The Corporate Divas

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Although India boasts of a number of women leaders in the political and social spheres, its business organisations remain largely male bastions. Women are still struggling to break through the glass ceilings that keep them out of the boardroom, and currently hold less than 3 per cent of managerial positions in India.

Today, India is a force in the global economy, with a high demand for talent—and a key pool of this talent is the educated Indian women. While Indian organisations have not yet fully recognised or utilised this talent pool, the growing gender diversity in Indian managerial ranks now offers a breeze of change for Indian women. While the pace of this change is slow for the Indian women to gain executive positions, they have definitely made progress in management, within a relatively short span of time.

The social movement for the upliftment of Indian women had, so far, focused on their welfare and in achieving better treatment for them, but nothing had been done to encourage more women entrepreneurs. According to a study, only 26 per cent of the listed companies (392 of 1500 firms) have a woman on their board. Out of the 278 directors of companies on the BSE, there are only 10 women directors. Apart from this, women executives in India earn 40 per cent less than what men earn over their entire career. Even when compared to their global counterparts, corporate India’s statistics on working women stands below world averages. Over 77 per cent of the 200 largest companies in the world, as ranked by Fortune, had at least one woman director on their board as of 2006. But in India, only 36 per cent of Indian companies have women holding senior management positions as compared to 91 per cent of companies in China. Closer home, among CII members, only 85 companies have women representatives out of a total of 2552 member companies.

There are definitely many road blocks in a woman’s professional journey. The most important is work-life balance. But, today, Indian women are the physical manifestation of power and dedication towards work, having shown brilliance in their respective fields. They keep raising the bar and breaking untouched barriers. Though they are not the majority, Indian women professionals are definitely on the rise and are paving the way for future generations. The number of women managers and entrepreneurs in the corporate sector are definitly rising.

MALLIKA SRINIVASAN

Chairman and CEO

Tractors and Farm Equipment Ltd (TAFE)

Heading a company that is involved in male business, Mallika Srinivasan is one of the most successful women CEOs in India. Chairman and CEO of TAFE, she has been able to make a name for herself in the competitive business world of today. Mallika has always strived to reach for the sky, but her feet were always rooted into the ground. A strong headed woman, she was always brilliant in academics and graduated in Hindi with a gold medal. She is also the recipient of the Kulapathi Gold medal for ranking first in the country in marketing and advertising from the Bhavans College of Mass Communication. An MA in econometrics and an MBA from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, Mallika joined the family business in 1986. With sheer hard work, dedication and a futuristic vision, Mallika brought about major transformations in the company, and under her expert guidance she converted TAFE into a hi-technology-oriented company.

After passing through several road blocks, TAFE is today in strong hands of Mallika, who with strong determination and perseverance, pulled the company up the growth ladder and expanded its area of operations in automotive batteries, etc. Deeply committed to values and ethics, she has always given priority to maintaining long term relationships with customers and stakeholders, and upheld TAFE’s reputation through quality products and customer satisfaction.

Mallika is the first lady to have assumed the role of a president of the Madras Chamber of Commerce and Industry. She is also a prominent member of the governing board of the Indian School of Business, Hyderabad.

Mallika has received all possible awards for her contribution as a business woman. She was the very first recipient of the BBC (UK) Business Woman of the Year Award in 1999, and India Today Award for Business Leadership in 2005, and IIM Award for Business Leadership in the young business leader category in 2007 are some of the other awards she has received.

NEELAM K KUMAR

Executive director

Aplab Limited

A key motivator with the ability to bring about organisational transformation and enhance productivity, Neelam Kumar, executive director, Aplab Limited, has introduced proactive changes and contributed to enhance productivity in Aplab. Established by PS Deodhar, an industry stalwart, Aplab has been an established industry leader for more than four decades, catering to the global market with a wide range of electronic products.

Sheer hard work, determination and an ability to tackle any challenge have been instrumental in Neelam Kumar’s professional success. With an electronics engineering background, the electronics field proved to be a natural choice for her. “Along with specialised technical skills, there is also a need for administrative, social, scholastic and soft skills to achieve success in professional life. There also has to be respect for the team and every individual,” says Neelam.

Neelam represented the student’s union during her college days and was unanimously chosen as the all round best student by the college council. Apart from that, she handled countless challenges with ease and elan due to many years of experience in the electronics industry. “With time, I have learnt a simple truth—there is no substitute for determination, enthusiasm, creativity and motivation. With diligence, hard work and creative zeal, one can overcome any hurdle,” she adds.

She has attempted to ensure that her team members get suitable recognition. Mentoring people to realise their inherent potential comes naturally to her. Neelam helped in creating markets for Aplab in England, Germany and other European countries, besides increasing the national reach of the company and identifying potential avenues for growth.

Despite tough internal challenges, Neelam collaboratively enhanced internal productivity and made the company more professionally oriented. She was responsible for implementing and bringing online the entire operations of the company through a state of-the- art ERP/BAAN at Aplab. She was peer-recognised by many industry bodies, leading national and international universities.

A combination of a traditional upbringing, faith, creative thinking, and a radical approach towards work, can work wonders, according to Neelam. She admires the intrinsic dignity of women. “Although it is true that my profession is male dominated, a feminine touch and basic belief in positive change can alter the mindsets of even the most hard-nosed people. With able assistance from an exceptional team and a supportive family, I assisted in creating change in organisational setups,” she says.

When asked about the smart marketing strategies that she has adopted to lead her company towards success, she replies, “In any industry, identifying prospects is a key business challenge. Enhancing the existing value proposition and assisting in the creation of a new market is essential.”

KALPANA NAAGARAJ

Managing Director

Micron EMS

Belonging to a simple and orthodox south Indian Iyengar family, Kalpana Naagaraj, managing director of Micron EMS, was not aware of the hidden qualities she had to head an electronics manufacturing service (EMS )business. It was only after her marriage, when her husband emphasised on the fact that women need to be economically independent, that a hidden dream was fuelled within her. That’s when she started Micron EMS, now a leading EMS providers focused on delivering complete end-to-end manufacturing solutions to technology companies.

“I worked in L&T, Mysore, one of the most ethical and respected electronics manufacturing giants, which gave me all that was necessary from a management perspective to kick start a professional EMS company,” says Kalpana. Of course, she is technically sound and has tremendous perseverance to carry out a commitment.

When Kalpana started her EMS business in 2003, although it had a lot of potential, it was not a sought after industry for a woman as it was a male dominated domain. Yet, she got into the arena to carve out a place for her dreams, and was faced with a number of hurdles as she had no clue about the rules of the game. So she set her own best practice rules and benchmarks.

“There were two main challenges—getting funds and finding the right lateral hires with right bandwidth who could work for a woman. Now both are history, but I did have my shares of downslides—I hit the dust and rose again with more grit,” recalls Kalpana.

Finance, the most needed component is always a perennial shortage for any business. In her business infancy, Kalpana had no legacy left behind or immovable collaterals to offer to a bank to get a loan. But today, when she looks back, she believes that for her success she owes a little to the shrewd, conservative officers of State Bank of Mysore, who advised her on financial matters and funding. Over the years, she has mastered the financial and management acumen to take her enterprise to the next orbit of sustained growth.

When asked about her achievements, Kalpana says that the satisfaction of establishing a professionally managed enterprise and her ability in identifying lateral hires are her biggest achievements so far. Micron EMS has started its journey of backward integration, and in this process, it has acquired a PCB unit for captive and market consumption. “We have expanded into LED lighting arena as OEM with high mix and high technology involvement,” she informs.

Kalpana has countrywide responsibility for revenues and profitability and ensuring the greatest leverage from Micron EMS services. She sharpened Micron EMS’ strategic focus and improved its operating efficiency and execution, as well as its financial performance and customer focus. She has full confidence in her team, and for her successful career she gives credit to her high performing associates within the company and an extremely supportive husband and family.

KUMUD TYAGI

Vice president

Bergen Associates Pvt Ltd

With 23 years’ experience in the corporate world, Kumud Tyagi, vice president, Bergen Associates, has given her 21 valuable years to Bergen Associates Pvt Ltd. Kumud has an impeccable record of managing business development functions and marketing operations in Bergen with sheer hard work, commitment and dedication. Formed in 1983 by a group of like minded technocrats, the company was set up as a conduit for the supply of European machinery to the Indian electronic industry.

An MBA by qualification, Kumud decided to join the corporate world. Her family environment was a nourishing and inspiring one. With patience and perseverance, and never sacrificing her self respect, Kumud has led Bergen on the growth path.

With a passion for electronics and a mind for innovations, Kumud believes that success comes through continuous knowledge updates, consistency and clear goals. “Despite a male dominated industry, women do not need any special skills or talent to achieve success. All you need is to be strong and determined,” she says.

When asked to specify the smart marketing strategies that she has adopted to bring success to Bergen, pat comes the answer, “You have to stay one step ahead of your competitors and always rely on collective decision making.” Kumud is a team motivator and with her skill enhancement approach, she is well respected by her team members and co-workers.

Although, at times, Kumud felt that the electronics industry is a bit conservative and biased towards women, it did not leave any strong impact on her mind. “The mindset of our society should definitely change and it cannot be changed overnight. It will take its own time,” she says.

Kumud wishes that more and more women join the corporate world. “Women need to first identify their goals and with determination they should go out and achieve them. There will always be obstacle in their path, but that should not hold them from going ahead. They need to keep enhancing their knowledge base and stay up to date with technology,” she says.

UMA REDDY

Managing Director

Hitech Magnetics & Electronics

A die hard entrepreneur at heart, Uma Reddy, managing director, Hitech Magnetics and Electronics, strongly believes that India urgently needs women entrepreneur development programmes to motivate more and more women into entrepreneurship. “Now 50 per cent of the engineering students passing out are women. The challenge is how to get these engineers set up enterprises?” asks a concerned Uma.

Uma has put in 26 years as an entrepreneur and 21 years as a social entrepreneur in the development sector. She helps people define what true entrepreneurship is and what it takes to be a leader. She also brings to the table real life experiences that help people discard myths of businesses. With her interactive and thought provoking style of communication, Uma has become popular among her clients, and as speaker at various international platforms.

Uma does not come from a business family. With an electrical engineering qualification, she began her career while in college designing printed circuit boards (PCBs). “The sheer thought of doing something on my own pushed me into business,” she recalls. She started off with a business of PCB artwork, designing printed circuits for Bharat Electronics. In 1985, she diversified into PCB assembly cable and electronic equipment modules. Today, she is an entrepreneur running a small scale enterprise manufacturing transformers and coils for the electronics industry.

Uma believes that besides hard work, perseverance and dedication, women need to develop the expertise of been able to juggle between home, family, children and work. “Women entrepreneurs need to be good at multitasking, and to achieve success they have to be committed, and most importantly, know how to network,” she says.

So, how does she handle challenges that come her way? “Life is one big roller coaster and every day brings new challenges with it. You have to think ahead and come up with smarter and innovative strategies to handle these challenges,” she says.

Uma has been instrumental in taking Consortium of Electronic Industries of Karnataka (CLIK) ahead. She also shares her expertise with various other organisations like Confederation of Indian Industry (CII), Federation of Karnataka Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FKCCI), etc.

Uma did face the biased attitude towards women but she let her work speak for it. “At times my clients would ask me to send a technical person for the discussion. They cannot believe that a woman can also be a technical person. Also, this industry believes that woman are only capable of handling small orders. So every time I have to prove myself,” says Uma.

Uma has another clear agenda—to build an industrial academic link, which would bridge the gap between the industry and the engineering students. She has been conferred with several awards—the National Award as a women entrepreneur in the SSI sector, and Karnataka state’s Rajyotsava Award for social work among women, are the ones she cherishes the most.

GEETHA V

Director, Business Development

Micro Technologies (India) Ltd

Geetha V is the director, business development, Micro Technologies (India) and plays a pivotal role in building a new market for the company outside Maharashtra. Micro Technologies is an IT based company and leading global developer and manufacturer of security devices for its clients across the globe.

An advertising and marketing professional with over 18 years of experience, Geetha works with passion, integrity, transparency and commitment. “In advertising and marketing line, you get good exposure to various brands and product categories at the same time,” says Geetha. Electronics is a new field for Geetha but she likes to take up challenges and difficult tasks which will give her an opportunity to prove herself.

Geetha started her career with an advertising agency of Saatchi and Saatchi in Delhi, before working at various other advertising agencies in the city. Thereafter, she worked in various advertising agencies in Delhi. She spent a good number of years in Dubai as the marketing manager of an apparel company. She joined Micro Technologies a year back. “Electronics is a very challenging platform, particularly the market in Delhi, because here we have two very different verticals—public and private sectors, with completely different types of challenges and clients,” she says. Geetha could have taken up an easy job where the struggle is less but she chose to take up this assignment as it seemed more challenging. “I have always started a project from the scratch and built it up, and that is my major achievement,” she adds. She has conceptualised and executed several strategic initiatives in Micro Technologies.

Geetha strongly believes and advocates empowerment of women. “I have learnt very early in my life that if you think that women are different from men, you put yourself in a defensive position. But the moment you believe that women and men are at par, the challenges that men face become common for women as well,” states Geetha.

Geetha has always followed her dreams. She believes that if one’s goals are clear and if one works with passion, then success will come knocking at the door. Geetha has always thought out of the box and deviated from the path to do something new and innovative. She aspires to see more women joining the male driven electronics industry.

Sujata Soparkar

Managing Director

Integrated Electronics Technology Pvt Ltd

With the sudden demise of her father, at the tender age of 21, she inherited the reins of a sick unit. She not only took up the challenge way back in 1982, but proved herself by turning it into a successful venture. Today, 29 years later, Sujata Soparkar heads two efficient electronics companies—Integrated Electronics Technology and Intron Electronics. Integrated Electronics develops and manufactures high quality thin film resistors, resistor networks and custom designed hybrids whereas Intron Electronics is a distributor for precision passives from all over the world. Her company’s products are import substitutes that are supplied all over India to giants like BHEL, Avery, Yokogawa, HAL, etc, and also exported to USA, South Korea and Germany.

Wasn’t it tough for her to make a mark in this otherwise male dominated sector? “There is not much of a difference between a male and a female entrepreneur. The fact that you do not see many women in this sector is because the overall percentage of them in the technical manufacturing line is low,” says Sujata. A woman of strong determination, she doesn’t think that her being a fairer sex came in the way of her work at any point of time.

Sujata has been felicitated by many organisations for her achievements, including the first prize for Best Entrepreneur of the Year by the Maharashtra Chambers of Commerce in 1990. However, the path to her success was not an easy one. “To come out of sickness, I had to first drastically cut costs. We shifted our focus from R&D to production efficiency,” she recalls. There were labour related issues as well. Her father had a 160 member workforce and had incurred heavy losses after a strike. “I was able to improve efficiency by adopting semi-automation,” she adds.

Being a small scale industry with low capital, she could not achieve the economy of scale and so could not compete with larger firms as well as the large scale imports. “I concentrated on a niche market, of precision low tolerance, low TCR resistors and resistor networks. We are today the only company in India manufacturing radial low TCR resistors with application in weighing scales, chart recorders, calibration equipments and other high end electronic instruments,” she quips. She now runs the company with just 20 employees—most of them are women who are giving a ten fold increase in the company’s top line.

Despite her busy schedule managing three companies, Sujata takes active interest in social work as well. When she is not busy making strategies to improvise her business, she likes to indulge in social activities. She is an vice president of Thane Small Scale Industries Association, and an executive committee member of ELCINA. Sujata doesn’t believe in resting on her laurels but keeps setting new benchmarks for herself.

SHUBHRA MOHANKA

director

Solid Solar

Shubhra Mohanka, director, Solid Solar, proved that a number of factors contribute to success for modern Indian women in the workplace. Good education, effective communication skills and a professional attitude toward work and co-workers, are the key to attain managerial roles, she feels. Qualified as a BSc. from St Stephen’s College in Delhi and MBA from Management Development Institute, Gurgaon, Shubhra has worked in HCL Technologies as global product manager, before joining her own business in solar products. “The major skills required to start an enterprise are to understand the industry and how to manage a business,” she says. “I have realised that the skills that are required to reach the top and do well in this industry is to design and develop products and services based on the feedback of the customers. The products and their performance would speak for themselves and then the gender bias would cease to matter,” she adds.

While joining the solar business, Shubhra faced a few challenges like being a novice in a male dominated technical marketplace, and creating a brand from scratch. But she proved that being a lifelong learner is also essential for success. “Success is a mix of tradeoffs, perseverance and focus. I succeeded in taking my company up the ladder largely due to my professional excellence and intellectual abilities and, of course, unstinting support from my team and family,” she says.

Shubhra has looked at every aspect of the solar business—strategy, planning, buying, research and operations. She handles all challenges that come her way in a strategic manner. “I continuously anticipate and understand the requirements of the industry and try to keep the company ahead of the curve by regular launching of new products. We are India’s largest solar lights manufacturer, and hold patents for our products. We have also been awarded for our innovations,” she states.

One of the smart marketing strategies that Shubhra adopted was to focus on certifications of products, innovativeness and adoption of new technology.

When asked about her future plans, Shubhra is quick to answer. “This is just the beginning of the success. I have to take my company much ahead and penetrate new customer segments and expand the market for our products.”

HEMA JAIN

Managing Director

Iceberg Impex Pvt Ltd

With an aspiration to be her own boss, Hema Jain, founded Iceberg Impex in 2006. Previously, Hema had worked in various companies like Thakkral Computer, Orient Technologies, HSBC Bank and Indiabulls. Hema holds an MBA degree in marketing but doesn’t have any technical background. “This has never deterred me from running my organisation successfully,” says Hema. “Every day comes with new challenges and I believe a problem looks bigger only when you try to avoid it. Once you start paying attention to the problem, it becomes smaller and smaller. Then it is easy to resolve it. This works, believe me,” she adds. Of course, it was not easy raising finance, attracting talent, and convincing customers about her company’s products.

“Men can focus on their businesses day and night, but for women its home, family, kids and business—each of these require time, effort and physical presence. Creating a balance between these and still waking up fresh with new energy and ideas is the biggest challenge and achievement. A woman also needs to make a mark to sustain in her position at the top,” explains Hema.

Hema believes clear communication and timely coordination is the road to success. In the present competitive market, one has to be on the job 24×7. “This does not mean you have to be in office 24×7, but you have to be responsible for what’s happening in your office. You have to keep yourself up to date about all the departments like administration, accounts, shipping, etc. Even if you are on the move, you have to stay connected with your company and customers,” she states.

Hema is responsible for the operations, marketing and profitability of the company. She has also provided leadership and strategic impetus to the company. Under her leadership, Iceberg has added a number of product lines which includes CNC machine spare parts, Siemens Simatic CPUs, and servo driven PLC boards. She further plans to diversify into computer hardware, and to sell its products online.

“The initial years were slightly difficult but as I started understanding business, Iceberg started expanding rapidly. Hema’s passion lies in people development, especially mentoring and grooming young talent into highly successful and effective managers and leaders. Being a woman herself, she is passionate about empowering and developing women in Iceberg.

Nina Benjamin Singh

Director

Inphynyt Accumulators India Pvt Ltd

She not only dared to enter the male dominated electronics sector, but has also carved a niche for herself within the industry. The epitome of positivity and an inspiration to other women who want to make a mark in the electronics industry, Nina’s experience in building a business delivering large scale transformations, coupled with her proven leadership, has enabled her to be a business woman with a strategic vision.

When asked if she acquired any professional skills prior to starting a business, Nina replies, “The only skill you require is the fire in your belly.” Inphynyt Accumulators is the first company in India to offer ‘non-stop’ warranty on its complete range of automotive and standby batteries. Over the last 20 years, Nina has had the unique exposure of working in different industries across different countries—setting up a business that operates internationally, coupled with having indepth understanding of the Indian markets. She started her career by selling consumer goods and services in Indian markets, and went on to the international arena, transitioning the first German process in the Indian BPO domain, and then went on to managing large projects across continents.

Topping a German language course led her to a scholarship from the foreign ministry of Germany to do a post-graduate course in business in Munich. So, Nina’s entry into the battery business was almost an accident, and desire to prove her mettel in the industry where woman have not risen to top, motivated to stay on. As a business leader, she builds strong professional connections with her customers and has a deep understanding of their needs. An advocate of quality, she has been instrumental in setting up benchmarks for herself and the company.

With her determination, commitment and positivity, Nina faces all challenges bravely and comes out victorious. Though her head is held high, her feet are rooted to the ground. Nina knows how to conquer the market in a very short span of time. Inphynyt was established in 2010 and soon achieved a good response from the market. “Inphynyt batteries have arrived…and the market is responding positively. We have a winner in our hands, and that’s my biggest achievement so far, though we still have a long way to go,” she explains.

“At times, I feel women do not display the same rigour, zest and zeal for their profession as they do for their family. It’s high time that women realise their hidden talents and come out in good numbers to be entrepreneurs. Initially, you have to prove yourself with hard work; then, for the rest of your life you can enjoy the attention and respect you get for being a woman entrepreneur. But you have to be one up, every time,” she says.

When asked about her future plans, Nina says, “A pan India presence of Inphynyt is part of my plans. Making the franchise model of ‘Inphynyt power hubs’ more and more beneficial to our customers and business partners, and creating a chain of one-stop-shops for all battery requirements all over the country, will be my contribution to the electronics industry.”

Shivani Agarwal

Director

Aaj Tech Trading Corporation

After her graduation from Dehradun, Shivani Agarwal, now director of Aaj Tech Trading Corporation, came to Delhi in 2004 to do higher studies in e-commerce and trade. After completing her course, she landed a good job of a liason officer, but luck took her to electronics trading domain. Though Shivani did not belong to a business family, business was running in her blood. In a big city like Delhi, it was an herculean task to start a new venture. For four months she studied the trends in the international electronics markets on the Internet and from various magazines. Finally, she succeeded in locating a supplier who wanted to market his products in India. Shivani had very little capital but with the support of her parents, she started a trading business. The company imports goods from China and Taiwan and markets them under the brand name, ‘YY’ and ‘Neltron’. Its major market includes the power industry, production houses and manufacturers. The company also provides OEM services to well known companies such as HP, NEC, Sony and others.

“Within a very short span of time, I have established Aaj Tech as a name of high repute in the industry. It has earned a good name amongst its customers for its excellent service, on-time delivery and competitive prices,” says Shivani.

Recalling her initial struggles in business, Shivani says that the first three years were pretty tough, as in a male dominated industry it is difficult for a starter to get established and create clientele. “But with time and my commitment to trade, my company was accepted and my clients started showing faith in it,” she says.

As a message to women who want to start their enterprises, Shivani says that they should not be disheartened during the initial days of struggle. “After two-three years, they will become comfortable in their businesses. Ours is a male dominated society and women entrepreneurs are not easily accepted. They have to prove themselves again and again,” she says. But Shivani was determined and, today, she has broken barriers and excelled in the industry. “I focused only on consistent quality and, hence, gained the faith and trust of those in the market. Today, clients who earlier refused to even speak to me are eager to do business with me,” quips Shivani.

Shivani believes that a good education and an open mind are essential to start a business and make it successful. “Although the elements of success are the same, whether you are a man or a woman, yet, women need to prove themselves a little more. Believe in yourself and enjoy what you are doing,” she says. Today she manages a full-fledged independent business, and conceptualises strategically and with a long term vision. Shivani is focused totally on her business but believes life is multifaceted. She wants to give equal commitment to her six month old marriage and make it a success as well.

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Key strengths of Indian women as managers

  • Ability to network with colleagues
  • Ability to perceive and understand situations
  • Strong sense of dedication, loyalty and commitment to
    their organisations
  • Ability to multitask
  • Collaborative work style—
    soliciting inputs from others, with respect for ideas
  • Crisis management skills
  • Willingness to share information (interactive leadership style)
  • Sensitivity in relationships (example, compassionate, empathetic, understanding)
  • Gender neutral manner
    behavioural style

Source: SHRM

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Some HR management practices to create a women friendly organisation

  • Senior management commitment to gender issues

  • Career development programmes for women

  • Exposure of women to top

  • management

  • Leadership development

  • programmes for women

  • Job rotation for women

  • Recruitment of women at

  • senior-level positions

  • Regular survey of women to

  • assess job satisfaction

  • Mentoring programmes for women

  • Childcare facilities at work

Source: SHRM

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