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Verve's 50 Power Women 2010
Published: Volume 18, Issue 6, June, 2010

Vinita Bali 54
Management Maven

Five years ago, she came on board the Wadia Group to turn their iconic brand’s fortunes around. Today, as in the song, Britannia rules the waves. The management maven has been credited with the resurrection of one of India’s best-known companies, and her influence within the group – to say nothing of her brand’s revenue – has grown in leaps and bounds over the last year

With a sterling career already in her wake, it may seem like the Managing Director of Britannia Industries Limited – the first woman outside the Wadia family to hold such an influential position – has lived a professional life that will be better told in a biography than a résumé. But then, she didn’t get to this stage by resting on her laurels. Her journey stretches right back to attaining the top of the pile at Cadbury’s in the hoary 1980s, where she chewed up the glass ceiling the way others chew, well, chocolate. A series of distinguished posts all over the world, from South Africa to the UK, culminated in her stewardship of Britannia, a well-loved but somewhat moribund outfit that, five years after her entry, is now known as one of India’s most trusted, innovative and successful brands. Her expertise has seen profits aplenty for the good ship Britannia over the last year, with figures showing a company valued at almost double the amount it was pre-Bali. And her new responsibilities within the group, including direct responsibility for that other immortal Wadia brand, Bombay Dyeing. The biscuits might be flaky and crumbly – the woman behind their success is all steel.

Zia Mody 54
Legal Titan

An authority on corporate mergers, acquisitions law, securities law, private equity and finance projects, this legal eagle heads her firm, AZB and Partners. It received the National Law Firm of the Year award for India at The Chambers Asia Awards 2010 in Singapore for the biggest Indian outbound deal this year – the Bharti-Zain deal which was for USD 10.7 billion

If you’re looking for inspiration in my house, you don’t have to look very far. But you may have to trek up to the office-room on the third floor, to find it there, in the image of my mother; coffee stationed on the left, papers positioned on the right, and Avinash, the nocturnal peon, holding fort, front and centre.

My five-foot tall mother personifies the phrase ‘Size doesn’t matter’ and it would take only five minutes of interacting with her, for one to learn and fear this! But if you dig beneath the strong façade, one that a female lawyer in India is forced to don, you will discover a most soft, caring and sensitive soul. Mummy is always the first among us four Mody girls to start off a chain reaction of tears, while watching sappy movies on lazy Sundays. She is constantly going out of her way to help others; whether it’s advising my youngest sister on her history paper, or devoting her priceless attention to pro bono work at the office. Coupled with her kindness is an immense passion and drive, which is reflected in every task she will ever undertake.

This includes being a mother. I am shocked and yet proud every time ‘Mummy Office’ flashes on my phone at 7 p.m. Eastern Standard Time, when I am wrapping up my classes for the day. It is incredible to me that her success has not slightly encroached upon her remarkable work ethic, and even more so that she culls time out of her busy schedule to call me every day – even if it’s just to say she loves me.

As I now embark upon my own journey, along the same professional path as my mother, I am fearless, being so secure in the fact that she will forever be my compass, guiding me through the thickets of the legal world. I couldn’t have asked for a better teacher.

Zia Mody’s second daughter, Aarti, graduates from Brandeis in the US, this year.

Ritu Kumar 65
Vital Restorer

It all began with this designer 40 years ago and she continues to set standards in the fashion realm. Her costumes and evening dresses have also graced innumerable Miss India contestants, winning prizes and accolades on international stages over the decades

She rediscovered India’s traditional textile heritage at a time when plastics and nylon ruled current sensibilities. She dared to look into the country’s design past to create for the future. And this veteran designer continues to wow audiences at Fashion Weeks and ramp shows with her interpretations of ancient textiles and patterns. Today, joined by her son Amrish, under the sub-brand LABEL, she continues to reinterpret traditional Indian design, converting it into an international product. An authority on the subject, she has compiled her knowledge in The Costumes and Textiles of Royal India, a treasure trove of information.

Priya Paul 44
Savvy Hotelier

The chairperson of the Apeejay Surrendra Park Hotels, second-generation industrialist, continues to grow her luxury empire, be it the hotels or the chain of Oxford bookstores and Cha Bars that she owns with her sister, Priti Paul

Priya Paul, entrepreneur, epicure, amazing sibling, friend and mother. Steering The Park from a decrepit monster into its now gleaming avatar in Hyderabad. From the businesses she runs, to the love of the arts to the varied interests and friends, Priya and her sister Priti inhabit the world with ease and élan and return home from their travels to being one tight family unit with their sister, mother and brother.

Veteran fashion designer, Tarun Tahiliani, collaborated on the structure and the interiors of the Pauls’ new venture, The Sol in Goa, and designed a restaurant and suite at the new Park Hotel in Hyderabad.

Naina Lal Kidwai 53
Corporate Czarina

Mergers and acquisitions occupy her time. Otherwise, you may find the Managing director of HSBC Bank, the first Indian woman to have graduated from Harvard Business School with an MBA, trekking in the Himalayas. In 2000, Fortune magazine declared her the third most powerful businesswoman in Asia. And the accolades have continued to flow including a Padma Shri

Your biggest achievements of 2009-2010?
The acquisition of IL and FS Investmart retail broking business, integrating it into HSBC and re-branding it as HSBC Investdirect. I have worked on advising many mergers and acquisitions as an investment banker. In this case it was interesting closing the deal and then working on the integration plans regarding people and technology, after.

Are you comfortable being a woman in the world of finance, dominated by men?
I have stopped thinking about this ages ago – yes, entirely comfortable. The good news is I believe the men are too!

What are your other passions?
Working with the not for profit sector in the areas of empowerment of women and environment. Music particularly classical Indian and Western music. Wildlife safaris to Kaziranga and Kanha and Africa for long weekends. Reading.

Does personal style have a place in the world of finance? How would you describe your sense of style?
I regard my style as being a team player. Could be coach or captain depending on the situation. We employ 35000 people in India in multiple locations and adapting one’s style of approach to each situation is important while holding true to core values.

Any accessory you just cannot do without?
My BlackBerry! Unfortunately my husband can hear me on it a mile away!

What is your life/work philosophy?
To enjoy what I do to the fullest at work and at play. I enjoy my family and my work enough to not want to compromise either. And therefore to manage time becomes key.


Gyan Sudha Mishra 61
Trail-blazing Judge

The first woman chief justice of Jharkhand High Court recently assumed office as the fourth – and currently the only – female judge of the highest court of our country

After four years there is a woman judge in the Supreme Court again. Two days after she turned 61, her elevation to the Supreme Court a few weeks ago pays tribute to her legal acumen and judicious interpretation of the letter and spirit of the law of the land. Having already made an impact as the first woman chief justice of Jharkhand High Court, the Hon’ble Justice Gyan Sudha Mishra – who was previously a judge of the Rajasthan High Court for 14 years – has followed in the footsteps of Fatima Beevi, Sujata Manohar and Ruma Pal to the highest court of the land. It is said that she is simplicity at its best, something she had exemplified earlier after she took over as CJ, Jharkhand High Court. When she joined thousands of kanwariyas to offer prayers at the Lord Baidyanath temple in Deoghar, she insisted that no special arrangements be made for her and no inconvenience be caused to the pilgrims for her security. Interestingly, with her new appointment, after 15 years she returns home to the capital.

Anamika Khanna 38
Multi-layered Designer

Kolkata’s ace fashion designer continues to thrill with her domestic collections as well as her international prêt label, Ana Mika, besides making inroads into Bollywood. While her somewhat reclusive persona creates an aura of exclusivity, her work speaks on her behalf

I have her saris, westerns, lehengas, tunics…. She combines the aesthetic of the Japanese, the detailing of India and western silhouettes. I identify clearly with her designs. I love her stark, slim silhouette which is very western and the colours she uses which are very Japanese. She is not out and out commercial so you are always wearing one of a kind. All her pieces are couture pieces. They are classics. To me, she represents the perfect mix of East and West.

Former model, Feroze Gujral is a sometime writer, socialista and adventure aficionado who believes in dressing to kill, whatever the occasion!

Archana Tyagi Sharma 42
Tough Cop

The DIG Central Industrial Security Force (CISF), Airport Sector, West Zone, who took up her new posting last year, is not bogged down by responsibility or risks and is driven by a passion to do something good for society and the nation

What are the challenges you face in your new posting?
Each day is unpredictable. In fact, I don’t know what the next moment will be. I have to be on my toes all the time. The unpredictability is the challenge.

What prompted your choice of profession?
The legal power, vested in a police officer, if used properly, can be of great benefit to society. When you join the IAS or IPS, you are young. Many people choose the IPS because they want to remain in India and contribute to the country. I was a lecturer, teaching MA students in a co-ed college. Many boys were bigger than me in height and build. Though young for a lecturer, I was slightly strict. One student once asked me why I did not go join the police force! That set me thinking. I have always been quite a disciplinarian so this job is an extension of my basic nature. When we were growing up, the serial Udaan inspired us. Kiran Bedi was an icon.

With this power comes responsibility and risks....
Yes, it brings with it the authority that needs to be used in the proper manner. And as far as risks go, even if you sit at home, it can be risky. We are trained to face risks and are at an advantageous position compared to common men in terms of our physical, mental and martial training.

Which of your postings has been the most challenging?
Before this, I was Addl CP, West Zone, which was a very high-profile posting with many celebrities in the area. It was a rich high-crime area and due to its nature, even the smallest theft was made a big issue of. One had to deal with the media attention all the time. In terms of challenge, I found being SP Thane, Rural, quite challenging. It is the biggest district in Maharashtra, with tribal problems, a mix of urban and rural policies. One had to deal with issues with the limited resources available there.

Does the power rest lightly on your shoulders?
It is only when I am in my uniform and in my police car do I feel that I am powerful. Otherwise I am a normal citizen like anyone else. The power does not give me horns or turn me into a god! It comes with the post I hold.

Who has influenced you the most?
No single individual is my role model. I appreciate every person. I constantly take feedback from my seniors and juniors. I would even learn something from a constable who reports to me.


Ashvini Yardi 37
Tele Topper

The head of programming, Colors, has survived the incredible rollercoaster ride of another year, ensuring that the barely two-year-old channel has registered a phenomenal growth in a short span of time

What was the major milestone of 2009-2010?
We have scaled some unimaginable peaks in the last one year. Our greatest milestone last year was when we had to drop the word ‘naya’ from our tagline ‘ek naya Hindi entertainment channel’ in just three months of the launch!

What is Colors’ position in TRPs?
We have captured the top spot on the TRP charts. The channel is currently No 2 (the rating at this moment of time). We are looking at consolidating our position further by launching new shows and formats in various time bands.

How would you define the power of your shows and the simple rural characters?
Before Colors came on the Indian television scenario, all viewers got to see were opulent households, larger-than-life characters dressed in flashy clothes. After years of seeing the same, fatigue had most definitely set in and rural stories were just waiting to be told. As a channel we understand that more than 50 per cent of our audience belongs to rural India.

Do social issues work in soaps?
They make for great subject matter and lend credibility to the shows making them much more than just entertainment shows with pretty faces. Social issues help us connect with audiences better.

The power of tapping into emotions?
Emotions are the basic differentiator of the human race from the animal kingdom. We are because we feel. They are thus the most basic yet the most important thing when you want someone to relate to your show. Emotions have immense power.

Do you suffer any panic attacks?
Oh lots! Every time a new show is going to go on air, no matter how prepared I am, there’s always time for a panic attack!

How do you cope with competition?
I am actually rather thankful to my competitors for compelling me to push myself beyond my own expectations!


Arundhati Roy 48
Free Radical

She has been in the eye of one political storm after another over the last decade, but her current engagement with the Naxalites of Central India may just be the writer-journalist’s most demanding test yet – to say nothing of what it asks of her readers

Her most recent anthology of political writing, 2009’s Listening to Grasshoppers: Fieldnotes on Democracy gained critical acclaim abroad, and gave many readers at home a quiet eerie reminder of the last decade in political crime – and punishment – in India. The Booker Prize winner’s writing has gained ground over time: looking over the essays and reportage she characterises as ‘feral howls’ against the abuse of state power, it is possible to judge their context in hindsight. Crusading always on the premise of justice for the little guy, in the last ten years she has written, argued, harangued and – yes – shrieked at a volume that not many people with quite such carrying voices did, in an atmosphere far less comfortable than it may seem to us now. She may not be the only vocal critic of the state, nor yet the most persuasive. Her writing is deliberately provocative: not only to her habitual naysayers, the institutionalists and the pundits of the right wing, but also, more troublingly, to the neutral Indian. Her recent essays on the Naxalite standoff with state forces in much of Central India have polarised public awareness of the situation in ways that no other Indian journalists or activists writing in English have done. But no one has done more for the public awareness of injustice, either, and her work has its place in the democratic canon of watchdog writing for that very surfeit of attention.


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