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Daughters of India Inc honchos storm the male bastion

Last updated on: March 11, 2014 09:10 IST

Daughters of India Inc honchos storm the male bastion

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Nivedita Mookerji, T E Narasimhan & Viveat Susan Pinto

March 8 was Women’s Day, only a month before Lok Sabha voting begins, and this might bring a new sense of purpose to many in leadership roles, whether in politics or India Inc.

Leading political rallies or taking charge in boardrooms, the next-gen woman is taking it all in her stride.

Quite a change from the time when Apollo Hospitals founder Prathap C Reddy had people saying, “Poor Reddy has four daughters and no son to help run his company”.

Reddy has proved them wrong, and so have many others; increasingly daughters of India Inc honchos are getting settled in the corner offices, until recently the domain of the sons. 

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Image: Roshni Nadar

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Capturing that mood, Business Standard takes a look at the daddy’s girls who were born with the proverbial silver spoon, and are now walking the ropes in the world of business. Ashni Biyani, Avni Biyani, Jayanti Chauhan, Roshni Nadar, the Reddy sisters, Tanya Dubash, Nisaba Godrej, Rupa Gurunath, Nisha Purushothaman, Lakshmi Venu, Swarnamugi Karthik, Kavya Maran, Vinita Gupta, Pia Singh... the list goes on.

Then, there are others in the media and entertainment world like Ekta Kapoor, who have made it big and added to the family riches. 

From health care to automobiles, information technology (IT) to media, consumer goods to real estate, a good number of industrialist fathers have ensured their daughters, many of them with degrees from Ivy League universities; have a place in their business empires.

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Image: Avni Biyani
Photographs: Courtesy, Business Standard

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It was not the case some years earlier. When K K Birla’s daughter, Shobhana Bhartia, chairperson, Hindustan Times, was named chief executive of the newspaper in 1986 when only 29, such an inheritance was unheard of. 

Inheritors with soft roles

A bias remains, point out insiders. Most daughters who are likely to inherit their fathers’ businesses don’t have brothers to compete with.

Also, in many cases, the girls have been given ‘soft’ roles in family businesses, such as branding or marketing, though laced with fancy designations. And, at times, it is the daughter’s husband who runs the show. 

Even so, daughters being groomed for the top job in businesses is seen as a happy change, especially in the backdrop of India having the lowest ratio of working women across the world. 

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Image: Shobhana Bhartia, chairperson, Hindustan Times
Photographs: Courtesy, HT Media

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That explains why 24-year-old Avni Biyani and father Kishore Biyani, chief executive of the Future Group, made such a perfect picture, posing at the latest Foodhall opening in January.

Avni takes care of Foodhall, the specialised gourmet business of the group that sells products such as tomato from Holland at Rs 2,400 a kg and avocado from Peru at Rs 1,800 a kg.

Avni, who’s getting used to giving back-to-back interviews to the media, says she’s like any other youngster, hanging out with friends and watching movies.

Even as she goes to her father for any business advice, it’s her mother who’s “the biggest critic”.

Avni’s elder sister, Ashni, director, Future Ideas, is believed to be more hardwired in the business and might take up a more critical role in the company.

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Image: Ashni Biyani.


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The change

Years before Avni and Ashni were ready to talk business, Reddy of Apollo Hospitals was preparing his four daughters to take on the mantle.

Today, he says its his four daughters - Preetha, Suneeta, Shobhana and Sangita - who run the group. “Each of them has out-performed in their respective fields,” the 81-year-old Reddy says.

The eldest, Preetha, is the managing director of Apollo Hospitals and focuses on the day-to-day operations.

Suneeta is the joint managing director who looks at the financial aspects of the company. Sangita, as the executive director (operations), leads the personnel and IT functions.

The group is now writing a family constitution, to define the role of each family member in the business of health care.

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Image: Preetha Reddy
Photographs: Courtesy, Apollo Group

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Yet another serious rise is that of Vinita Gupta, daughter of Lupin’s founder Deshbandhu Gupta.

She’s the face of the company in the world’s largest pharma market - the US.

Vinita, 45, has been instrumental in Lupin’s entry into advanced markets.

A graduate in pharmacy from the University of Mumbai and MBA from the J L Kellogg Graduate School of Management, Vinita was elevated as the chief executive officer (CEO) last September.

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Image: Vinita Gupta
Photographs: Courtesy, Lupin

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Nisha Purushothaman, joint managing director of Chennai-based Empee Distilleries and vice-chairperson of the Empee group, daughter of chairman M P Purushothaman, is also learnt to have shown promise. 

Armed with an MBA from the London School of Business, Nisha has tried her hand at everything from hospitality, sugar, liquor, administration and human resources over the past two decades.

It might be of help that she’s married to an industrialist - Ravi Krishna, co-founder of Ziqitza Health Care Limited, which operates the ‘1298’ and ‘108’ ambulance services.

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Image: Nisha Purushothaman (Inset)


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Then there’s Jayanti Chauhan, daughter of Ramesh Chauhan, India’s soft drinks king. Unlike cousins Schauna and Nadia, Jayanti’s induction into Bisleri International, the company promoted by Ramesh Chauhan, wasn’t smooth.

It was the advancing age that propelled the senior Chauhan - creator of brands Thums Up, Limca and Gold Spot, which he sold to Coca-Cola in 1993 - to induct Jayanti, his only child, into the business.

The year was 2009. Jayanti was 24. She was sent to the Delhi office of Bisleri, to help her get a sense of operations. But Jayanti was bored and quit Bisleri a year later to pursue her studies in Arabic. 

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Image: Jayanti Chauhan


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She was back in 2011, impelled in part by rumours that her father was being approached by prospective buyers for a possible sale. 

In her second stint, Jayanti decided to work out of the Mumbai office, which is also the headquarters of the company, under the guidance and supervision of her father.

She was tasked with breathing new life into the human resources department; work closely with her father to help grow the Bisleri brand and revive the premium water brand Vedika.

While her father continues to be the key driver of Bisleri, company insiders say Jayanti, who is a director, is providing key insights in marketing and branding.

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Tanya Dubash

Also, consider Tanya Dubash, 45, daughter of Adi Godrej, who got hands-on experience of managing the Godrej group’s soap brands when the joint venture between it and Procter & Gamble fell apart in 1996.

By then, she was three-years-old in the system, having begun as a management trainee as part of her father’s plan to groom his children.

She is the chief brand officer of Godrej Industries, the holding company of the Godrej group. 

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Image: Tanya Dubash
Photographs: Courtesy, Godrej
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Nisaba Godrej 

Tanya’s younger sister Nisaba Godrej, 35, saw her true calling in business strategy.

The Wharton and Harvard educated Nisaba, who began her innings with the group a decade ago, was responsible for the turnaround of Godrej Agrovet.

Nisaba, executive director at Godrej Consumer, recently took over as the head of a new innovation council within the company.

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Image: Nisaba Godrej
Photographs: Courtesy, Godrej

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Rupa Gurunath, daughter of N Srinivasan, vice-chairman and managing director of India Cements (and president of the Board of Control for Cricket in India), belongs to the India Inc daughters’ club, too. 

Inducted into the company’s board in September 2007, she became a wholetime director in 2010.

Rupa could play a more active role in the company’s growth in the coming years, say sources.

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Image: Rupa Gurunath


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Lakshmi Venu, 31, daughter of TVS Motor Company Chairman and Managing Director Venu Srinivasan and Tractors and Farm Equipment Ltd  Chairman and CEO Mallika Srinivasan, is director-strategy and whole-time director of Sundaram-Clayton Ltd, the holding company of TVS Motor Company. 

She looks at business opportunities and expansion, in domestic and international markets.

A graduate from YaleUniversity, with a doctorate in engineering management from the University of Warwick, Lakshmi was in the headlines for marrying Rohan Murty, son of N R Narayana Murthy, founder and executive chairman of Infosys. 

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Image: Rohan Murty and Lakshmi Venu


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Swarnamugi Karthik, 31-year-old daughter of BGR Energy Systems’ Ltd promoter late B G Raghupathy, joined the company at age 22. 

Having started as executive assistant to the president, she is director, corporate strategy, now.

Her 22-year-old younger brother also joined the company as a trainee recently.

Hailing from a political-business family, 22-year-old Kavya Maran is the boss at Sun Music, FM business of Sun Television Network.

She is the only daughter of media tycoon Kalanithi Maran, who has interests in media, entertainment and the aviation sector.

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Image: Swarnamugi Karthik
Photographs: Courtesy, Business Standard

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The low-key girls

Roshni Nadar In the IT sector

Roshni Nadar Malhotra, daughter of technology czar Shiv Nadar, might be a known face. But she has maintained she has no plans to be part of a larger corporate strategy-making process at HCL group.

Roshni is a trustee of the Shiv Nadar Foundation, the philanthropic arm of the Nadar family, and also the CEO of HCL Corporation, the holding company of the two technology firms.

The 32-year-old was recently appointed as a director on HCL board, which again sparked speculation of her eventual takeover. But in a recent interview to Business Standard she said being on the board of a publicly-listed company was not a management or operational role.

In fact, Nadar’s son-in-law and Roshni’s husband, Shikhar Malhotra, is tipped to play a larger role in the group’s operations. “It is Roshni’s choice (to pick the foundation over the corporation),” said Nadar. 

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Image: Roshni Nadar


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Another low-key daughter in family business is Pia Singh, youngest daughter of DLF Chairman K P Singh.

Chairperson of the group’s entertainment venture, Pia has her hands full but prefers to keep away from the limelight.

Big businesses apart, there are other examples , such as the famous music retailer Marques & Co, in New Delhi’s downtown Connaught Place. It is being run by Christine, the promoter’s daughter.

The list is getting long but it’s just a small beginning.


Image: DLF Chairman K P Singh. Pia Singh (Inset)
Photographs: Reuters
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