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Mother & Daughter – Women In Business

Posted: March 8, 2011

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Finding a business partner can be tough, but these women entrepreneurs in India looked within the family and it worked!

By Jaya Narayan

We are used to hearing of fathers grooming their sons or these days, daughters to take over a business, but mother-daughter pairs working together? Those are rare to see! For me, writing this article has been an enriching experience, as it allowed me to interact with three very interesting mother-daughter duos who are successful businesswomen – of Under the Mango tree, a restaurant and cafe in Bangalore, of Vibha, a designer textile boutique at Chennai and Chocoholic, which offers homemade chocolate delicacies and bouquets in Mumbai.

Nirmala Balakrishnan Martin, 32 and Rishika Bhatia, 24, the founders of ‘Under the Mango tree’ and Chocoholic respectively, asked their mothers who were playing a passive role in the business to formally come on board. Vidya Balakrishnan, 49 joined her mother who was running Vibha, an established family business instead of going in for a salaried job.

A common thread in their story has been to work towards common goals keeping each others’ interests in mind, and with a strong focus on making customers happy.

Successful businesswomen, Diverse styles

With different styles of working, naturally, mothers and daughters working together bring varied strengths that support each other in running a business. Nirmala says, “My mother’s heart melts on listening to staff woes. In fact she is heartbroken every time an employee quits or worse, steals restaurant money”. Her mother, Sudha Balakrishnan, 56, shares, “My daughter is result oriented and tends to take quick decisions. At the end of the day, we each do what works best for the business”.

As a principle, Nirmala and Sudha have divided work responsibilities to accommodate their unique work styles. Sudha with her flair for people and attention to detail is responsible for staff grievances, restaurant maintenance and upkeep. Nirmala on the other hand leverages her business knowledge, commercial acumen and objective decision-making to handle customer expectations, manage purchase and grow the business.

Lakshmi Anantharaman, 69 and her daughter, Vidya believe that they maintain excellence at Vibha by focusing on each others’ strengths. Vidya leverages her creativity and flair for understanding changing customer expectations to come up with modern textile designs and concepts. She is also constantly looking for innovative ways of advertising and positioning the store to attract the younger generation. Lakshmi on the other hand remains focussed on traditional textiles, finance and administration which is her forte. This approach has helped them to retain the traditional and yet offer contemporary options in their textiles and designs which has become the USP for the store.

A mother daughter relationship at the workplace?

It is difficult for any mother-daughter interaction to be completely objective and dispassionate. When strong emotions are involved and things can get personal, honest communication is integral to running their business. Involved and sometimes heated discussions do happen, whether it is on taking risky business decisions, making large investments or dealing with unusual requests. Geeta Bhatia, 51 and her daughter, Rishika realized early on while running Chocoholic that this was a natural process that they had to find creative ways to deal with.

It is difficult for any mother-daughter interaction to be completely objective and dispassionate. When strong emotions are involved and things can get personal, honest communication is integral to running their business.

Rishika says, “My mother and I don’t let business arguments pass on to the home front. We are aware that it would just cause bitterness”. Geeta feels that being family actually makes it easier. She adds, “We make decisions after considering multiple scenarios and persuading each other, when we disagree”.

Women entrepreneurs in India: Giving it 200%

For all three pairs, dealing with unpredictable circumstances and business dynamics has been relatively easy. The goal of expanding the business and making their partner successful has helped them step up in these situations. At Under the Mango tree, on one festival day, the employees did not turn up and Sudha and Nirmala took to cooking and serving themselves. At Chocoholic, Geeta and Rishika recount how a large order was flawlessly turned around overnight. For all of them, the intent has been to do whatever it takes when the going gets tough.

It’s impossible to be successful in any venture without forging the spirit of partnership. Supporting each other to reach the big goals has been the mantra for these three mother-daughter pairs. They seem to enjoy what they do and do what they enjoy.

On International Women’s Day, these mother-daughter colleagues are evidence that contrary to stereotype, women working together can be financially successful and emotionally satisfying!

Jaya Narayan is a alumnus of TISS, Mumbai and has over 15 years of experience

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