaw, Chairperson and MD, Biocon

Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw started Biocon in 1978 on the rebound. She had failed to land a job as a brewer in a male-dominated brewing industry. The company began in a rented garage with a capital of Rs.10,000 at a time when few understood what biotechnology was. People had two reasons to be sceptical: it was a little-explored territory and two, the company was run by a woman. The story of how this small venture grew into a global biopharmaceutical enterprise and took its founder places is now the stuff of corporate lore.

Shaw leads an active life beyond her role as a successful businesswoman too. “As innovation is an integral part of my life, I play the role of angel investor and mentor for some young entrepreneurs,” she says. She is proud of the work of Biocon Foundation too. “Much before the new Companies Act made it mandatory for corporates to allocate a percentage of their corporate profits for Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) activities, Biocon has been conscientiously investing in the community,” she says.

Apart from this she is also the president of Bangalore Political Action Committee (B.PAC). “It is an apolitical forum, an independent citizens’ initiative aimed at getting better governance for Bangalore in order to offer a better quality of life to the citizens… It is my personal commitment as a concerned citizen of Bangalore,” she says. “B.PAC is working towards mobilising the educated middle class and the elite of the city to fully engage and work with political leaders.” Shaw is firm that this is not a stepping stone into politics. “I have said this before and I will say this again: I have no ambition of joining politics. I am however committed to work with the political system from outside for better governance in our city and our country.” At a more personal level, Shaw is an avid art collector and owns paintings and sculptures of masters, both Indian and foreign. “Art has a profound influence on me as it keeps me motivated for thinking out of the box,” she says.

As told to S. BAGESHREE, Bangalore

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