There are two questions people ask me and I have very prosaic replies. One is, “what is it to be a woman?” Well, where I am today, it makes no difference whether I’m a man or a woman. The other is, “how do you manage work life balance?” My answer is always ‘my work is my life’. So there is no question of balance.
People tell me I’m very generous with my time, so maybe I’m not a very effective time manager. I tend to meet more people than I ought to. I’m not an early riser and I barely make it into the office in time. I’m usually about half an hour late, that’s why I prefer working late.
When I first came to JP Morgan, I used to spend 90 percent of my time internally. I knew I wasn’t meeting clients enough. But I had very competent colleagues meeting them. I would just focus on the internal things that I needed to understand more and wherever I had a view, to try and influence change. As time went by and my comfort levels increased, I started spending more time externally whether it was meeting clients, regulators, government, and the media.
Regulators I always meet up because it is important to communicate with them, know what their concerns are and we may have our own requests.
Media interactions are something I have always been comfortable with. Unlike a lot of CEOs who feel we don’t really have time, I think it’s really critical. When you put your point of view across, it helps the larger brand name of the firm.
I feel that unless my team sees real value add in taking me out to meet clients or if a client specifically wants a commitment from me, my team is perfectly capable of handling things. Now, probably 60 percent of my time is spent internally. I’m also spending time with our HR function, more than what I had done earlier. It is important for me to build a strong brand with potential employees. So I spend a fair amount of time on campus strategy. The other day I went to IIM Lucknow for an event they had invited me to.
When I have to make a presentation, I put in days of preparations. I have this huge fear, that I’d have to show up in front of an investor and that he’d ask me a question to which I don’t have an answer. This fear comes from my days at ICICI Bank. Unlike everybody else who came from a treasury or management background, I trained in law. So in 1996 when Mr Kamath [K.V. Kamath], asked me to look at investor relations, my biggest fear was I’d have to show up in front of an investor and don’t know the answer to a question they may have.
In my head, it’s very much like what an actor on stage would feel if he forgot his lines. If you’re going to fumble, you’re being very unfair to your team because you represent them. It’s much the same thing when I go to any client meetings. I bug my team like crazy to give me a comprehensive brief. I did that when I was in ICICI and I do that here. I will never go for a meeting unless they have given me a comprehensive briefing. And it’s not that I get briefed in the car. I need to have that note in front of me. I’m quite a pain to most of my colleagues.
I travel a fair amount and unlike a lot of corporate executives who complain about travel, I enjoy it. I relax well on the plane. Mr Kamath taught us not to waste time on checked in luggage. So we learnt to travel light because with him there was no way you’d have time to wait for your luggage to arrive if you had checked it in.
I do a lot of speed reading. There are a lot of my colleagues within JP Morgan who share passwords to the email with their secretaries. I said absolutely not. I want everyone to know that everything you send to me is completely confidential they can put what they like on it. Whatever is information, you act on it, the rest you delete. I get very impatient with people who don’t respond to emails. It is the easiest thing to do.
I have one secretary who works from 9-6 so I feel somewhat lost when she’s not there because I am not used to dealing directly with people. I’ve led somewhat of a cocooned life in that sense, in my earlier organisation. But I have gotten used to it. So in terms of support I’m fine.
I gym four times a week for about an hour each. That’s very refreshing. I switch off completely at home. The only television I watch is the news and Sa Re Ga Ma for the little kids. I’m just very fond of shopping as well. For women, you know, top of the list is clothes. And then as you go on in life, I think jewelry is as big. (As told to Abhishek Advani)
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(This story appears in the 20 November, 2009 issue of Forbes India. To visit our Archives, click here.)