In a male dominated corporate world, how does it feel to be heading the top credit rating company in India?
It has been a privilege, because CRISIL has always been a trusted voice for the markets, policymakers and regulators. At no stage of my career of 22 years at CRISIL did I feel that I was being treated differently just because I am a woman. This is a meritocratic company. Indeed, it’s been an extremely fulfilling experience so far.
By the way, CRISIL has, over the years, transformed itself into a global analytical company providing ratings, research, and risk and policy advisory services. In India, our clients range from small enterprises to the largest corporations and financial institutions. Globally, our customers include the world’s largest banks and leading corporations. We also work with governments and policy-makers in India and other emerging markets.
Can you recap to My Powai readers your professional journey from school days?
I grew up in Assam – most of my education was done there. After finishing high school, I went to Cotton College in Guwahati, and graduated with a degree in statistics.
In 1984, I joined the Indian Institute of Management – Ahmedabad (IIM-A), from where I graduated two years later. I was selected by IDBI through a campus interview at IIM-A. At IDBI, I worked in the Project Finance division. The training at IDBI and the exposure to the nitty-gritty of how companies work, as well as project finance, stand me in good stead even today.
I joined CRISIL in 1992 and over the years, my role and responsibilities grew. In 2007, I became the MD & CEO when my predecessor and mentor, the late R Ravimohan, moved to a larger role at parent Standard & Poor’s. After taking over, my agenda was two-fold: to build scale within India, and to position CRISIL as a global company. We have made good progress on both these fronts.
In the last 7 years, our reach has expanded from 9 Indian cities to 150. Our international operations now cover more than 30 countries. Our customer base has also grown from 1,000 companies to over 50,000. The main advantage of this size and reach is that we can fulfil our objective of making markets function better.
How difficult is it to maintain the balance at work and home?
When you talk of work-life balance, the implication is you probably do not enjoy one of the two. However, I enjoy both; I derive my happiness from my work, and believe that nothing compares with the satisfaction of a job well done. My work at CRISIL has been a series of challenging, but extremely satisfying, assignments. So no Monday blues. On the personal front, I have had unstinted support from my husband and family – something I am immensely grateful for.
What is the one thing that attracts you in Powai? And one thing you’d change without a second thought?
Powai has been home to CRISIL’s headquarters, called CRISIL House, since 2010. Our rapid growth in the last couple of years meant a widely scattered workforce, which had to be consolidated. Today, the building houses around 2,000 CRISILites.
But the objective wasn’t just to have a larger working space; we wanted an office that would reflect our ethos, so sustainable practices and employee well-being are always priorities. CRISIL House has a platinum LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) rating – one of the few such buildings in the country. The work environment is designed to promote sustainability and productivity with natural lighting, energy and water-saving systems, spacious common areas and all possible employee amenities. Powai is also one of the best localities in Mumbai due to which many CRISILites live here.
Tell us a little about your hobbies and favourite past times?
I enjoy reading a lot. However, since my job requires me to keep myself updated with research and analysis, when I read for pleasure, I look for a complete change – nothing to do with business or management. I love reading biographies, autobiographies and memoirs, and the classics.
One book that I loved and which deeply influenced me is Personal History, a Pulitzer Prize-winning book by Katharine Graham. As I read the book, I grew to admire the author because of the high principles and tremendous courage with which she ran The Washington Post newspaper, which was owned by her family. Despite being unprepared for the top job (she took over after her husband committed suicide), Graham led the newspaper with aplomb during the Watergate scandal that eventually led to US President Richard Nixon’s resignation. I also enjoy travelling. My favourite destinations include the Manas Wildlife Resort in Assam, and Egypt, Prague, Spain and Israel. I am also a movie buff and enjoy watching Bollywood movies.
On the occasion of International Women’s day, what message do you have for women?
It is that to achieve professional success, women should do three things: cultivate focus, sharpen their communication skills and develop a long-term mindset. Together, these traits can maximise their chances of reaching the pinnacle of their profession.
While women have come a long way in corporate India, particularly in the knowledge-based sectors, there is a serious dearth of women leaders. This is unfortunate given that many leadership traits come naturally to them – such as a consultative style and multi-tasking ability.
I think it is probably tougher for women to establish themselves within the first decade or so of their careers compared with men. But once they rise in the organisation, and have an established track record, the fact that they are women becomes irrelevant.
Making women feel comfortable in an organisation is as much about attitudinal and cultural issues as gender policies. So we have tried to create a gender-neutral workplace. Today, ten out of the 14 women leaders at the Director level in CRISIL are working mothers.
I truly believe the barriers for Indian women in the workplace are crumbling fast. And given the focus and ambition today’s women have, they will only do better and better.