Women have traditionally played a somewhat ‘invisible’ role in their family businesses, working behind the scenes in administrative duties, as informal advisors and moderators or focusing exclusively on managing their households. With gender stereotyping gradually making way for gender parity, women are now charting out a more defined role in family owned companies.
Gender stereotyping is often reflected in the nature of roles and decision-making. Even when the credentials of women in family firms are equal to, or better than, those of their male counterparts, it was not uncommon that other business stakeholders bypassed them and looked to their male counterparts for final decisions. There was often a misconception that women hold positions in the family business only because they are related to – the ‘boss’, and not due to merit.
Whether the business was passed on to the women in family due to a crisis (like unexpected passing away of the founder) or through focused preparation as the future successor, they have risen up to the challenge and overcome the barriers brought about by gender disparity & other challenges. In India there are numerous such examples of powerful women leaders who have transformed the business and delivered exceptional results.
Nadia Chauhan (MD & CMO of Parle Agro, daughter of Shri Prakash Jayantilal Chauhan) catapulted the company from a single brand organization to a multi-category, multi-brand beverage behemoth. She, however, didn’t set out to change things right away. She says, “I wanted to appreciate where we came from and feel like a part of the system before charting out where we needed to go.” Nadia Chauhan, along with older sister and CEO Schauna, is aiming to significantly widen the distribution and penetration of Parle Agro’s two power brands.
Jyotsna Suri (Chairperson and Managing Director of Bharat Hotels Limited) took over the chain after her husband Lalit Suri passed away. At that time, the group owned six properties in India, which has now more than doubled to fourteen. Her son Keshav says “I think my mum played it so smartly, calling the hotel group after my father, so we always have an emotional connect, how much ever we might want to argue and fight, you can’t really walk off because it is my father’s name”.
Ameera Shah (MD of Metropolis Healthcare & daughter of Dr. Sushil Shah) took over her father's pathology business in 2001. She transformed a single small diagnostic lab to a multinational chain of 125 diagnostic labs.
Lavanya Nalli (fifth-generation owner-manager of her 91-year old family-run business) spearheads the Nalli Silk Sarees as the vice chairperson, handling its e-commerce and private label business. "The core business of Nalli is silk sarees. I want to build on that," she says. Thus she started Nalli Next, with trendy designs with affordable prices, for younger, urban, working women. She was the first woman from her family to enter the business and since then has played an important role in adapting the business to changing customer preferences while at the same preserving & protecting the family’s core values and legacy.
Sulajja Firodia Motwani (Jt. MD Kinetic Motor Company Ltd.) always knew she would be joining her family business some day and prepared herself well. With an MBA & having gained outside experience, she is in charge of business development. She increased the company’s product range and launched new models through investments in international collaborations.
Vinita Gupta (CEO, Lupin Pharma) joined the family business (founded by her father Desh Bandhu Gupta) at the age of 25 after completing her MBA. She widened the horizons for Lupin through a chain of global expansions.
A wealth of research demonstrates that having women in leadership and strategic roles makes economic sense for businesses. More women in leadership means better financial and all-around performance. Publicly listed companies with women on the board tend to outperform those without in such key metrics as share price, return on equity, net income growth and price-to-book value. A gender-balanced board is also associated with better corporate social performance in community, customers, environment and supply chain. And these activities, in turn, improve business outcomes in areas such as risk management, corporate and brand reputation, and recruitment and retention.
The world’s largest family businesses emphasize values and activities that keep family members and their employees more cohesive and engaged with each other and the business. This emphasis on inclusivity appears to be another reason they are more likely to bring women into leadership roles. Increased cohesion leads to better financial performance, and better financial performance helps make a family business more cohesive. When businesses put more emphasis on women in higher-level roles, that effect becomes more pronounced.
The power of women in family business: A generational shift in purpose and influence. Report by KPMG and the Successful Transgenerational Entrepreneurship Practices (STEP) Project Global Consortium, November 2020.
Women in leadership: The family business advantage Special report based on a global survey of the world’s largest family businesses. EY Family Business Center of Excellence.
How Parlé Agro is doubling the fizz. Sourav Majumdar and T. Surendar, Fortune India, Nov 13, 2019.
FILA Gen-next Entrepreneur of the Year: Nadia Chauhan of Parle Agro. Varsha Meghani, Forbes India, November 26, 2019.
12 Indian Women In Family Businesses Forging Their Own Path With Flair. Women’s Web, April 16, 2018.
Jyotsna Suri: The high priestess of hospitality. Arnika Thakur, Fortune India, December 8, 2019
Like Family. Lavanya Nalli brings in a touch of new while maintaining the brand's core values. Radhika KTP, Business Today, October 6, 2019.
How Lavanya Nalli gave a modern twist to Nalli’s nine-decade legacy. Shruti Venkatesh, Wow Outlook Business.