The journey to the coveted C-Suite is tough for all but even more so for women, given the social and patriarchal barriers they have to overcome. However, over the years, the number of women breaking the glass ceiling and confidently forging a new path has been encouraging. The career journey of such women makes for an interesting study, and I have tried to showcase the stories of ordinary women who have had extraordinary lives and have achieved a lot with path-breaking career milestones. Roshini Bakshi is one such extraordinary woman whose achievements have been truly inspiring.
“My parents taught us the value of education very early in life. For them, performance only meant something if we topped the class. Therefore, my siblings and I grew up to be ‘type A’ people. We wanted to be the best at each stage, competing at home with each other as much as we competed outside,” Roshini explains.
Roshini Bakshi has always been an achiever, a typical studious girl who started her schooling in Good Shepherd, Chennai, and went on to do her MBA from the most sought-after B-School in India – IIM Ahmedabad.
“If someone were to ask me, what I would have done had I not gotten into IIM-A, my answer would have been an emphatic – I would have gone off to the USA to study. My own little childhood dream was to be in New York one day.”
However, IIM-A did happen and her career started after that. Around this time she married her classmate and with marriage came changes in jobs and locations, as she moved with every job change of her husband. But this ‘trailing spouse’ never put her career on the back burner, and with a single minded devotion, she took up various roles across diverse sectors in every city she moved to along with her husband and kids. With remarkable ease she has managed to survive and succeed in each one of them and forge an interesting and unique career path for herself.
Today, Roshini is the Managing Director of Everstone Capital, one of Asia’s largest private equity and real-estate asset managers.
Excerpts from the interview:
Did you always have a clear idea and a set plan on what you wanted to do after school?
I was not pretty or fair or slim, but I realised very early that I did not have to be any of this if I topped the class. My classmates wanted to be friends with me. So, school at Good Shepherd was primarily hard work where I focused on my rank in each grade, and managed to make few lifelong friendships.
When I finished school, Dad got posted to Delhi as he was in the IAS, and we followed him. I did not know much about Delhi. In fact, my dad did all the research and told me to apply for Economics at St. Stephens College and I did. I was quite lucky but I had great grades, so I managed to secure a seat.
The conversation during my third year at college was all about what next? A group of my friends from class got together and started studying for the CAT. As I was curious, I decided to take up CAT as well. My dad reconfirmed that the IIMs were the best in the country, probably in the world, and that he would be very proud of me if I made it through. I did not want to let my dad or myself down, so I gave it my best shot!
What were your experiences with B-School?
Life at IIM-A was very different as we were 21 girls in a batch of 172, and most of the guys were from IITs. So you can imagine how different the entire ecosystem was!
I met my husband here and by the second year we were a couple. Our backgrounds were completely different – he is a Punjabi born in Amritsar, from a business family and literally the first in his family to get a master’s degree! While I was from a family where PhDs were seen as the only real degree and everyone were either in the government service or were professionals!
What was your first job after college?
College was hard work and then it was time to get into the company of my choice. Though my father wanted me to join an international bank, I had my eyes set on two companies – Hindustan Unilever Ltd. (HUL) and Tata Administrative Services (TAS). Many people told me that getting through to the Tata Group would be extremely difficult, so I took it up as a challenge, and was selected!
My first job was with Taj Hotels. I joined as an Executive Assistant to the CEO office where the work would literally start at 1 pm and end at 1 am. While the role was exciting and I learnt a lot, I knew that this was not where I wanted to be. The TAS gives you the opportunity to move within the group. There were two things that I was clear on – I wanted to get into the operations of a business and that I wanted to be in Mumbai. I got an opportunity with Lakme to join sales, where I started right at the bottom as a sales officer. I spent my first year in Calcutta and then I was moved to Mumbai, where over time I grew from a brand manager to a group product manager. I learnt a lot during each stage of my career at Lakme. I enjoyed my 7 years with Lakme and in HUL, as Lakme was sold to HUL!
Which brings to me to the logical question: Why move from such a company?
I was not very keen to be in the same company as my husband, so when Prudential ICICI gave me the role of head of marketing, I decided to take it. I am always willing to get out of my comfort zone and take more risks and I believe I am an eternal student and to move to a new industry, especially in the financial services, was very exciting.
After almost 2 years, when I got a call for the role of GM-Marketing from Mattel, I made the decision to go back to FMCG. It was a great opportunity to launch new brands, to be part of a global company and to learn the nuances of working in a truly American company was extremely exciting. I loved my job and had the opportunity to launch the most loved brands for kids – Barbie, Hotwheels, and Fisher Price in India. It was a great experience working in a global company, especially an American one, which had a matrix working structure with a very different culture along with a new lingo that I had to get adjusted to! Each learning I had was extremely exciting!
You then moved from Mumbai, a city of your dreams, to Chennai. Why do so?
As women we end up compromising a lot more than men. My husband had to move to Chennai for a new role in HUL and so, I had to quit Mattel and move along with him. When I made the move, I was not sure what I would do and honestly, I was open to trying something new. I thought that Chennai was not known to have any great FMCG companies or banks but technology and software was booming in the city.
Around this time, I received a call from Mr. Arun Jain from Polaris who asked me if I would like to work and build a product company as he wanted someone who could bring the sensibilties of consumer marketing to technology. I found this to be an interesting challenge and I took up the role to build Adrenalin, the HRMS software product of Polaris.
We built the business and saw the product installed in more than 175 customer sites across India and the USA.
After 3 years you moved back to Mumbai. How was this change and what did you do?
I enjoyed my time at Polaris but then the inevitable change happened. My husband had to move back to Mumbai and I had to move again. It was one more change for me, one more uprooting but by then I had become a veteran of change and this did not scare me anymore.
Walt Disney was just setting up office and I got a call from one of the senior recruitment firms asking if I was ready to become a CEO and head a business – build it and grow it! Who would not take up such a challenge? I jumped at it. In the 9 years I was part of the company, I built it to a $200 million revenue, recruited every person on the team, learnt the ropes and managed to survive and thrive in one of the most complex matrixed organizations in the world and enjoyed every minute of it.
Like you said, 9 years and then you had to move again as your husband had to move for his career, a move not just to another city, but a different country! What was going through your mind?
When I heard that we were moving to Indonesia, I was quite disappointed. I always thought at some stage our next move would be to London, UK. I had no clue about Jakarta and only knew Indonesia from plane crashes, and earthquakes. Most people do not even know that Bali is in Indonesia! So overall I was not looking forward to the change. However, I decided to be neutral and we moved. When I look back, this was the most wonderful 6 years of our lives. Indonesia is a hidden treasure and the people were extremely welcoming, our settling in was so smooth, the country is so full of surprises and beauty – I have to say, we learnt a lot and most importantly, my children embraced the new culture and people with open arms.
One thing I have learnt is to look at every change in a positive way and to look for the positives in every new event in life!
This time, I decided I would embrace the change, the new opportunities in life and be even more willing to learn and thrive. So, when I got a call from Everstone Capital for an operating partner role in private equity, I did not have any second thoughts. The job was in Singapore and my husband was to be based out of Jakarta, but I decided that it was possible and this too was a new opportunity to learn and to survive and thrive. I am still learning, and this time working with seasoned bankers and with aggressive personalities who make me feel that I am not ‘type A’ enough!
Roshini believes that her most valuable achievement is her ability to look at each change as an opportunity and to be an eternal student and learn from all without any ego.
With a career that has seen many twists and turns, Roshini now wants to concentrate on her present and build her career at Everstone Capital. A career that now sees her sitting in the board of several companies, we are sure she will add many more accolades to her kitty! Roshini is truly an inspiration for many women who constantly try to find the balance between career, marriage and children.