Fresh out of college and looking to rocket-launch their career, thousands of starry-eyed graduates and post-graduates aspire to join the big names – be it conglomerates with offices around the globe, or the lean and mean startups that are paradoxically giants in their own way. In this mad rush to climb the corporate ladder, there is one segment that is shunned by most – the family business. Derogatorily called baniya companies, these organisations are somehow not seen as aspirational brands to work with.
If Swati Singh, Global Head of Business Strategies at Rational Business Corporation, has her way, though, this status quo will change soon. Swati lives in Frankfurt, Germany and is set to move back to India and take over as COO of her organisation (a family-owned business with an annual revenue of 250 crore) in December this year. Rational manufactures and supplies a range of paper products and office stationery as well as computer hardware and peripherals, to clients like Amazon, Snapdeal, Fedex, Indigo, Spicejet, McDonalds, Bluedart, Flipkart and PVR in Asia, Europe and a few African countries.
Twenty-eight-year-old Swati says it still surprises people that she chose to join a family-owned organisation. It could be because of the positivity that she sensed during her first interaction with Rational CEO and fourth-generation scion of the family, Ashish Gupta, in 2014, she herself had no qualms joining the organisation. But attracting quality talent is a different ballgame altogether. She explains, “It has been a huge struggle to hire good resources. There is this huge mindblock that stops people, especially women, from joining family-run organisations.”
Clearing misconceptions – SMEs and Mittelstand
India has a rich history of SMEs and that too family-owned organisations. According to Swati, there certainly is scope for changes in their work culture but the management of these organisations are also not as narrow as people fear.
The positive changes brought in by the youngest generation of many of these businesses include:
- Taking in outsiders in CXO positions rather than sticking only to family members.
- A startup style of working as they are adapting new trends of working and experimenting a lot.
- Improving on their diversity ratio with more female hires and better work policies and facilities aimed at women employees.
In Rational, for instance, when more female resources joined the firm, Swati’s suggestions for making the workplace women-friendly were incorporated – from better restroom facilities for women to ensuring safety through cabs with GPS. Swati says, “Often the issue is that the management has not thought of these things, but when the requirements are expressed, they swing into action. So all that is required most of the times is to just ask! If we have more number of women staff in the future, we are open to providing facilities like a crèche to ensure that women are motivated to continue working with us long term.”
Since Swati has been living in Germany for the past few years, she has experienced first-hand the stark difference in mindsets, when compared to India. Family-owned SMEs, known as Mittelstand in German, are very aspirational places to work at and are described in an adulatory way as the backbone of one of the world’s largest economies.
Student, workaholic, wife – the various shades of Swati
Swati’s husband works in Frankfurt currently and will be moving back to India due to the new profile that Swati is set to take up. She says, “He is the reason behind my success. It´s his motivation and support that keeps me going.” When quizzed about her interests beyond work, she has to think for far too long, though she is quick to assure me that she is not a workaholic. But would her husband describe her as a workaholic, I persist, and she answers sheepishly, “I guess he would!”
Swati’s advice to all working women would be,
Be courageous, always have your own viewpoint and stick to it, fight for it no matter if it's your professional or personal life. Make your own space.