Mahadevan's Monologues

If we had the vision and feeling of ordinary human life, it would be like hearing the grass grow and the squirrel’s heart beat and we should die of that roar which lies on the other side of silence. – George Eliot

Tuesday, October 23, 2007


A Recent report reveals that among the Fortune 500 Companies, those in which women are generously represented at the Board level have performed well ahead of others and that these Companies have given better returns to the Investors.

And yet, in India, women are not adequately present at the Board level in both Government and Private Companies. In family owned Companies, generally women are relegated to the background. The Ambani women, except the present patriarch, are unknown to the Business world, though one can notice their glamorous presence in some of the social gatherings. Excepting a few, none of the Birla women sit in the Board room of their family run Companies. That Diva of Page 3 tribe, Parmeshwar Godrej, keeps aloof from the family business, though independently she is an Interior Decorator. Anuradha Mahindra may edit a glossy Society magazine but would not be allowed to participate in Mahindra Group Companies’ Board Meetings. A few women, like Indira Nooyi or Naina Lal Kidwai who have reached the pinnacle of glory in the business world, are in Multi National Companies and not in desi ones. A Sulaja Firodia Motwani, an Anu Agha or a Mallika Sreenivasan may be an exception. Similarly a professionally managed Bank like ICICI Bank may have one or two women at the Board level or an Infosys an independent Director Rama Bijapurkar, who is a leading Market Researcher. Perhaps, the Regulator RBI can boast of two women Dy.Governors. During the last 50 years LIC never had a woman as the CEO or Managing director. Except Indian Bank, none of the nationalised Banks could find enough merit in a woman to lead them. In the Insurance Sector, ICICI Prudential alone could find a woman to head them.

Why do we find women at the Board Meetings, an anathema? Should we not explode the various myths about the ability of women that shroud the corporate world? Indian Bank was resurrected from the ruins by its only woman Chairperson Ranjana Kumar and today Indian Bank is among the performing Banks with an enviable NPA. Mallika Sreenivasan, Chanda Kochar and Anu Agha are stalwarts in their own fields. K.K.Birla’s Hindustan Times, which was catering only to the reading needs of Delhi Citizens, today poses challenge to Times of India, in Mumbai itself thanks to the efforts of Mr.Birla’s daughter Shobhana Barthia. Kiran Majumdar has taken Biocon to very great heights. Simeone Tata, Ratan Tata’s step mother, was totally identified with ‘Lakme’. Another myth was that women could be easily browbeaten by militant Trade Unions. Mallika Sreenivasan and Ranjana Kumar thrived where militant trade unions had always their sway. With liberalized set up and decent wage level, any competent woman can effectively handle the situation and grow well. Family run organizations have illogical preference for sons, though very often struggle among siblings has lead to disintegration. The Sheths, Bajajs and Ambanis bear testimony to this, though the Ambanis, after the separation, have grown in strength.

Another myth is that at the Board level, one needs vision and not mere skills or dexterity and that women lack vision. What a travesty of Truth! Given an opportunity, women at the helm of affairs can do wonders. Ever since she took charge, Indira Nooyi has been constantly innovating in Pepsi, changing business models or product modules and with commendable success. Women have motherly instinct to coddle and yet can be tough if the situation warrants tough handling.

And finally, they say, Mrs. Indira Gandhi was the only man in the Cabinet. Perhaps, many of the potential women directors would demonstrate that they alone matter and that they would not be dwarfed by the tasks ahead. Nurturing a baby or an Organisation, is second nature to them. One wishes, a few years hence, if we get a woman Finance Minister, corporate world would also be dominated by women Directors to the consternation of the present day Corporate Czars.