Saturday, September 11, 2004

Naina Lal Kidwai's Mantras for success Naina Lal Kidwai's Mantras for success Naina Lal Kidwai's Mantras for success

Naina Lal Kidwai, Deputy Chief Executive Officer of Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Corporation in India, is rated as one of the most successful women in the world of finance. Ranked third by Fortune in their listing of the World’s Top Women in Business in Asia in 2000 and 2001, she was also counted among the top 50 women in international business in 2003. In a talk with Vimla Patil, this banker shares the time-honoured rules that have helped her achieve success.

"I really value a one-liner written by George Bernard Shaw," says Naina Lal Kidwai, Deputy Chief Executive Officer of the Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Corporation. "He said: ‘Some men see things around them and wonder why! I dream of things that aren’t, and say why not?" I feel what Shaw said applies more to men. Women always knew that even the most unrealistic dreams can be turned into reality by sheer effort and dedication. Many women have demonstrated this truth today by breaking the most obstinate glass barrier and achieving unprecedented success in every kind of career. The finance and banking sector is just one example. Every major institution and bank today has innumerable women at its top positions. These women are not only handling huge projects spanning several countries, but also generating micro-banking in rural India and generating change at the grassroots."

According to Kidwai, who is undoubtedly one of the most powerful and influential persons in the finance business in the world, the secret of her success is passion for work. "We need to be passionate and driven to achieve any goal we choose," she says, need to push the limits of achievement and better our performance all the time. I think we should be ‘engaged’ in the profession of our choice rather than just ‘work hard’ in our chosen work area. We need to literally set ourselves on fire with our objectives."

Kidwai’s own career is an excellent example of her principles. After obtaining a bachelor’s degree in economics from Delhi University, she went on to take a master’s in business administration from Harvard Business School in 1982. She returned to India to work with Morgan Stanley and initiated the merger of JM Financial and Morgan Stanley in India in 1998. She has worked with leading financial corporations and banks in the last 20 years to emerge as one of ‘the 15 most influential people globally’ listed by the Time magazine in 2002.

"Your career depends upon how much you enjoy your work," Kidwai continues, "The ultimate measure of a man or woman is where they stand in times of controversy or failure. Can they pick themselves up and start again with courage? Here, I want to emphasise that courage is not merely the absence of fear, but the ability to manage fear, to understand failure and its causes and to move on to achieve the goals without giving up. It means respecting yourself and your ability to achieve your goals without buckling under failures. With this spirit, your confidence remains 100 per cent intact. Indeed, I feel that 100 per cent success is not a good augury. It means you are not taking enough risks. Your success ratio, if you are dynamic, should be in the region of 80 to 90 per cent so that you are open to change. For this, you must choose your people environment carefully. You must do away with cynics — they confuse and ruin you — and seek the company of ‘can do’ people.

"Here, I remember the example of Sam Pitroda who brought the telecommunications revolution to India’s villages with the PCO project under Rajeev Gandhi’s leadership. It is said that he met innumerable bureaucrats, who gave thousands of reasons why he could not achieve his goal of creating a telecommunication network all over India. He ignored them all and went ahead and did what he had to. And you can see the results today.

"The next rule is that you must always play to win. I feel that we Indians lack the killer instinct. We must create a benchmark against the best and look beyond established standards. Cutting corners is not allowed in this exercise."

Kidwai lays immense emphasis on the quality of leadership for achieving success. "A leader must groom future leaders," she says. "Our own jobs depend on our ability to do this. Leadership drives the management of any endeavour. Management is not mastered by reading books but by collecting experience and sensitivity as you go along. Management is not a product or a process but a philosophy for a lifetime. It includes integrity, fairness, treating everybody as equal, risk taking, concentrated application of all faculties, style — all aimed at progress. Team play is also important. The best leaders always know that a focused team spirit always achieves success. A team has to co-ordinate strategies, create the will to win and then implement its plans together.

"To succeed, you have to re-energise yourself again and again as you move ahead. Admitting ignorance is equal to searching for knowledge. Attending new training programmes, learning new skills and techniques, gathering new information — all these should be included in your growth as a person. Core values are also extremely important for success. You should never compromise on them. This means that you should remember your responsibility to your family, community, profession and, ultimately, your nation at all times.

"You must remember that whatever good you do, comes back to you in strange ways. The story of Sir Alexander Fleming, the discoverer of Penicillin is a wonderful example. It is said that Fleming’s father once saved a Scottish farmer’s young son from drowning in quicksand. The farmer offered to support the education of Fleming’s young son as an act of gratitude. Junior Fleming grew up to become a great scientist and discovered Penicillin, which later saved the life of the farmer’s son when he suffered from severe pneumonia.

"In brief, the A B C D of achievement is: ability to reinvent yourself; balance between success and failure; confidence to deal with every situation; and the determination to work hard. As Thomas Jefferson said, the harder you work, the more luck you have."

The biggest challenge Naina has faced in her multi-pronged career was her youth. "I never faced gender discrimination in any job. But being a woman in a top job has its hazards. You are always under a magnifying glass and people are watching where you might slip up. Every false step is used to advantage by others," she says, "And we are a staunch seniority-oriented society. I found it difficult to talk to older people as their boss. But the scenario is changing. More women than ever before are handling money, stocks and family assets than ever before. They have the education, common sense and intelligence to multiply their family or company wealth many times over. India is one of the easiest countries for women to make it big in any business or profession because of our supportive family structure.

"However, you must remember that there is another India beyond the metro cities, where women have a tough time achieving their goals. I work with the NGO Self-Employed Women’s Association (SEWA) and I know well what women at that level have to go through.

"Like all of us, I have regrets. I wish I had more time with my husband and children. I wish I could listen more to music. But I have been fortunate. My family, relatives and friends have networked marvellously to support me throughout my career. My children understand that I need my work to be happy. Like all women in such situations, I balance my time and energy for all my priorities."

Asked how her desire to reach such heights of success originated, Naina says that as a little school girl, she often visited her father’s insurance company office and enjoyed sitting in his swivel chair. "It was then that a desire to sit in a similar chair took root in my mind," she says, "I always wanted to make a difference; to make an impact. This is why I returned to India though I had attractive career options in the USA after my Harvard degree."