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Cover Story
 
WOMEN CEO'S
As Shatter-Proof as Ever!
Women have broken a lot of Gender Barriers in Society, But The Glass ceiling is not Exactly in that List Yet
Issue Date - 17/03/2011
 
Beyond Fair And Lovely
As The First Lady Director on The Emami Board, Priti Sureka is looking for ways to Power The Group to new frontiers

She’s the only woman director on the 15-member board of the Kolkata-based, Rs.30 billion FMCG major Emami Group. The daughter of R.S Agarwal, one of Emami’s two promoters, Priti A. Sureka, 39, is the first female member from the Emami promoter families to become a director.

Priti’s elevation to the board is more than symbolic and goes beyond the clichéd notions of women power and empowerment. At a more profound level, it reflects the changing attitudes of Indian family-run businesses towards female scions. “Typically, the male ego finds it hard to accept a woman as boss in the office. But I had the full support of my parents and they were always there to encourage me,” says Priti.

With next gen members like Priti at the helm, the 27-year-old Emami Group has been on an expansion drive – foraying into new business areas such as real estate, hospitals, beauty service & spa, power and cement manufacturing. The new generation has an ambitious target to grow Emami’s turnover by 30% by 2013. For business scions like Priti, the challenges to grow and diversify her enterprise are all the more formidable, considering that rival companies such as Dabur, Godrej & Marico have, unlike Emami, appointed professional CEOs to manage their diversified ventures.

Priti’s school pals from Loreto in Kolkata remember her as a workaholic and an enthusiast for extra curriculur activities. Her father’s office was located very close to the school, and that made Priti a frequent visitor to her father’s office. That brings us to the question: When was Priti’s first brush with business? “When I was in class VIII, I took up a market research on Boroplus, wanting to find out from my classmates their opinion on the brand,” recalls Priti. Such small stepping stones in understanding consumer behavior eventually prepared Priti to take on and pull off mega initiatives later on. A good example is her initiative to rope in celebrities like Amitabh Bachchan to play brand ambassadors for Emami products.

Branding initiatives were only the beginning and there has been no looking back. From undertaking exercises in brand extensions to setting up an R&D division, which spends about Rs.400 million a year in research on FMCG products, Priti has come a long way indeed. She was instrumental in making significant investments in R&D activities even during the period of the recent economic slowdown. It has been her belief that the Group’s R&D efforts would pay off handsomely once the clouds of recession fully clear away. And with a market capital of Rs.70 billion, she is never shy of exploring new opportunities for her growing business. For fiscal 2011-12, the group plans to strengthen its global business. It recently acquired a Rs.1.5 billion personal-care products manufacturing unit in Egypt. However, there are certain things that the group has to work on. Its returns on capital employed has seen a decline over the years, from 39.63% for the year ending March 2006 to 17.93% for the year ending March 2010. The company’s debt-equity ratio has also increased from 0.33 in March 2006 to 0.41 in March 2010.

In fact, Priti, who is an avid globe-trotter, is specifically waiting for the right opportunity to execute her plans to raise Rs.20 billion for the group through sale of equity. She has been forced to postpone her travelling plans for the purpose this month as her son is appearing for board exams. Meanwhile, she’s also busy grooming her 14-year-old daughter Avishi for business. “An organisation requires women leaders not just for the sake of diversity but also because women bring in fresh ideas and perspectives to the workplace,” says the doting mother.

 
“We can Churn out more Indra Nooyis”

B&E: As with Godrej, in your group too, the daughters-in-law have stayed away from business. Why?
PS: It’s not deliberate. My sisters-in-law are into other businesses, not related to FMCGs. I think if the family can accept daughters in business, they can accept daughters in law too. It is talent that matters. Many business houses have daughters-in-law running the show. Swati Piramal is a good example.

B&E: In your growing up days, did you ever think of becoming a business woman?
PS: Not really. But the typical household activities never attracted me, so I always wanted to do things outside the domestic realm. I enjoyed public speaking and was a very active debater in school. It gave me confidence and helped develop a fighting attitude that has stood me in good stead in dealing with the outside world.

B&E: When did you first come into business?
PS: In school when I was in class VIII, I did a consumer behaviour research for Boroplus. It was not that I fully understood the concept of market research then, but I certainly managed to get the feedback. But my first formal brush with business came when I got involved with the family’s paper-mill business.

B&E: What has been your contribution to the Emami group?
PS: We function as a team under the guidance of two of our founder members. That’s the spirit we share and it would not be fair to single out my individual contribution. But yes, after I became involved with the group’s business, accepting women in our business has become much easier. Today, women hold many key positions in our workforce. From a marketing perspective, my brother and I are always looking to introduce newer ideas but implementing those is a group effort.

B&E: Do you see greater acceptance and nurturing of women talent by Indian business houses?
PS: This country has the power and potential to churn out many more Indra Nooyis. I see so many budding talents in rural India though we are not doing much in nurturing such talent. I don’t blame the education system or the government for this state of affairs. The government is always trying to improve primary education but it would be too far fetched to imagine that primary education alone can create professional CEOs.

By : Angshuman Paul

          

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