A keen business sense and passion for excellence drives Sailaja Kiron, MD Margadarsi, to script a successful story
“Sometimes I wish I had only one child,” says Sailaja Kiron, looking fondly at her daughters. “So I can give all my attention to her,” she adds. Nevertheless, the mother and daughters are a happier lot when they are together. “I once read that Indira Nooyi’s daughter sent her an email requesting her to give her some time to talk,” she grimaces. “If you cannot give yourself completely to your business, you cannot be outstanding in your work. My children see me working hard and understand the situation,” she says.
Having grown up in Chennai and Bangalore, Sailaja was blissfully unaware of Ramoji Rao’s legacy when she married into the media baron’s family. Six months after her marriage to Ramoj Rao’s eldest son, Kiron, Sailaja found herself heading his Margadarsi Chit Fund Company. Today, with a turnover of Rs. 7,600 crore, she’s one of the dominant business women in the finance industry. For Sailaja, however, it was not a case of business ‘served on a platter’. “I never wanted to be in this line of business. I used to think finance is all about calculations, and it’s so boring. There’s nothing new or fancy about it,” she admits. But she reasons out with the dictum, “your life is not what you want it to be. Whatever it is, when it comes by you, you have to do your best.” Her childhood dream though was to become a doctor. Her forward community status came in the way of her getting a medical seat, despite topping the college with 92 per cent in the science stream, she says. “I’m glad I’m in this line now, because in a way the company helps lakhs of people help one another, which would not be possible in other lines of business,” she smiles. When she started she was no novice — an MBA degree and experience gained working for her father’s hatcheries business prepared her for future ventures.
Do people trust their money more with a woman? Sailaja’s quick to disagree. “It’s not a man or woman thing. It’s purely on how the organisation functions. The promptness and the commitment we show in our payments make people believe in us.”
How would she describe her style of management? “I’m more aggressive,” she says with the gentlest of smiles. “I stretch to a level that it can be achieved, but certainly with principles in place. The consciousness of accountability has always been there. I’m constantly checking if the standards are met. Monitoring, reviewing and the control have always been with me. My staff is very much motivated because of the follow-up I do, and makes them stretch that extra bit. But the fundamentals are intact. We believe that we have to grow, but at the same time our customers should be completely satisfied.”
Combining satisfactory and a successful venture needs keen business acumen. How can women be equipped to move away from the stereotype businesses? “Good education and exposure makes a difference. The world is extremely competitive and there is very little space for new entrants. One has to do their homework thoroughly and experiment with an existing organisation to gain knowledge, find out the gaps in the industry and where you fit in. It’s also important to start small, so that even if you burn your fingers a couple of times, you can still afford to take it up again,” she smiles. “You got to be efficient… you got to be perfect,” she states matter of factly.
Sailaja’s mind is not always on the money matters of Margadarsi. Blessed with a natural sense of style and aesthetics, Sailaja finds running Kalanjali a satisfactory venture.
“Kalanjali was started by the chairman (Ramoji Rao) for the love of art and to promote the artisans. When I took over, it was a single store. Today we have 17. It is not a profitable business but it sustains craftsmen and helps towards doing our bit towards highlighting our heritage and culture,” she explains. A desire to have a new format store for the more fashion-conscious contemporary youth gave birth to Brisah — the exotic name derived from the first three alphabets of her two daughters’ names; Brihati and Sahari!
Does she have dreams for them? “Oh yes. I would like them to excel in life, carry on the legacy of their grandfather. It’s just not about being prosperous but doing something for society with commitment. They know they have to take up businesses and they have to be hands-on. My youngest daughter, Divija, who’s just six, already talks about starting companies,” smiles the doting mother.
Sailaja admits to being bogged down with the feeling of remorse sometimes, especially when she realises that her children should be having more of her time. “Most of the times my girls have been sent to the doctor with the caretakers… they have certainly compromised due to my workaholism. You do it only because you are passionate about your work.” She tries hard to remember the last time she cooked for them. “It’s my desire to cook a complete meal for the family. Even before marriage, I hardly cooked as I always stayed in hostels. In my lifetime I must have cooked just about 10 times, so I can’t even assess what kind of cook I am,” she laughs. A vegetarian since last 15 years, her occasional indulgences are a piece of chocolate. Apart from eating healthy, regular walks, practicing yoga form a part of her daily routine. “As you age, your priorities change. There was a time you want to do everything by yourself and were not ready to let go of even a single rupee. Now you have to do certain things which are good for your personal life, so that the organisation benefits in the long run,” sums up Sailaja Kiron.