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Women & Money: India’s Highest Paid CEOs

A deeper look into the Business Standard data

What does the list of 100 Highest Paid CEOs tell us about dynasty and gender in India?

Kavery Kalanidhi Sun Network

Last week, Business Standard published a list of India’s super rich and its highest paid CEOs (using data sourced from Capitaline). My Big Red Bag decided to establish how women fare in both these lists, and the results, sadly, were not entirely unexpected.

This week we start off with the 100 highest paid CEOs in India Inc. for FY2012-13. Only 3 women make it to this list:

Highest Paid CEOs India Top 100

At Number 2 is Kavery Kalanithi, who is Executive Director at Sun TV Network. Sun TV Network is a part of Sun Group, founded and run by her husband, Kalanithi Maran (who is number 1 on the list of 100 highest paid CEOs). Google up the couple and there is a host of information available on the husband – such as his political connections (he is the son of Former Union Minister of commerce Murasoli Maran and a nephew of DMK supremo K Karunanidhi) and his media empire (he has since extended into various other businesses, including a recent purchase of Spice Jet). Not much information is available on Mrs. Kalanithi, however, apart from the fact that she hails from Coorg, has a Bachelors degree in Arts and has held various Directorship positions in her husband’s group companies.

The next woman on the list makes an appearance at #68, and she is Urvi A Piramal, Chairperson at Peninsula Land. Mrs. Piramal took on the reigns of the Ashok Piramal Group after he husband’s death in 1984. Peninsula Land was the company behind Crossroads in Central Mumbai, often cited as the city’s first shopping mall.  Apart from being a renowned wildlife enthusiast, Urvi is also credited with turning around her inheritance of assets with negative net worth into a diversified and thriving business, while also bringing up her 3 sons who are now part of  her leadership team.

At #69 on list is Vinita Singhania, Vice-Chairman & MD, JK Lakshmi Cement. Mrs. Singhania’s story is not very different from Mrs. Piramal’s – she was also pulled into the family business after her husband’s death in 1988. All her business profiles focus on her metamorphosis from a shy housewife to a business czarina taking on President Pranab Mukherjee when he was Finance Minister.  She is often quoted as crediting her 16 years experience of running a household for her success in overseeing her company’s astounding growth.

What do we we make of the highest paid CEOs in India, and of the 3 women who are part of this list? One thing is clear – the list is dominated by family owned, or “dynasty”, businesses – most of the highest paid CEOs in India Inc. are either founders, or relatives of the founders. That also holds true for these 3 women – while each of them has undoubtedly proven her merit, one can’t help wondering if they would have been part of this list had they not married into the right family. While the Marans are a first generation dynasty, the Piramals & Singhanias have built their sprawling business empires over the last few decades.

Is this possibly the reason why the more renowned professional women CEOs – women like Chanda Kochhar (ICICI Bank), Vinita Bali (Britannia Industries), Naina Lal Kidwai (HSBC India) & Shikha Sharma (Axis Bank) – don’t make it to this list? It is tough to come up with an answer here, especially since some of their male counterparts (Nitin Paranjpe of HUL, S Khosla of P&G Hygiene, Arun Sawhney of Ranbaxy) are part of the highest paid CEO’s club. And if running a “dynasty” company means more compensation, why then are we missing women such as Kiran Mazumdar Shaw (of Biocon: she appears on the richest Indians list but not on the richest CEOs)?

A lot of factors contribute to ascertaining CEO salaries – the state of the industry, the challenges facing the company, growth in revenues & profits and many more – but maybe it’s time to start publishing CEO earnings as a proportion of profits to ascertain the possible role of dynasty and gender in these numbers.

What do you think of the data on highest paid CEOs in India? Did you expect to see more women on this list, or less? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

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