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March 9, 2001
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Deena Mehta is first woman to head Bombay Stock Exchange

It has taken 125 years for a woman to don the mantle of the President of the Bombay Stock Exchange.

Yet after two years waiting in the wings as vice-president, Deena Mehta, or 'Deenaben' as she is called, was asked to head Asia's oldest exchange on Thursday in more dramatic conditions than she would have preferred, coincidentally landing the job on International Women's Day.

Outgoing president Anand Rathi resigned amid allegations that he leaked privileged information to brokers that caused the markets to fall sharply after a budget rally last week.

Deenaben's current appointment is to March 31 when Rathi's term was to expire. But she is considered by many to be a natural successor when elections are held because of her long and varied experience in the exchange.

The outsider takes charge

Unlike most brokers who run family-owned businesses, Deena Mehta was a late entrant to the broking community.

A chartered accountant by profession, she armed herself with a management degree and joined her husband Asit C Mehta, a bond broker, in 1986 in setting up an equities business.

Not having come from a broking background, Deenaben had to learn from scratch and is reported to have done all the odd jobs both on the floor of the trading pit and in the back office.

But after mastering the art of broking, she began taking active part in the affairs of the exchange - participating in committees that handled arbitration between members, investor complaints and the computerisation of trading.

Her commitment has won her respect in an organisation that is only slowly opening up to women.

Brokers may have signed on their wives as directors on their boards, but most women of broking families are still content running homes.

Always elegantly dressed in a sari with sober adornments, Deenaben's presence on the podium with other male directors has helped boost the image of Asia's oldest exchange.

Though still controlled by a club of brokers despite the presence of public representatives and independent directors on its board, the BSE is trying hard to portray an image of modernity and professionalism.

Brokers say there will be little opposition toward Deenaben's heading the exchange.

"What matters is how much time has a person spent for the organisation, not whether it is a man or a woman. And Deenaben has spent a hell of a lot of time," said a third generation broker.

Rathi quits as BSE chief, Deena Mehta is interim chief

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