Forbes India 15th Anniversary Special

Inside Asia's power women: The women bending the rules

This fortnight's edition turns the arc lights squarely on the Forbes Asia list of 20 Power Women, three of them from India. The list includes women, like Indra Nooyi, who have climbed to the top rung of the corporate ladder after years of relentless professional achievements. Some women've taken charge of family businesses and carved out their own growth paths

Brian Carvalho
Published: Jan 17, 2024 01:04:18 PM IST
Updated: Jan 24, 2024 10:13:18 AM IST

Inside Asia's power women: The women bending the rules

One foot on the accelerator, one foot on the brake.
Go out and capture the crown but leave it in the garage.


Those famous, oft-quoted lines that allude to a work-family balance are from Indra Nooyi’s biography, My Life in Full (2021, Hachette India). They capture the dilemma of women achievers, including the former chairman & CEO of PepsiCo. While on the one hand they are encouraged to “soar in the outside world”, the other expectation of equal importance is to be a dedicated wife, mother and daughter at home.

Nooyi recalls the night she returned home after being appointed president of PepsiCo (in five years, by 2006, she would go on to become CEO). Here’s an excerpt that captures the rather anticlimactic reaction when she broke the news to her mother.

“Listen to me,” my mother replied. “You may be the president of whatever of PepsiCo, but when you come home, you are a wife and a mother and a daughter. Nobody can take your place.  

“So you leave that crown in the garage.”

Nooyi saw the value in that statement about big success and domestic stability going hand in hand. But the perils of being a woman working long hours, taking on huge work responsibilities, coaching and mentoring are evident. “The petty frustrations of working motherhood persisted with me, and I still felt plenty of nagging, low-lying guilt.”

In subsequent media interviews, Nooyi did clarify that her mother believes both husband and wife should leave the crown in the garage; both become family members once they enter the home.

Nooyi draws an additional lesson from the “crown in the garage” line—the broader relationship between power and humility. True leaders should keep their feet firmly rooted to the ground, despite the trappings of leadership—money, travel, meeting famous people, among others. She writes that she felt she was a role model, although female leaders “have this much tougher than male leaders because the world of power is designed for men… We have to demonstrate our gravitas in a world where authority and brilliance, to many people, still look like an older gentleman”.

What better way to change such perceptions by focusing on a world of power not designed for men but designed by women. This fortnight’s edition turns the arc lights squarely on the Forbes Asia list of 20 Power Women, three of them from India. The list includes women, like Nooyi, who have climbed to the top rung of the corporate ladder after years of relentless professional achievements. There are also women who’ve taken charge of family businesses and carved out their own growth paths. 

On the Forbes India cover is MR Jyothy, managing director of consumer goods enterprise Jyothy Labs, who is building on the blocks put in place by her father MP Ramachandran. The founder started Jyothy Labs in 1983 (when the current MD was just five years old) by creating the fabric whitening category with the bestselling Ujala, a cash cow till date.  

Jyothy, who rose through the ranks after joining the company’s marketing division in 2005, is clear about the task cut out for her: “To think bigger, do better and make my father proud.” For more on that blueprint, turn to ‘Rise Of The Challenger’.

Another must-read is Manu Balachandran’s profile of Rashmi Verma. The only woman from the IIT-Roorkee chemical engineering class of the early 70s, Verma went on to found, with husband Rakesh, the company that owns MapmyIndia, an early mover in India’s digital mapping ecosystem. That fascinating story of some unique chemistry.

Best,
Brian Carvalho
Editor, Forbes India
Email: Brian.Carvalho@nw18.com
Twitter ID: @Brianc_Ed

(This story appears in the 26 January, 2024 issue of Forbes India. To visit our Archives, click here.)