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Home > Business > Special

Kiran Nadar on HCL, Shiv, & Bill Gates | June 20, 2007

She chose a career in advertising where she met a client who would soon become her lifelong partner. At that time, Kiran was the advertising account manager at MCM. She was managing promotions for a company where Shiv Nadar worked.

Little did they know what destiny would have in store for them. They became friends and bridge partners. Soon after their marriage in the 1970s, Shiv Nadar quit DCM Data Products to start HCL [Get Quote].

Kiran Nadar decided to be more than just Shiv Nadar's wife. Over the years, Kiran has taken on the role of giving back to society, by starting the Shiv Nadar University and her endeavors to bridge the urban-rural divide are now more pronounced.

She turned into a curator of art and will soon be opening an art museum. She has become a professional bridge player, hoping to bring home India's first International Bridge Gold Medal. So, what other things has she got up her sleeve.

Excerpts from an interview given to CNBC-TV18:

You continued to work even after you got married until you had your daughter Roshni?

I continued first with the advertising world and then I got into the readymade garment export industry with my mother. At some point I thought this is the time to get out of this world and get a little more into intellectual or corporate India and NIIT [Get Quote] was in the process.

That's the story that not too many people know about -- that you actually help build brand NIIT along with Rajendra Pawar at that point?

Yes, Raji (Rajendra Pawar), Vijay (Vijay Thadani) and I were the three founders of NIIT. While they were sort of techies and I knew marketing/advertising, so I was doing all communications and the promotional material. We wanted to set young minds on fire and attract them to come and join NIIT.

Why did you give it up? Why not continue doing that?

Our daughter was three years old and I felt I should spend a little more time. I needed to be with her.

But never HCL, that was not an option is it?


If you could do NIIT, you could have done HCL.

NIIT was a completely separate entity. I do not think Shiv really thought that we should interact on a day-to-day basis at work. He does use me as a sounding board if any major thing is happening but not on a day-to-day basis.

I don't think it was ever stated but it was sort of an unspoken understanding, and I do not think I ever looked at a career in HCL.

Being an entrepreneur in India is not easy and starting 25 years ago was not a piece of cake. What was it like for you to see Shiv building HCL from scratch?

I was so young or we both were very young; I was 23 when we got married and within six months he left DCM.

You believed in him right from the beginning?

I always had this thing that any man I marry must be very intelligent. It was very important for me and so he met that criterion. I knew whatever would happen, would happen for the best. Whether, it was a success or failure, I didn't know where it could go.

It started off with that. . . they were marketing Televista Calcualtors and from it was a natural progression. But I was never nervous about how he would do because I really did believe him.

I know that you had the garment business and you worked with NIIT, but at some point did you think that you wanted to do you own things?

Do I regret not going back to a job or to work. . . I do not think Shiv or HCL impeded that. What happened in my life was that I started playing competitive bridge.

Playing bridge draws an image of champagne, glasses and kitty parties because it's very different. It's not like that at all. I certainly had more time than I thought I would and so I got involved with a lot of competitive bridge players. I didn't even know bridge was a competitive sport and I think it became a passion.

For two years, I was playing with the Indian ladies team and so when a new passion develops, then that becomes all-consuming.

It's been a ten-year passion for you and now you have been competing in international tournaments. So, you've played with Bill Gates and Warren Buffett -- you been there and done that?

Well, actually I started in 1987. . . so it's a 20-year journey. For ten years, I played for the ladies team and then years ago, I started to play in the Open Championship.

You are one of the few women in the world who play the Open Championship?


Is Bill Gates a good bridge player?

He is a very eager bridge player.

Did you beat him?

He plays just pairs, so you play like two boards against him and against his partner and we have been on the same table. I think we did better than those two boards, but that means nothing.

What's been your most memorable bridge story?

I think when I saw Omar Sharif for the first time. Omar Sharif used to play a lot of competitive bridge and now he doesn't, but he still comes on the bridge circuit once in a while. I saw him playing a tournament in London, which he was playing with Zia Mahmood. He is very charming and very dynamic.

Is this something that you would like to get involved in because we've got so much talent in this country but there is no organised sports management in that sense. Is this an area of interest?

This is an area that does interest me and there is a lot that can be done. Cricket is represented, but what we would like to look at is maybe taking a sport and maybe looking at the fact that we should have an Olympic medallist within a quantified time span.

Art is something that you are also involved with. Your association with art in the beginning was accidental in a sense, but since than it has become quite a passion for you.

I started collecting when we built our home. I needed things to put on the wall and so I looked at art and I realised there is a lot of talent and some of the Indian artists are really fantastic so I started buying art when it was very affordable.

No formal training?

Self-taught and instinctively I buy what I like. I do not necessarily go in to buy an artist who is a known artist. But I think I have built up a pretty sizeable and interesting collection.

I have picked up a lot more than I can display because I do not have wall-space and so I think it's time to share what I have with other people.

So are you planning an art museum?

Yes, I thought if we have a museum which is open to the public to come and view what we have enjoyed, it would be nice.

You are also part of an organisation that is completely involved with art.

There is the Rasaja Foundation. It was started by Jaya Appasamy who is no more and she collected some colonial works and so I am trying to help a little momentum going.

One of your other interests is, of course, the Shiv Nadar University, which is in Chennai and I believe you are planning to do a similar sort of thing in Delhi as well?

I think it's a time we did give back to society and we started about ten years ago with the Trust and the college in Chennai. Now of course that has grown and has about 2,800 students. It's rated as one of the top-most colleges in the south and so we would like to set-up a north campus.

We have to still finalise where it's going to be based and hopefully, that will be done soon. This campus may be a multi-discipline one and not just engineering based.

You've also been travelling with Shiv and you do the Davos run every year. I believe you skipped it in the middle, but you are back on the Davos circuit. What's that experience been like for you?

I find Davos very interesting. I find some of the sessions quite fascinating and it's eventually very stimulating, when you meet people. You talk to people from areas you really don't know very well. We did a programme -- How People React in the Dark -- and it's an area you don't even think about it in your day-to-day life. Meeting corporates is much more Shiv's thing, but mine is lot more interactive and very mentally stimulating.

You think it's hard being married to a corporate leader in India or do you think it's the same? Has it been easy for you to find your own voice and carve your identity?

I do not think it's hard or easy. Maybe, it is easier, in the sense that you are really in a 'who's who' set and so if you want to use that platform, you do have that accessibility.

I think it does probably open some avenues in case you want to use them. So, I do not think it is an impediment. But your life is in the public eye, so, you need to be a little circumspect as to what you say and how you behave.

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