Three Indian women have made it to Fortune’s 50 most powerful businesswomen in the world list.
While Chanda Kochchar and Naina Lal Kidwai are bankers, Kiran Mazumdar Shaw is an entrepreneur. As head of Biocon, she has revolutionised the biopharmaceutical industry.
Of course, I do not understand a thing about the subject. I had met her years ago at the airport departure lounge in Mumbai. I was a bit fidgety as I had an important assignment that same evening. A slightly plump woman came and sat next to me. We exchanged smiles.
She guessed I was on work; I was doing everything possible to convey I meant business to hide the fact that I thoroughly enjoyed what I was doing. I have noticed that if you appear laidback and chilled out, nobody takes you seriously. At that stage, I wanted to convey I was serious.
“Yes,” I replied. She was a curious person and wanted to know more. I told her and suddenly I was like my old stupid self, sounding excited. I did not ask her much, but she told me to get in touch with her if I needed anything. She handed me a card. It said ‘Biocon’. It sounded like medicine, so I dumped it in my bag.
Two days into my ‘work’ and I had an evening free. I dialled Kiran’s number and she immediately invited me over. She wanted to know how I’d get there. “Oh, I’ll manage,” I said like always do.
I looked at the address on the visiting card and called up the photographer to ask him how far it was. He said, “Kiran Mazumdar? Great.”
Why was it great? He explained to me that she was quite a biggie. I did not want him around. So I hired a taxi that drove me to god-knows-where. She was a warm person; her living room seemed to be a bit dark for tea-time, though. We indulged in what seemed like girlie talk for quite a while and then I realised that she was a biggie. This meant I could interview her.
“You know I can interview you,” I said.
To her credit, she remained unfazed. I rattled off general, non-Biocon type questions and she answered. I cannot recall much, which is surprising, but it wasn’t a dazzling performance. Later, I wrote it out, adding a lot of background details, and gave it to the editor. “Who is she?” I was asked.
“She heads Biocon,” I said authoritatively.
The interview was never used. I did not even bother to remind the editor. And today I do not kick myself for not preserving a copy.
What struck me about the woman then was her humaneness, and that is what I will remember. Her being on Fortune’s list is less important to me than her being the child of fortune and hard work.