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Thursday, October 11, 2018

A mother-daughter duo has made a mark in the patriarchal family-owned space in India. Ronita Torcato reports

“To a father growing old nothing is dearer than a daughter."  Thus spake Euripides, the last of  ancient Greece’s  three great tragic dramatists, following Aeschylus and Sophocles. That sage  saying does not hold good for countries like India, where sons are preferred to daughters who are regarded as an unaffordable burden and female foeticide is an under-reported crime. Which is probably why, in a nation that observes festivals with gusto, Daughter’s Day passed by on September 23 without fanfare. Rough estimates put female entrepreneurs at approximately one-third of all entrepreneurs globally. Women entrepreneurship is now recognised as an important factor in economic growth and IIT-B must be lauded for its decision to groom 30 women entrepreneurs for start-ups.

Pratibha Sheth (80) and her daughter Purvi (46)  MD and CEO of HR management firm Shilputsi Consultants, are a good example of a mother-daughter entrepreneurial  duo who have made a mark in the patriarchal family-owned space.

Sheth Senior annexed a Masters in Social Work in 1956 and early in her career, worked in a family planning clinic. She trained in counselling and therapy, and at an entrepreneurship development institute. Over the years, she held a variety of positions at various not-for-profits.

She founded Shilputsi Consultants  in 1978, naming it  after her three daughters, Shilpa, Atsi and  Purvi. Shilpa, the eldest, was the first to join the business after completing an MBA at IIM Ahmedabad and a stint with Britannia. She now manages Shilputsi’s US affiliate. Middle sister Atsi is also in the US, but  with Moody’s.   The youngest, Purvi has a background in journalism and joined the business “right at the bottom. My mother made sure I worked in the smallest of roles for many years before allowing me to shoulder more responsibilities.”   Today, Shilputsi is one of India’s largest human resource outfits, advising organisations in  HR and talent management and assisting individuals in realising their career goals.  Working in a family-owned setup has its pros and cons, but where this mother-daughter duo is concerned, the venture is an amalgamation of experience and new age perspectives.

Asked about the road that led to steering an entrepreneurship firm, Purvi describes her mother’s travails. “When my mother started Shilputsi,  many people thought it was something for her to do part time!  Acceptance from all quarters was hard. Breaking into a male-dominated world, especially in the ’70s,  was difficult and even getting appointments or convincing clients to believe she would be impactful  was extremely difficult.  Once, when she walked into a client’s office in connection with a project, he called his HR department and told them, “ I thought you were sending a consultant. This is a woman!” That should tell you something about some barriers my mother faced. By the time I came into the business there were many more women in the workforce and certainly, several walls and ceilings had been broken. In the early days though I was still asked about the longevity of our business since it was run by women! My mother’s dream was to have her daughters work with her! Her idea was to form a Daughters & Co.”

Fortunately, the Sheth family, especially the men and other siblings, were most encouraging. “They  were happy. The family was not a barrier.” Some 12 years after Shilputsi was established, Purvi’s father joined the business (he was in HR at HUL). ”So at work, she was his boss and he was  OK with it. “

Did the social environs outside the family throw up hurdles? Says Purvi, “The world treats you the way you let them! Most of my family and friends were very supportive. There were orthodox family members who were not, but came to terms with the fact that this was not a hobby and got used to the long working hours and the extensive travel that my mother did.”

And how does the mother-daughter team compare with the ubiquitous father-son duo? Purvi  believes the dynamic wouldn’t have  been too different. “At the end of the day, it boils down to individual personalities, trust, comfort levels and respect. The challenge is in making the implicit trust and understanding, a strength in the working relationship.” And what part does sustainable business and corporate conscience play in the snug cocoon of a family firm? “Corporate Social Responsibility is extremely important. It would be good for enterprises of all sizes to do something in the social sector.” Elaborating on current projects and future plans, Purvi says, “Most recently, we launched ‘Bridge to HR tech’  for assisting clients in automating HR in a well thought out, optimal and organised way. We have also commenced, as part of our advisory practice for family managed businesses, an inter-generational progam, to help seamless transition between family members.  Hopefully, this will keep Shilputsi  both relevant and modern.”

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