It’s all in the family: Mother and daughters script new story in HR consultancyRekha Balakrishnan
Two generations have steered the reigns at Shilputsi Consultants. Pratibha Sheth founded Shilputsi Consultants, and daughters Purvi and Shilpa are taking the company to greater heights.
Eighty-one-year-old Pratibha Sheth can be called the doyen of human resources consulting in India. As the founder of Shilputsi Consultants, she is the first woman to pioneer and establish a strategic HR consulting firm in India, way back in 1978.
Pratibha wanted to create a business that would help companies build strong talent processes. She named it after her three daughters, Shilpa, Atsi and Purvi. The meaning of Shilputsi is drawn from their names – creative (Shilpa) solutions that are unique (Purvi) and spread the fragrance (Atsi) of work with clients. She hoped that someday, her daughters would join her.
Shilpa completed her MBA, and her mother insisted she work for a few years before joining the business. After a stint at Britannia for six years, she joined the family business. She works as an associate consultant in the US, and is currently Shilputsi’s US partner. Atsi, however has a career in the political economy and is managing director at Moody’s Sovereign Risk group in the US.
Purvi interned at Shilputsi while in college. She trained to be a journalist, but enjoyed HR and started at the lowest level in the firm. She completed her CPD at Wharton Business School, and later rose to become the CEO of Shilputsi Consultants.
“I started as a freelancer doing training on leadership, communication, team building, etc with various companies,” says Pratibha.
“Many corporate organisations would invite me to sit on their senior managerial selection and HR process mapping, and also sought advice on leadership management as well as HR process and systems. One of my clients was starting a new company, and their sister company was in collaboration with a multinational company. They wanted me to handle the entire process of bringing a team and also design their remuneration structure, organisation structure and provide business strategy input.”
This is when she felt the need for a strong consulting practice, and also building a firm that could provide consolidated HR services, and thus, Shilputsi was born, she recalls.
The initial days were tough, especially when it came to changing mindsets on “personnel”, which was what HR was all about those days. “Shilputsi had to advocate and emphasise the power and importance of talent management and talent acquisition in the interest of sustaining business. As the only woman in the business, I had to face a fair bit of resistance as clients were all male, and less comfortable with women or female advisors” says Pratibha.
“One time, I went to a new client’s office and the CEO was aghast. He called his HR person and said, ‘I thought you were getting a consultant, but this is a lady!’ He could not believe that a woman could be his adviser. Later, the same client became one of the biggest revenue clients for Shilputsi,” she says with a laugh.
When her daughters moved to Shilputsi, and Purvi became CEO, it was a smooth transition as the daughters mirrored the values of their mother.
“It can be as easy or difficult to work together as you decide to make it! Our mother brought us up to be independent women. She has always been a friend and never tried to wield authority. We talk as friends but with mutual respect, making it easy to work as partners. If you understand each other and know where the other person’s point of view is coming from, it’s easy to work together. The good thing about a mother and daughter working together is that there is a lot of trust, faith and affection. This helps in making decisions together and allowing the space and freedom to do things,” says Purvi.
Pratibha comes with 40 years of experience and understands people, behaviours, and HR imperatives. Purvi brings a new age perspective of changing times and trends, as well as the role of HR in business and boardrooms. This creates a complimentary set of skills. Purvi manages clients and the business, while Pratibha plays a strategic advisory role to Shilputsi.
What happens when opinions differ?
“We are strong individuals and have our views. However, we also respect each other’s perspectives. If we disagree on client matters, we usually listen, reflect and try to reach a consensus. We never undermine each other. We enjoy working together and many dinner table conversations end up about HR and clients,” Purvi explains.
Purvi recalls an interesting anecdote on how she and her mother faced one of many challenges in their journey at Shilputsi.
“In 1995, we were helping a large multinational set up five joint ventures in India. There was no internet in those days. The global CEO was arriving in Pune, and a major HR presentation was to be done. Shilputsi had done all the work for these ventures and designed presentations and manuals for an entire committee that would be delivered by the Global HR head.”
However, at the last minute, the printer gave way and stopped working! Since it was evening already, the Global HR Head left for Pune. We somehow managed to get the printer repaired, printed several copies at 11 pm, and then decided to get into a car and drive to Pune in the middle of the night to hand deliver the presentation! We had no packed clothes, very little money and were only two women. We reached the hotel at 3 am, gave the presentation, and manuals to the client, had a hearty breakfast and came back!”
As Shilputsi completes 40 years of being in business, the future is all about navigating the challenges of business decisions that impact human capital.
“We envision to be India’s most distinguished and go-to HR consulting firm and leading HR partner to businesses. We are contemporary with a tech-savvy approach to HR. The twenty-first century is all about technology that is constantly evolving, often at break neck speed. Our endeavour will be to remain a strategic HR partner and execution enabler as well as talent search consultants to organisations,” says Pratibha.