Forbes India 15th Anniversary Special

Forbes India Leadership Awards 2023: Honouring the stubborn leaders

The event, which celebrated entrepreneurship, innovation, wealth-creation and giving back to society, featured insightful conversations, including a fireside chat with Oscar-winning producer Guneet Monga

Mansvini Kaushik
Published: Mar 27, 2023 07:06:25 PM IST
Updated: Mar 30, 2023 12:27:50 PM IST

Forbes India Leadership Awards 2023: Honouring the stubborn leadersAt the 12th edition of the Forbes India Leadership Awards (FILA), all eyes were on Monga as she walked in with her Oscar trophy in hand

Leaders who show initiative, entrepreneurial grit, and a visionary mindset often venture into uncharted territories that can lead to exceptional results. Guneet Monga, a movie producer who recently won an Oscar for the documentary The Elephant Whisperers, is an example of such a leader. At the 12th edition of the Forbes India Leadership Awards (FILA), all eyes were on Monga as she walked in with her Oscar trophy in hand. The room was filled with notable business doyens who erupted in applause with a standing ovation to celebrate the milestone she had achieved.

Monga’s candid conversation and her showcasing of the Oscar trophy to an awestruck audience full of India's business veterans was one of the key highlights of the FILA 2023 event.

Held at the Grand Hyatt in Mumbai on March 24, the event celebrated leadership, innovation, entrepreneurship, wealth, and giving back to society. The night was filled with invigorating and thought-provoking conversations, offering a glimpse into the stories of India's reforming leaders and the road ahead for the country, which has the potential to become the world's richest economy by 2047, as keynote speaker Rajiv J Shah, president, The Rockefeller Foundation, emphasised in his speech.

The event kicked off with Ruchika Shah, deputy editor, Forbes India, setting the tone for the evening by highlighting Forbes India's endeavour to honour "stubborn leaders" who have the grit to persist. "You need leaders who refuse to give up in the eye of a storm, are willing to evolve, and even listen to the softest voice in the room," she said in her opening speech.

The first speaker of the night was Shah of The Rockefeller Foundation, who has contributed to shaping the global vaccine industry and has addressed various challenges such as the refugee crisis, food insecurity, and climate change. Shah shared his hopes for India's future endeavors on positive philanthropic, climatic, and inclusive changes. He also spoke about the foundation's "big bets" in India.

AM Naik, non-executive chairman of Larsen and Toubro (L&T), was awarded the Lifetime Achievement 2023 award for his contribution to nation-building as a leader of a hi-tech manufacturing and infrastructure colossus, and his philanthropic initiatives in education and health care, among other areas. "Lifetime Achievement is a vindication of AM Naik's life's work in making L&T the largest manufacturing company in the world," said SN Subrahmanyan, MD & CEO of Larsen and Toubro, who accompanied Naik’s wife Geeta to accept the award on behalf of AK Naik.

The award for this year's outstanding startup was won by Zetwerk, a manufacturing services firm that has grown its revenue 310 times by leveraging niche opportunities and is fine-tuning its business model to have a global footprint.

The first insightful discussion for the night, moderated by Neera Nundy, co-founder and partner of Dasra, was about unlocking India's philanthropic potential. The panellists included Amit Chandra, co-founder of the ATE Chandra Foundation, Zarina Screwvala of the Swades Foundation, Luis Miranda, co-founder of the Indian School of Public Policy, and Upasana Kamineni, vice chairperson of corporate social responsibility (CSR) at Apollo Hospitals. They shed light on the emerging trends in Indian philanthropy and expressed how and why they are bullish about the future of philanthropic giving in the country.

As the producer of more than 30 films, Guneet Monga was lauded with a standing ovation as she walked onto the stage for her fireside chat with Forbes India's Chief Sub-editor, Divya Shekhar. During the conversation, she spoke about believing in one's ideas and how her experience working in the insurance industry taught her to handle rejection. "Ten people will say no, but the 11th might say yes. It has prepared me to take all the rejections in the world," she said. "There is power in asking. I wrote to then-President of India Pratibha Patil to be able to attend the Oscars for my first movie, Kavi, in 2010, and it opened doors," she added.

Another exciting discussion was on the need for inclusion. The panel was moderated by Varsha Meghani, principal correspondent, Forbes India, and featured paralympian Avani Lekhara, Meena Ganesh, chairperson and co-founder of Portea Medical, and Sushant Divgikar (aka Rani KoHENur), a singer, actor, performer, and social activist. The panel spoke about the importance of gender equality, LGBTQIA+ inclusion, and providing opportunities for specially-abled persons. “Diversity brings out richer discussions and richer strategic impact,” said Meena Ganesh. “All of us have the ability to be inclusive leaders, you just have to have an open mind,” added Divgikar.

As the climate crisis continues to disrupt India’s economic and social potential, there are companies like Banyan Nation that put climate action at the heart of everything they do. The founders Mani Vajipeyajula and Rajkiran Madangopal are on a mission to reduce the amount of virgin polymer being produced and create recycled plastic. They won the Climate Warrior award.

Also watch: Forbes India Leadership Awards 2023: Highlights

Abhay Soi, chairman and managing director of Max Healthcare, won the Entrepreneur For the Year award. Soi, a first-generation entrepreneur acquired and turned around Max Healthcare, making it the second-largest hospital chain in India. Rajendra Chamaria, vice chairman and managing director of Star Cement won the Regional Goliath award for making it the largest cement manufacturer by sales and production in the Northeast in just over two decades.

Isha Ambani, director of Reliance Retail Ventures won the GenNext Entrepreneur award for scaling up Reliance Retail into the biggest retailer in India by revenue and store network, building a formidable omni-channel presence with interests spanning from grocery to fashion and lifestyle, electronics, FMCG, luxury and more. “This is to my parents who inspire me endlessly, and to my children Prithvi [son of her twin brother Akash Ambani], Aadiya, and Krishna who motivate me everyday,” Isha said as she received the award.

Another highlight of the evening was a discussion about the impact of chasing valuation over long-term growth on the Indian startup ecosystem. On the panel were Vinod Murali, MD and co-founder of Alteria Capital, Anand Shah head of PMS and AIF investments, ICICI Prudential AMC, and Sudhakar Adapa, founder and CEO of Commerzify.

“For tech IPOs questions about valuations only came when liquidity dried up,” Murali said. “Today, founders are not chasing valuations. People are thinking about cash flows and unit economy. We are going through recalibration,” he added. The panel was moderated by Nasrin Sultana, associate editor, Forbes India.

The event ended with an Oxford-style debate where two opinion makers, Saugata Bhattacharya, chief economist, Axis Bank and Rajeev Thakkar, CIO and director, PPFAS MF debated over whether India is insulated from the global storm brewing in markets and economy. While both speakers made eloquent points, the audience view remained rather unchanged with more than 60 percent believing that India is not isolated from the storm brewing in markets and economy. The panel was moderated by Neha Bothra, Assistant Editor, Forbes India.