January 17 Wednesday 1:08:07 PM

Six feisty women propelled by an individual desire to succeed in their domain while nurturing parental legacies

SONAKSHI SINHA 25
Hot Debut

Grabbing the spotlight is in her gene pool. The daughter of Poonam Sinha, former Miss India and actor, and veteran star and MP, Shatrughan Sinha, walked away with the best debutante awards for her role as the simple village potter opposite Salman Khan in Dabangg. On a roll, post the blockbuster, the young star is all set to shine opposite established actors like Salman Khan (again), Akshay Kumar and Kamal Haasan. 

“Though acting and politics are both a part of my father’s world, we were never made to feel that he was a big person in the world outside. Right from my childhood and, even today, I really enjoy being his daughter. Ultimately, it was inevitable that we realised the kind of personality he is and that people adored him – either for politics or films – but our mother never let that turn my or my brothers’ (Luv and Kush) heads. As the attention continued over the years, we got used to it. Dad shuttled between Mumbai and Delhi, but he always made it a point to spend time with us. Even when he was not in town he talked to us twice a day, so we never felt that he was not there. As far as who influences us more, perhaps it is Mom, who sacrificed her career for being with us. 

I have honestly not watched many of his films. His famous filmi phrase ‘Khamosh’ is one that he uses regularly in normal daily conversation too. Earlier, he played a villain in many movies, so if I did see one as a kid, I would start crying and ask him why he was being beaten up. Till I finally realised it was only a film. 

Growing up, I never thought I would be an actor nor was I groomed to be one though I did take part in the few odd school plays, but probably as a narrator or participated in the debates. If you see my pictures when I was younger it is clear that I was definitely not star material. I first wanted to be an astronaut, then a biotechnologist or a sportsperson. However, I put on a lot of weight. Ultimately I took up fashion designing because I did have an interest in it and a flair for sketching. On the few occasions I went for Dad’s shooting, I used to fall asleep. I never saw him sit and go through the motions of elaborate make-up. He just dabbed foundation and went on the set. As a spectator I would get thoroughly bored and he would send me home in the car. Today, when I am shooting, as an insider, it is a different thing altogether.

Acting happened very naturally. Salman and my father go back a long way. When I was about 16, he told me that if I groomed myself and lost weight, I could take up acting. Much later, Arbaaz Khan and Abhinav Kashyap came home with the script; we all heard it and loved it. I did not have to convince Papa that I wanted to do the film. It was just something that happened. My first film happened in my comfort zone and that translated on screen. So, I feel I was just blessed to get that opportunity. 

I have learnt a lot from both Mom and Dad. My mother taught me how to keep my head on my shoulders, be grounded and nice to people. She is very gracious and graceful. From Dad I learnt how to work hard and believe in yourself. He is the most confident person I know. I also learnt from him that if you can’t be the best, just be different. I think that has worked well for both of us.

It took a while for us to realise how big a success Dabangg was. My parents have always said that if their children did better than them, it is a big achievement. They are very happy for me, though I feel I have just started off and have a long way to go.” 

NADIA CHAUHAN 25
Joint Managing Director and CMO, Parle Agro

Prakash Chauhan’s daughter, who sold brownies outside her home at the age of 12, rose to head the sales and marketing functions of Parle Agro. Having played a key role in the company’s diversification, she spearheaded the expansion of its water division and has been actively involved in the revamping of Frooti and Appy, the launch of Appy Fizz, Grappo Fizz, LMN and Saint. With an unwavering passion for business, her dream is to make Parle Agro the No 1 FMCG company in India 

“Being born in a business family was very exciting, especially since I remained close to home as I did all my education in Mumbai. Throughout my life, I have been involved with different activities of our company – and things like product launches have fascinated me. Being a family business, post work, Dad – and now me – always carry discussions home. I remember at the time of the sale to Coke, I was intrigued by the whole procedure. 

In a way, I was definitely groomed to join Parle Agro. From the time I was 11, my father would take me to office – after school hours, during holidays and weekends. I would be a part of his business meetings and sit and listen to what was being said even if I did not understand too much. My father would tell me that if I imbibed even one per cent of what was happening, it was enough for me at that stage. 

The early start has added a great deal of value to where I am today. Having met different people, seen different situations, I was so comfortable with the business culture, that when I formally did join the company in 2003, the entire induction was a natural process. 

What I have learnt from my father is priceless. His focus and passion are admirable. He does not get carried away easily. Today, it is easy to get defocused and you end up compromising on your core business values. Dad is also a very humble, down-to-earth person. He is very approachable at work and anyone can walk up to him for anything. 

A large part of my function is sales, marketing and R&D – domains that are dominated by men. But being a girl in the workplace has never been an issue for me. I don’t give people a chance to treat me like a woman and even if I am the only woman in a room of 100 men, I am just one of them. 

Whenever I face a hurdle at work, I turn to my father. He pushes me to think towards a solution so there is no panic. Quite often we tend to complicate things in our minds and he always helps me simplify them. 

I would love to believe that I am like my Dad. I have spent the most time with him. Today, what I am doing is what he used to earlier. He has taught me everything I know and we are on the same wavelength. We often go into meetings with a strategic plan in place and we are playing the game together. 

I am married now and after a baby, things are different. But, post delivery, I was working from home within a month. And when I had meetings, my one-and-a-half month old daughter, Nia, would be there with us. I take her to work with me and she remains there the whole day in the nursery. People joke that she has started off at the company at a much younger age than I did!” 

RITU KAPOOR 24
Director, Kashmir Apiaries Pvt Ltd

Her educational degrees have been garnered from the fields of business administration, marketing management and fashion designing. Crowned two years ago the World Honey Bee Queen, Ritu Kapoor, who topped the Executive Management Programme for Women Entrepreneurs from IIM Bengalaru, is now creating a buzz in her role in the family business that keeps her as busy as a bee 

“Honey bees are my inspiration rather than just a customary part of my life, even though I’ve been associated with them through my mundane chores. My friends often call me ‘Honey Bee’ or ‘Queen Bee’. There is so much to learn from these beautiful small insects. Their entire circle of birth and death revolves around working for others selflessly!

Since my childhood I have always been an independent girl, for it was during that time that my parents had just started their new venture of beekeeping. I had my own colourful world of bees, lots of toys, a huge collection of Ranger Bicycles and many other things to keep me busy. 

Though I always wanted to become a fashion designer and did the Fashion Integration for Apparel Industry (FIAI) course from NIFT, at the same time there was a strong desire within me to be associated with this fascinating world of bees and learn the business under my father’s guidance. I may perhaps pursue fashion at a later stage but right now my priority is to learn, contribute and cater to the growth of our company. 

As director, Kashmir Apiaries Pvt Ltd – one venture of the Kashmir Group of Companies – I, with my team, am restructuring the company’s operations by integrating the same with ERP. I also look after the administration activities, monitor the HR department and am a part of the strategic decision-making team. 

In the past and in the years to come, the people who have been instrumental in my growth in different disciplines of my life are my teachers, friends, my family and my spiritual guide Sri Sri Ravi Shankar. And, of course, I am continuously learning from my parents – the business is in my DNA. Being a man or woman has nothing to do with working hard. My mother is also the co-founder of this business, and seeing her besides my father, contributing to it and still working now, hardwork comes naturally to me. Almost every day I learn something new from my parents. The most important lesson is that one has to be there for your people unconditionally, without any expectations.

I believe that if you have a passion and the will to succeed no one, not even destiny can stop you. Fortunately, I am blessed with an environment and a family where the women are treated on par with the men. So being fearless, having faith in my capabilities and learning from my errors, is the mantra, which works for me.

My biggest achievements at work have been intangible – I think they come in the form of the trust and the confidence that my company vests in me. 

At a company level our new venture Little Bee Retail is the world’s largest health and wellness concept store where we are creating awareness of the importance of honey by making different variants of honey-based food products. At a personal level, I impart the importance of beekeeping at different forums across the country and the world. At home, I relax with my bubbly Pug, Mowgli, who follows me wherever I go within my house; I watch Disney movies with my nephews and nieces or by dancing with them.

I am putting my learning to good use more in management. I would like to reiterate that the honey industry and beekeeping is not only a commercial business, but it has a very important socio-environmental message attached to it! So I am already contributing in this and shortly I will also join hands with NGOs and use that platform to reach the masses.”

TANYA GODREJ DUBASH 42
Executive Director and President (Marketing), Godrej Group

NISA GODREJ 33
President, Human Capital and Innovation, Godrej Industries

Born in a blue-blooded business family, the girls had everything one could ask for – distinguished parents, an enviable education and an impeccable upbringing. Yet, both Tanya Godrej Dubash and Nisa Godrej would rather be known by their actions as they help transform the company and work their way up the family-owned Godrej echelons....

The daughters of Adi Godrej, the chairman of the Godrej Group, Tanya Godrej Dubash and Nisa Godrej, are certainly chips off the old block. Of her off-springs’ achievements, their mother Parmeshwar Godrej has this to say: “I am very proud that all my children are doing very well in their chosen fields. Pirojsha, whose strong academic background combined with his passion, is driving the award-winning Godrej Properties to a new dynamism. We are lucky that all our three children Tanya, Nisa and Pirojsha are loving and caring human beings and have set high standards for themselves in their business and personal lives...they have great self-discipline, integrity and compassion. They are passionate about the future growth of Godrej and India and strongly believe in using their education and opportunities towards helping those not as fortunate as them.”

Working their way up the family-controlled Godrej echelons, it took Tanya six years with the group before she was made director. Tanya, who holds a degree in Economics and Political Science from Brown University, USA and has completed an Advanced Management Programme from Harvard Business School, is on the board of Godrej Industries, Godrej Consumer Products and Godrej Agrovet. She was nominated as a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum in 2008 and is also on the board of Brown University. Tanya led the very successful rebranding of the Godrej master brand which was recently valued at 3 billion dollars and continues to head the marketing initiatives of the group. Her love of fine food manifested itself in Godrej Nature’s Basket which is today a respected purveyor of fine foods with retail outlets in several Indian cities. 

Younger sibling Nisa, President, Human Capital & Innovation for Godrej Industries and associate companies, is on the Board of Directors of Godrej Consumer Products, Godrej Agrovet and sports a BSc degree from The Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania and an MBA from Harvard Business School. She is responsible for “driving the Group’s transformation efforts including efforts to attract and develop outstanding talent and make the culture more agile and innovative”. Nisa instituted a design and innovation cell in 2010 and is working very closely with the Godrej Consumer Products (GCPL) team on the innovation strategy for the company.

Nisa’s previous assignments within the Godrej Group have included the successful turnaround of Godrej Agrovet. She has also led the creation of a strategy cell for the group and the development of the FMCG strategy for the group. This has included “creating a five year roadmap for Godrej’s FMCG portfolio, outlining category choices and instituting a M&A cell with a focused playbook that led to eight acquisitions between 2009 and 2011”. In touch with the aspirations of younger consumers and keeping the past of India’s most trusted company firmly in mind, Tanya and Nisa have set out on a project of revitalisation and repackaging. India’s largest selling hair colour, Godrej Expert, for instance, was recently given a new tag line ‘Happy Hair. Happy You’, bold graphics and new products that have not been seen in the market before. They each continue to explore their own areas of expertise and in that sense complement each other. Tanya demonstrates great marketing savvy while Nisa oversees strategy and alliances.

While their father’s humility and work ethic has set the tone for the lives of the sisters, their mother, the indefatigable Parmeshwar, ensured moments of incredible style as well as meetings with international personalities of glamour and political substance. Tanya’s wedding to entrepreneur Arvind Dubash was an event that continues to be talked about as having touched that exalted pinnacle of tasteful and stylish entertaining. Nisa is on the Board of Directors of Teach For India and the Heroes Project and is passionate about girl’s education, the human mind, trekking, equestrian and water sports. Both remain understated and classic in their lifestyle and sartorial choices, believing that less is more and preferring to make their mark quietly.

SHRUTI CHOUDHRY 35
Congress MP

Her political lineage spans two generations. The granddaughter of Choudhry Bansi Lal, former chief minister of Haryana, and daughter of politicians, Surender Singh and Kiran Choudhry, Shruti Choudhry, a first-time MP, is indeed her father’s daughter. After she completed her studies, she practised law till the tragic death of her father in an accident, when her grandfather, in a sudden gesture, put the pagri on her head in front of a mourning public and anointed her his successor

“My early years remained totally unaffected by any consciousness of politics whatsoever. I had a very regular childhood and was completely oblivious of the political-social standing of my family. My parents made sure that I remained totally grounded and unaffected by it all. My mother was very strict and always instilled a great sense of respect for my elders in me and misconduct was never tolerated.

I am the only child of my parents and when I was born, my dadi was expecting a boy and was a bit disappointed when I arrived. Of course, she made a doting dadi, but she worried in her own way as to who would keep the family name alive and the family tradition of serving the people going. How could a girl manage? I believe my mother told her that I would be equivalent to a 100 sons and my dad consoled her by telling her to look at the example of Indira Gandhi – she too was the only child of her parents! So my destiny was sealed.

When I reached middle school, my father ran for election. My mother could not canvas for him as she was in the INC and my father had left the party to join my grandfather’s. I was the apple of my father’s eye and I volunteered to help my father out. I camped in his constituency for two months. There was no looking back....

We divided the constituency into two, a part to be covered by each. I learnt a lot from the people. When I would come home, I would discuss things with him, see him interact with people – these impressions have lasted with me for ever. 

The biggest influences in my life have been both my grandfathers. With my nana, we would talk hours on end of Swami Vivekananda. My dada was a figure of responsibility in the house and yet very gentle and indulgent with me. I also imbibed the sincerity and commitment my parents had to the people.

I believe your karma makes your destiny. I had mixed feelings about taking the plunge into politics and it overwhelmed me to think that I had to fill the very large shoes of my father who in the 6,500 villages of Haryana knew at least 15 individuals in each by name. Now the world has become my family, the legacy of people’s affections is the greatest legacy to have. It’s humbling, overwhelming and divine.

Politics is a great test of character, as everything is in life. You have to have your wits about you and continue to work. The downs follow the ups and vice versa. That must never be forgotten. The downs have their own role to play.

It is up to the people to say if I am doing my job well. All I can say is that I am committed to the cause. And like my father, am trying to be true to the people.” 

INTERVIEWS BY SHRADDHA JAHAGIRDAR-SAXENA


1/5/2018 | 18
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