WOMAN IN CHARGE AVANI DAVDA
‘Stretching beyond your limits leads to problems’
Mumbai: She is the first and youngest woman CEO in the 146-year-old Tata Group. But Avani Davda lives up to the humility that the salt-to-software conglomerate is known for. The Tata Starbucks CEO refuses to be carried away by titles and says that they look good only on visiting cards. She says several other women in the group have shouldered far more complex and greater responsibilities.
Davda comes from a middle class family of engineers and doctors. After finishing her MBA from Mumbai’s Narsee Monjee institute in 2002, she tried her luck at Tata Administrative Services, the group’s leadership induction programme. She got through. After getting acquainted with the functioning of the group’s diverse businesses from steel to automobiles to power, Davda was given her first assignment at Taj Hotels in 2003.
Five years later, she was cherry-picked by Tata veteran R K Krishna Kumar to be his executive assistant. At that time, she was a new mother and Krishna Kumar was known to be a tough taskmaster. The assignment turned out to be the most significant of her career. She says it gave her a ringside view of the dynamics of business.
During this period, she worked on several key projects including the Starbucks partnership. Her contributions to the Starbucks initiative encouraged Starbucks and the Tata Group to pick her to lead their joint venture when it was finalized. “I wasn’t surprised. It was a fantastic opportunity for me to be a part of a venture that I had started and finished,” says Davda, who is now the mother of a seven-year-old.
She says honesty and discipline have helped her balance work and family. “It is important for women to be articulate. At the end of the day, we are human beings playing various roles of daughter, wife and mother. Stretching yourself beyond limits only leads to problems.”
While Davda expresses concern that women form just 15% of Starbucks’ retail outlet workforce, she is in no hurry to improve the ratio. “Women need to appreciate that meritocracy cannot be given up for diversity,” says the 34-year-old, who recently approved a twoweek paternity leave for an employee.
Davda believes a career is not everything. She says women shouldn’t feel helpless and shouldn’t treat work as their identity. “Everybody today wants to work, but if all start working, how will we know our children?” she asks, leaving us with a question to ponder on.
Vipashana V K & Reeba Zachariah Toi 140421