Women Leadership Series

Profile: Mythili Rajendran

Read Time:11 Minute

India as we know is a land of beautiful textiles where the sound of the loom still echoes across the villages of our country. Co-optex was started with a vision to provide economic sustenance to the thousands in the handloom sector and by doing so keep this sector vibrant and profitable.

The role of the person who heads Co-optex is therefore one of great responsibility and innovation. We are lucky to have an extremely committed and dynamic woman to head the department as a Managing Director – Mythili Rajendran.

As a woman who knew what she wanted to do and strived hard until she achieved it, Mythili Rajendran is someone who epitomizes the saying, ‘try, try and try again, until you succeed’.

A woman who had a strong dream to become an IAS officer and pursued it through the various turns of her life, such a woman cannot but be inspiring.

Talking to Mythili Rajendran is a great experience. With 30 years of service as an IAS office, the number of anecdotes she could recount will keep one spell bound, even as one admires the humility with which she shares each story.

Like Father, Like Daughter…

Mythili’s early days was spent moving with her father, an IAS Officer, and the rest of her family. She was lucky to have stayed on in Chennai and complete her college. She moved from Trichy to Chennai and started her schooling in a Tamil medium school in Kalakshetra, where she says, “my initial days of education was unconventional, especially in the way I learnt, as the focus was more on learning values rather than just the usual subjects one studies.”

“I have 3 sisters’ and 1 brother and it was my father’s fervent wish that at least one of his children would follow his footsteps to become an IAS officer – and it was my secret hope that I would be the one to fulfil his dreams!

I decided to take English Literature as my Bachelors in Stella Maris College, Chennai, as I felt it would help me improve my language proficiency and thereby grasp information faster and give me a wider perspective on subjects when it was time for me to give my civil services exam.

I then continued to do my Masters in the same college, but within a month of starting the course, at the age of 21, I got married.”

A Dream Fulfilled…

Marriage made no change to Mythili’s dream to become an IAS officer. She was very clear in her mind as to what she wanted to achieve in her life because she did not want to settle for any other job. “Yes, my family’s financial stability definitely helped me concentrate on what I wanted to do!” she laughs.

“After my marriage I moved to Goa along with my husband and I started to study for my IAS exam. That time period for me was very frustrating as I used to clear my preliminary as well as my main papers and attend interviews but I would not get the post that I wanted. I realized that the exam that I was trying to master needed wider reading, and did not require mastery of a ‘specific’ subject. IAS is for people who have a wide range of knowledge on varied subjects, for people who are compassionate and most definitely for people who are persistent. Fact is that there is no set formula for success and IAS officers are bureaucrats not necessarily technocrats!

“I continued to pursue my dream even after my child came into our life and I finally achieved my dream of joining the IAS at the age of 28, right after my son joined his kindergarten class!”

Joining the Elite Corps…

“The initial days of my career started with 10 days of training in the police department under the superintendent of police where we learnt how weapons were used by the force and use of tear gas, ‘bundobusts’, VIP Securities. I then spent few weeks training under the Village Administrative Officer (VAO) Office, all under the supervision of the Collector. In fact we were also attached to a judicial court to learn how to try cases and pass judgments. All this were part of the 57 weeks of training period after which we were expected to submit a socio-economic report, which for me was very exciting! 

The idea behind this training was to get a bird’s eye view of the government working structure and we were literally observers!

It was then time to start on the job training, so I moved to Coimbatore as a Sub Divisional Magistrate, where I was expected to perform quasi functions as an Executive Magistrate. The scope of my work included Law & Order, Land Revenue, Custodial Violence and many other activities and as a young adult this was the most exciting stint for me! The one aspect that impacted me the most were the dowry issues and related deaths that were prevalent in that area.  We were expected to arrive at a conclusion to the cause of death after requisite investigation and provide our judgment from where the police would take over the case.

I was committed to each posting I did and over the years I have served in many departments, and the combination of experience and performance always stood me in good stead.”

Making a Difference…

In her almost 30 years career, she has worked in many departments in varied roles, but there are some roles that she looks back with satisfaction because of what she achieved there.

“I was always proud of what I had delivered at every level, as I believe that there is always a scope to do good things in any department a person sets foot into.  Any time there is a possibility to improve the current status as each department is very dynamic and there is so much to do every time a new person enters the department. My key goal was to do justice to the vision of the organization as I believe that ‘social justice’ is the underlying ethos behind any government department.

There are more than 300 IAS officers in Tamilnadu and all of us want to bring about a small or big change to the post that we hold. What I love about my work is that no one is breathing down my neck to deliver predefined results, it is entirely up to me to forge ahead with my set goals in line with the vision of the department and what I want to achieve in that framework.

After Coimbatore, my next post was as a Director of Differently Abled. This department till then was handled by a medical professional with a primary focus on rehabilitation, and I was the first bureaucrat to head the department and set up district units to convert it into a full-fledged welfare department.

The senior officers I had at each point of time had hand-held me and I learnt a lot from each and every one of them.”

Water – An Everyday Essential…

“The next department I moved to play a major role in my career and I still carry the lessons  I learnt even today! This was my role as General Manager of Metro Water where I learnt the importance of Public Relations especially for a department which is literally a monopoly in the market.

Monopoly often is synonymous to authoritativeness which need not necessarily be true. It is what information we communicate and how we communicate which is very important. We realized that policy making and governance is best done in ‘participative’ style when it comes to

public utilities as is the core service of water supply and sewerage.

Public Relations (PR) is imperative to maintain the patronage of the public. This also has an impact on the morale of the workers in the organization as it pushes him to improve the service provided in order to maintain his image. We therefore came up with Informative Brochures as part of our Citizen Charter to keep the general public informed. This also made CMWSSB to be a very citizen-friendly service provider with effective public water face.”

Job Satisfaction Follows Sincerity in Work…

“In my career, the tenure that I spent in any department was never rudely fore shortened and neither have I ever left a department or an organization with any regret. I have never actually coveted any particular post nor have I asked for any specific post.  I settle in any post.

So, the next department I moved to was HR&CE (Hindu Religious and Charitable Endowments) Department. Here I understood that people donated land to the temple, for example, 300 Grounds of lands in Adyar was donated to the Tiruvannamalai temple land by one Ammani Ammal. It is a known fact that Government regulations cannot be applied to temple lands and so, the purpose of donation had to be considered while taking any decision especially on its image.

I have had the opportunity to set many a good precedence as a rule that could be followed in the future! One such directive was with respect to the income to be earned by the temple. Though various temples derived income from temple lands, they did not earn enough to sustain their expenses. During my tenure in the department we ensured that encroachments be brought to notice and to collect occupation fees and acknowledge that the temple is the rightful owner of the property so that the land is not permanently divested.

Another incident I remember was between 2001 and 2003 where there was a dispute of a land property between an individual and a temple. The land was donated by a Nawab indicating “For use by temple car”. An individual had encroached on the land to construct a passage for his building and the matter had to be settled by lawyers. At the time of hearing, the court had requested for the Original Patta of the land from the Collectorate office. Within 10 minutes they were able to provide the necessary documents to me and the temple ended up winning the case! It was a great day.

Textbooks Online – A New Future

“Another posting that gave me great satisfaction was my work with the Tamilnadu Textbook and Education Services Corporation. Uniformity in syllabus was introduced across different Boards of Education such as Anglo Indian; Matriculation and language books were common for CBSE and ICSE. Hence, Text Book Corporation publications were bought by 11,600 private schools in addition to the Government schools in the state of Tamilnadu.

Every year new editions are developed by the TN Textbook Corporation for each text book. But I realized that the retailers would sell the older editions as they had a previous backlog instead of selling the latest edition – just as a way to optimize their revenue. I needed to curtail the sale of old textbooks by the retailer, so I decided to move the sale of textbooks online. This benefited the department in two ways, one, the sale proceeds got realized immediately, and two, the children also received the latest edition at the earliest time.

Prices of each textbook were printed with year of publication and we ensured that the textbook was distributed to the student well in advance – even before the commencement of school. Till date, we have never given the textbooks late to the students and ensured that all students received the required textbooks! We also ensured the access of all textbooks online and the students had the option to take print of the same through National Informatics Centre (NIC).  I also brought about discipline in the organization in terms of finance. This was an add-on and an example of how an officer can add value to an organization that he/she is a part of and can therefore contribute more.”

IAS – An Opportunity to Serve

“I have never worried about my growth in my career but I have always looked for any opportunity to serve.Like any organization, as long as any achievement is in sync with their vision and values, your work gets accepted and appreciated. IAS is a very enticing option as a career and I have never regretted a single day for getting this opportunity.

I was then transferred as Deputy Commissioner Civil Supplies Department (Chennai North), Home Department, Industries Department to oversee Mines & Minerals and Public Department for almost 6 and a half years where I handled everything from leave, travel concessions and property returns and other personnel matters.”

Women Hold up Half the Sky – 1/3rd of IAS…

“In my batch from Tamilnadu, there were 4 women and 2 men, as it is a government service the 33% reservation does stand! To tell you the truth, I never felt or experienced any gender issue.  In 1997, there was a major communal riot in Coimbatore. I had to handle the situation as a Sub Divisional Magistrate with confidence and sincerity which was necessary to convince and persuade people listen to you and arrive at a consensus. My gender was never a hindrance in my ability to deliver what was expected out of me.”

The Present & Future…

“I am now the Managing Director of Co-optex and have been part of this organization for the last 3 months. My main goal now is to strengthen the age old organisation which is dedicated to the welfare of our weavers and restore its popularity as a major handloom outlet of the Country. I am looking forward to bringing in a lot of changes that will benefit the handloom sector.”

A lot is expected from IAS officers like Mythili Rajendran who have totally given themselves and their time to their profession. Her single-minded devotion to her job is all encompassing and does not leave her much time for any extracurricular activity but yet, there is no tinge of regret, for this is what she had always aspired to and at the end of the day a job well done is what satisfies her the most!

Ramyaa Ramesh had interviewed Mythili Rajendran for this series.