While India’s automobile industry is among the country’s oldest, it’s still largely dominated by men, who occupy most positions across companies, from chief executive to shop-floor worker. In a country that elected a woman prime minister when women political leaders were a rarity worldwide, few vehicle makers have chosen women executives to lead their business. Still, there are a handful of women in the Indian auto business and the numbers are growing, albeit gradually. Mint brings you portraits of some who are holding their own in the industry.
Sulajja Firodia Motwani Managing director, Kinetic Motor Co. Ltd, and director, Kinetic Engineering Ltd
Date of birth: 26 August 1970.
Year of joining: 1996, as joint managing director.
Achieved current position by: 2006.
Educational qualification: MBA (finance), Carnegie Mellon University, Pennsylvania, 1992; B.Com, Brihan Maharashtra College of Commerce, Pune, 1990.
Professional training: After completing post-graduation, joined BARRA International in Berkeley, California, and worked there for four years.
Challenges faced: Joined Kinetic when the company was in the middle of getting out of a joint venture with Honda Motor Co. Ltd. Played a key role in forming international alliances such as those with Taiwan’s San Yang Motor Co. Ltd (SYM) and Italy’s Italjet SpA.
Future strategy: “Plans for next few years are centred around building and growing the auto component business, as well as launching superior scooters from our associations with SYM and Italjet... There will also be a strong push on the component business. I am targeting to grow it to about Rs500 crore by 2010.”
On being a woman in the male-dominated auto industry: “I have been very well accepted in this industry and workplace. I have been here for a decade, interacting with a very diverse set of people—associates, dealers, media, employees, and so on, and do not have a single unpleasant incident to report.”
Policy on hiring women: “As a policy, we recruit gender-neutral... I would love to see more women applying to us for any department. Mostly, women at Kinetic are working in marketing, HR (human resources), accounting and finance. Kinetic Engineering’s CFO (chief financial officer) is a woman (Madhuri Dandekar), and I am really happy to have her on board. Also, my dealer network manager is a woman and a very tough one at that. She is a lot more effective than the men!”
Harshbeena Sahney Zaveri President, NRB Bearings Ltd
Date of birth: 1 March 1960
Year of joining: 1986, as a management trainee
Achieved current position by: 1999
Educational qualification: Graduated summa cum laude with an honours thesis from Wellesley College, Massachusetts, in 1982. Has a degree in education from University of Bombay.
Professional training: Gradually moved up the ladder within NRB. Became a purchase manager and then vice-president (purchase) before the board appointed her as a whole-time director with functional charge of marketing and later with the additional charge of corporate quality
Challenges faced: As the head of the engineering department, mooted the idea of not signing a technical agreement with NRB’s foreign collaborator—a decision that was ultimately made in 2000. Subsequently, NRB bought out the 26% stake held in the company by its foreign collaborator Timken France SAS (formerly Nadella SA France).
Future strategies: The objective of NRB is to become a $1 billion company by 2020. “My favourite quotation has always been from Einstein: ‘In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity.’ And I think that this is the great opportunity for the Indian automotive industry to improve.”
On being a woman in the male-dominated auto industry: “To be accepted, you have to perform better than the average male... It’s not like you are accepted easily, (and) so your risk-taking ability has become higher in that sense. I knew that I have to do things better and well because I was a woman. I never felt it was a disadvantage—it’s an advantage because difficulties and challenges have an advantage.”
Policy on hiring women: “One thing I firmly believe in is diversity. We hire for diversity and are a very open company... wherever we go in terms of setting up plants, we hire local people. ...at all levels of management, we like diversity...we consciously hire for diversity, and women are diverse.”
Mallika Srinivasan Director, Tractors and Farm Equipment Ltd (TAFE)
Date of birth: 19 November 1959.
Year of joining: 1981, before she left to do an MBA. Returned in 1985 and rejoined as general manager, planning and coordination.
Achieved current position by: 1994.
Educational qualification: MBA, the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, 1985; MA (econometrics), University of Madras, 1981.
Professional training: Has only worked with TAFE.
Challenges faced: Helped TAFE grow revenues from $20 million in 1986 to $800 million in 2007—a growth funded largely though internal accruals. Also initiated steps for the company to expand globally—TAFE’s products are now sold in 80 countries. The challenge, she says, is “to ensure that development happens across the company in all functions in order to give the best levels of customer satisfaction in all areas... Above all, it is the people who make the difference. The role of the CEO, therefore, is to unite the people into a cohesive team working towards a common goal.”
Future strategies: “We are fast approaching a billion dollar turnover and are among the top 10 largest tractor manufacturers in the world. We are focused on expanding and building our farm machinery business. Our association with AGCO Corp., USA, for close to 48 years has been the longest such partnership in the tractor industry worldwide.”
On being a woman in the male-dominated auto industry: “Our country has encouraged competent women in senior positions in government, business, education and in every other field. India and South Asia have seen a larger number of national leaders being women... ”
Policy on hiring women: “In India, where there is an increasing thirst for talent, and where basic and higher education levels of women are rising, no industry can afford to ignore this large talent pool. Diversity brings with it a healthy and unique perspective and hence our policy of recruitment is: The best person for the job.”
Shradha Suri Marwah Executive director, Subros Ltd
Date of birth: 22 March 1978.
Year of joining: 2000, as an executive trainee.
Achieved current position by: End-2005.
Educational qualification: Economics graduate from University of Delhi, 1998; post-graduation in management from University of Leeds, UK, 1999; and in information systems from the London School of Economics, 2001.
Professional training: Prior to joining Subros, worked with Six Continents Plc., UK, and Reebok India. Elected to the board in 2004 and subsequently made executive director the following year. “My coming to the board was a strategic move because we were aligning ourselves to our partner Denso’s processes at that point in time. Somebody needed to go there (to Japan) and represent us. By virtue of doing that, I had to quickly move up the ladder because you have to be of a certain level and stature to go there and represent yourself. It wasn’t part of the original plan, though.”
Challenges faced: “We have worked very hard on people, and that has paid off. Over the last seven years, we’ve developed a decent level of processes, and we’ve been able to align people to those processes. It’s been a big challenge to get so many people to think in a particular way, accept the process and work with it. There were (also) certain decisions on technology we took which involved huge investments, which I was very clear had to be done.”
Future strategies: “Subros will continue to focus on its key customers Maruti Suzuki (India), Tata Motors and Mahindra and Mahindra. We will also get into air conditioning for buses and trucks.”
On being a woman in the male-dominated auto industry: “When I joined the company, I was probably the third woman there, the other two were receptionists. Subros didn’t know what women were! As work started and people saw me performing, they recognized me as Shradha the person, rather than Shradha the woman.”
Policy on hiring women: “I don’t think there is conscious policy to attract more women. We try to fit the person with the role.”
Additional reporting by Ravi Krishnan