She can be a doctor, teacher, lawyer or any professional … and she can be the heir of a family business too.
That’s the woman of today. While earlier sons were the heir-apparent of family business, the trend is gradually changing. Today, women are increasingly taking over the reins of businesses that their fathers and earlier generations set up, taking them to newer heights.
Family-owned companies account for two-thirds of India’s GDP, while 79 per cent of the organised private sector employment is generated by them, says a KPMG survey.
The Indian corporate sector has many examples where women of business familiies eventually became bosses after the generational shift. This trend includes Reddy sisters – Preetha Reddy, Suneeta Reddy, Shobana Kamineni and Sangita Reddy – of Apollo Hospitals, Lakshmi Venu of TVS Motors, Nisaba Adi Godrej of Godrej, Schauna Chauhan of Parle Agro and Devita Saraf of Zenith Computers among others.
The country has numerous small and medium enterprises which were started by individuals and whose leadership continues to be remain within the family. While earlier families considered it an absolute must to have sons to carry forward their legacies, now parents are confidently passing the baton to daughters, who, in turn, have proved their mettle in a competitive world.
Making a difference
When Akshali Shah decided to join Parag Milk Foods, she knew that there would be no short-cuts. That she was the daughter of the founder-chairman of the company – makers of Gowardhan, Topp Up, Pride of Cows and Go Cheese – did not make things any easier for her. She had to go through the grind as any other employee. After obtaining an MBA in Family-Managed Business from SP Jain University, Mumbai, she joined the company as a management trainee.
In the initial period, she worked on sales, brand management, customer marketing and understanding the dynamics of the business. “Taking this route has helped me grow to be the senior vice-president, strategy (sales and marketing), of the company. It has been a wonderful experience to be a part of this transformational journey from being a dairy to a leading FMCG company that focuses on health and nutrition,” says Shah. Her biggest challenge, she quips, was to work with people who had been seeing her since she was a child and to prove to them that she deserved the position she had been given.
Her father is her guiding star, says the proud daughter. “My dad is an institution in himself. I admire the energy he is putting in the business. From my dad, I have also learnt to be honest, ability to take people along and his sense of equality,” she adds.
Started as a dairy by Devendra Shah, Parag Milk Foods is now a pan-India brand. Akshali can claim a significant share of the credit in increasing its popularity in the recent years. Under her supervision, the company has successfully positioned Gowardhan Ghee as the power food, changing its focus from festive to round-the-year consumption interest. When it was launched in 1996, the market was largely for white ghee. At that point of time, the acceptance of yellow ghee was less. From “Baat hai khushi ki”, the brand now talks of “Pyaar ka rang sunehra”.
Among her first challenges at the company was that of making Pride of Cows, which she was solely handling, a premium milk brand. The main objective was to give consumers 100 per cent safe, unadulterated cow milk. “Since inception, we backed our brand with technology and intense research to make it one of the most preferred brands in India in the dairy industry. With introduction of international-level cow comfort technology, zero human intervention and fully-integrated plant, we have been able to produce a product that few others can match. Today, Pride of Cow reaches more than 25,000 household in Mumbai, Pune and Surat,” says Akshali proudly.
She also introduced new packaging for Gowardhan Ghee to make it more convenient to use. Another of her successful ideas was the concept of having a Go Cheese Lover’s Day – a dedicated day where cheese lovers could express their fascination for the product through a consumer engagement program. “The amazing responses from consumers push us to come up with innovative Go Cheese variants. We are proud to have 75 Go cheese variants, one of the largest in the market,” says Akshali.
Women are rarely associated with adventure sports. But, Niharika Nigam is showing the way. Born and brought up in Nasik, Nigam is setting an example for young girls who love adventures. Along with her father, an ex-Army official, she handles Jumpin Heights, a platform for extreme adventure sports activities. “I love adventure sports and I think that participating in such sports helps you prepare for challenges in life. After completing my education, I formally joined the company, which by then had become India’s most popular adventure sports destinations,” she says.
She calls her father the inspiration behind her decision to choose the path where “every season brings new challenges”. She says, “I have seen my father break stereotypes and expand horizons with his conviction. I have learnt from him to hold my ground and always keep pushing forward.”
Nigam loves to whip up desserts or read in her free time. She also offers voluntary services at an NGO that works for the welfare of animals. But most of all she loves adventure. Loving adventure sports is different from handling the business on the field, she admits. “Even before joining Jumpin Heights, I knew that it would not be easy for me. Adventure sports is a niche segment and it will take a lot of hard work to promote it in a country like India. But, after deciding to join it, I never looked back,” she says.
When Jumpin Heights was launched, Nigam was the first to go for bungee jumping. “I think today’s women can take up any challenge, be it working in adverse conditions, taking care of home or taking the family business to the next level,” she remarks.
Nigam has maintained a 360-degree approach to business, looking at every aspect to enhance the overall trajectory. Now managing her father’s business, she identifies the problem areas and levels uneven playing field.
According to her, the misconception foreigners have about safety standards in India is a huge hurdle for adventure sports here. “We decided to change that perception when we began the operations. Today, I can say that Jumpin Heights has busted those misconceptions and is known for its adherence to international safety standards.”
Under her leadership, Jumpin Heights completed 50,000 bungee jumps. The milestone jump was undertaken by Dangal actress Sanya Malhotra, Nigam reveals. Not the one to sit back at this level, she is now working towards setting up a new branch in Goa.
In daughters they trust
Talking about the growing number of women at the helm of enterprises, Archanna Das, associate director of Ascent Foundation, a peer-to-peer platform for entrepreneurs, says, “This change will definitely bring positive impact on business, society and families.” She has worked with several women entrepreneurs who are into family business. “We are witness to many family business enterprises or first generation businesses led by women. These women, very successfully, have managed to create a healthy working support system around them to enable work-life blend. Leaders such as Ameera Shah, Sangita Reddy, Dipali Goenka and others are setting new benchmarks for businesses and leaders,” she remarks.
The major change that has pushed women is their evolution as confident and self-assured persons who are willing to take potential business risks, Das observes. “This is largely due to fact that they are well aware of their strengths as well as weakness. Another key factor is that they are no longer victims to the struggle between a personal and professional life. They have successfully cracked the work-life blend,” she comments.
She points out that in the last three years of her association with the Ascent Foundation, she has seen women who do not hesitate to take up the reins of industries seen as predominantly male centric. She cites the example of a 35-year-old woman who has been helming the operations at her father’s company that manufactures industrial fasteners. “Another member, who is 26, had to take over her father’s business of rubber manufacturing after his untimely demise. Again rubber manufacturing is a male-dominated space with very few women at the helm,” she adds.
Earlier, sons were seen as the undisputed heirs. But, trends have changed gradually. From being the silent and invisible contributors to businesses, women are becoming decision-makers. One of the key factors behind this change is education, analysts say.
“Women are more empowered now. They come with experience and knowledge and have been seen as great leaders. Secondly, today competition is tough. Businesses need leaders who can understand their employees and are equally passionate about their work. It does not matter whether it is a woman or a man. It really comes down to which sibling has the drive to run the business,” says Akshali. Women at the top are a huge inspiration, she adds.
Education gives you a chance to think logically and take your own decision, feels Nigam. “When you take your own decision, you become responsible in life and that leads you to success,” she says.
Thanks to professional education and availability of new digital technologies, there is no glass ceiling for who should wear the boss’s cap. For aspirational women entrepreneurs, Akshali has a few tips: “Believe in your passion. It will give you reason to get up in the morning and drive you to make the difference you want to make. Be open to learning, even if it means learning from the junior-most in your company. Stay connected to your roots. It will keep you humble and help you grow.” Taking it further, Nigam says that the key to success lies within one’s self. “Find your calling, and do that with absolute commitment. Feel proud of the product or service you aim to sell, and let that pride shine through in all your work,” she advises.