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Success stories
May 24, 2022 COMMENT comment
Success stories
By Sudha Menon
Call them the queens of India Inc. They are iconic figures, admired for their achievements. What is their success mantra? Women don't push enough for their rightful place; men do that all the time. Very often your push catalyses change.
In end 2009, after over two decades of being a journalist, I started work on my debut book, Leading Ladies: Women Who Inspire India. It was not an easy thing to do, to walk away from a cherished career but I knew I had to do it because I was no longer happy with the kind of work I was doing.
I had closely watched the career growth of a handful of Indian women who seemed to have gotten it right: They had picture perfect lives with great jobs, great families and made it to the front covers of magazines. I wanted to know the winning secrets of these women.
And so, with much trepidation, I set out on a journey that lead me to offices and homes of some of the country's most accomplished and admired women. My brief was clear: I wanted to know the best practices, the philosophies, the beliefs that gave these ladies the conviction to stand up and be counted in an essentially man's world. From the 24 women whom I met during the writing of Leading Ladies and now Legacy, I got some priceless pointers on how to lead a more harmonious and meaningful life and I would like to put at least a few of them down here, not necessarily in the order of importance.
Super achievers continually reinvent themselves and don't shy away from taking risks.
HSBC India boss woman Naina Lal Kidwai was the first Indian woman to study at the Harvard Business School. After years in the investment banking business at ANZ Grindlays, she was one of the top guns in the business but she surprised everyone at the bank when she insisted that she wanted to give a shot at retail banking. She knew nothing about the business but she was sleep-waking through her other role and wanted to learn more. "'Women don't push enough for their rightful place; men do that all the time. Very often your push catalyses change as well," she says.
Successful women push their boundaries continuously, verbalise their expectations, don't consider ambition a bad word and don't mope over setbacks.
When Axis Bank head Shikha Sharma got passed over the post of MD at ICICI after 30 years in various key positions in the organisation, it was only a temporary setback. Within days she had walked into the post of the managing director of the country's third largest lender, Axis Bank and has, since then, taken the bank to new heights. "Sunk cost is sunk cost," she says. "Learn to cut your losses and move ahead."
Trend-setting women dream big and make those dreams a reality by the power of their determination and hard work.
When Kiran Mazumdar Shaw returned to India after learning the ropes of brewing in Australia, no Indian company wanted to entrust their brewery to a woman. Kiran used that as the opportunity to set up her own enterprise – Biocon – which is today counted amongst the top companies in biotechnology and biopharmaceuticals in the world. "I want to tell women that timidity kills confidence and the day we get over that we will be able to make a success of everything," she says. Super-achiever women have also mastered the art of taking failure in their stride. Shaw says that we learn a new lesson from every failure that comes our way.
When you look at the women who regularly make it to the top slot at companies or organisations, even in the NGO space, you will see that they seek out the best talent in their industry, mentor them and entrust responsibilities to them.
Great teams make for great success stories, says JP Morgan India head honcho, Kalpana Morparia. In 2008, when she retired from ICICI after over three decades in various capacities, she did not hesitate to take up her most ambitious profile yet – chief executive officer of JP Morgan in India. "My work has defined me in the last 35 years plus of my life and I am not apologetic about it," says Morparia, who also believes that women lose out on a lot of opportunities because they don't network enough.
Successful women are positive, they reach out and seek positive people, they are compassionate, they mentor other women, keep themselves continuously updated about their work and go out and become the change they want to effect.
They have very high standards of integrity, talk about the priceless contribution of supportive spouses and families who have made their journey a smoother one. Most of them have passions and commitments that help the larger community around them. "Success at work is too limited a parameter of a woman's value; she has the power to change the destiny of an entire family," says Mallika Srinivasan, chairperson of tractor manufacturer TAFE.
Work-life balance continues to be the biggest challenge for every woman but the successful ones get around this issue by prioritising their tasks, staying focused, managing their time smartly and by delegating.
"Success at the cost of your personal happiness is meaningless. It is crucial to find the right balance," says Anu Aga, former chairperson of Thermax and member of the National Advisory Commission.
Super achieving women find many ways to beat the stress.
Naina Lal Kidwai used to play piano and now finds solace in listening to music during long flights; Shikha Sharma is a classical music enthusiast who used to sing and is determined she will pick that hobby up again. Once a week, no matter what tasks she needs to address at work, Meher Pudumjee, chairperson of Thermax, goes to sing with a choir group in Pune. For the couple of hours that she spends there, she forgets all her other roles and gives herself up to the unadulterated joy that the singing brings her.

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