Photo: iStock
Photo: iStock

Mother’s Day special: Life lessons CEOs imbibed from their moms

On the occasion of Mother's Day, we asked four CEOs to share traits they have picked up from their mothersand that have become part of their work ethic

On the occasion of Mother’s Day, we asked four CEOs to share traits they have picked up from their mothers—and that have become part of their work ethic.

Ambareesh Murty (45), CEO and co-founder, Pepperfry

Ambareesh Murthy. Photo: Abhijit Bhatlekar/Mint
Ambareesh Murthy. Photo: Abhijit Bhatlekar/Mint

Growing up in a family where “women ruled" was helpful, says Ambareesh Murty. “My mother established for me, quite early, that everybody is equal. She never used her gender to make a point with us," he says. It’s a trait that has stayed with him. “Whatever rules apply to men, apply to women and vice versa," he adds.

Talking about his mother, who died eight years ago, makes Murty emotional. A scientist with the Indian Agricultural Research Institute, Delhi, she single-handedly raised her children (Murty’s father died when he was just 7). “If I could be half the person that she was, I would consider myself to be a success," Murty says.

He recalls how his mother held him and his elder sister to high standards, and never hesitated to reprimand them. “She wouldn’t let anybody else do it, and that is a learning I carry," he says, explaining that he has similar protective feelings towards his staff.

Crises happen, but you cannot let yourself be overwhelmed. “A lot happened in her life which was negative, but she instilled in us a sense of optimism, which I have the deepest value for," he says, adding that it’s this very quality that helps him bounce back from setbacks.

The ephemerality of wealth also became evident early, when the Murty family became a single-income home. “Money comes, money goes. Your goal should be bigger—a legacy, and colleagues who make you want to go to work," Murty says, hoping he can impart these life lessons to his son. “Mom taught me to treasure what I have rather than worrying about what I don’t. If I can pass on those two things to my son, I would have done her memory justice."

Falguni Nayar (55), CEO, Nykaa cosmetics, and wellness retailer

Falguni Nayar. Photo: Abhijit Bhatlekar/Mint
Falguni Nayar. Photo: Abhijit Bhatlekar/Mint

Cultivating a culture of discipline at work is important for Falguni Nayar. How else would you build an online retail company with an estimated value of Rs3,000 crore, in just under six years? Nayar says her inspiration for being tough but nurturing comes from her mother. “She wasn’t a pampering mom," Nayar says, recalling that when she was in college, her mother would expect her to cook for the family, instead of idling, if she had a morning free.

The greatest gift her mother bestowed was to encourage her to be free. “My mother believed in letting us fly. She urged me to experience the world, giving me permission to travel with friends and gather experiences at a young age," Nayar says. “As an entrepreneur, some of my ability to take risks comes from being encouraged to be fearless at a young age." Her mother also encouraged her to excel, a trait that holds her in good stead as a business leader today. “She always pushed us to do our best. If I came second in school, I would have to explain why. She wouldn’t accept less than optimal performance in anything," says Nayar, who hasn’t lowered the bar since.

For her daughter Adwaita, who has joined the business, Nayar has these words of advice: “We have only one life and we have a responsibility to live it to the best of our abilities. I want her to learn to be able to balance the ups and downs that occur in business, and stay on that path," she says.

During a crisis, the entrepreneur channels her mother. “She is a cool cucumber, and doesn’t get stressed about anything. I am like her in that I persevere too," she says.

Avani Davda (38), managing director, Godrej Nature’s Basket

Avani Davda. Photo: Aniruddha Chowdhury/Mint
Avani Davda. Photo: Aniruddha Chowdhury/Mint

Growing up, Avani Davda was never stopped from doing anything she wanted to just because she was a girl. “This complete freedom of choice stayed with me. And now, when I look back, I know that I have become a strong-willed but more flexible leader because of this trait of my mother," she says. In her dealings with colleagues, Davda makes it a point not to interfere with her team when they have been assigned a task—unless, of course, something goes wrong. “I step in then to crisis-manage," she says. Otherwise, they have the freedom to choose their course of action.

Managing the demands at work and the responsibilities on the home front is serious business for most working parents. “My mother has taught me balance. No matter what work pressure entails, at home my son and I spend quality time together," she says.

Another valuable quality Davda learnt was persistence, never giving up. “My mother has been suffering from Parkinson’s disease for the last decade but her illness has never slowed her down," she says. “She gets up every morning to do yoga, manages her tasks. This attitude of not giving up even in the face of adverse circumstances is something I have learnt from her. It helps me to overcome difficult situations," she adds.

Davda recalls a school rangoli competition in class VIII. “I have never been the artistic one and, so, my mother made me practise through the weekend. Her conviction was that if you really want something, you have to put in that effort. I apply that to my work life all the time now," she says.

Upasana Taku (37), co-founder, MobiKwik

Upasana Taku.
Upasana Taku.

We all hear that to succeed we must work hard and never give up. If one thing does not work, then look for other ideas, think out of the box. Growing up, Upasana Taku was deeply influenced by her mother, a homemaker with an interest in art and music.

“I was 12 and had forgotten to tell my mother about a dandiya contest in school. When my mother found out about this, it was 9pm. I had to wear a chaniya choli (a type of lehnga) in a particular colour for the event. The market was shut and to buy one at that hour was impossible," she says. Not one to give up, Taku’s mother stayed up all night to stitch a chaniya choli from one of her silk saris so her daughter wouldn’t feel left out of the school event.

The idea that her mother had the confidence to do things differently, and had the faith that she would be able to achieve it in that short time, stayed with Taku.

“This kind of gumption that my mother had made me look for newer ideas when a deal with a bank that we were chasing for nine months fell through during the initial setting-up stages for MobiKwik. I was more determined than ever to make it work," she adds. Instead of feeling dejected or giving up, Taku made a list of other banks they could reach out to, relocated from Delhi to Mumbai for a few weeks, networked vigorously, and signed a new deal within 40 days.

“When you are trying to do things differently, you cannot get dejected. My mother is the first person who taught me that, and this is one lesson I would certainly want my son to learn," she adds.

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