How well do you know India's top lawyer? Zia Mody unplugged
Q: We don't hear much these days about how you started. There was something called Zia Modi chambers, from Zia Mody chambers to becoming the managing partner of AZB, tell us the journey when you started how was it?
A: Chambers of Zia Mody was started after a long journey of itself. I went to England studied my law, went to America did my masters, went to work with a New York law firm for 5 years in Manhattan, came back home got married went to Court about 8 – 9 years everyday and then it started Chambers of Zia Modi. So it wasn't the first startup that I had it was a journey which ended. When I first came back to India, there was no M&A. Manmohan Singh hadn't given his 1991 policies. Chambers of Zia Mody was a result of India opening up.
Q: How was it at that time?
A: Fabulous we were 12 people. Everybody knew everything about each other. We all had cold pizza for dinner, we learnt everything that the Reserve Bank was coming out with everyday, big flat plastic book called ‘The Exchange Control Manual', which doesn't exists now.
Q: Everyone knows you are a workaholic, other than the hardwork what are the 2 things that you think you did right to be where you are today?
A: I was lucky enough to have the right young people believe in what I was doing and joined us. I tried to train them retain them work with them became my partners, its people its all about people this business of law. The second of to always set a very very high quality as the benchmark, which included first and foremost honesty integrity second is keep grooming and everything that you talked about, third was accessibility responsiveness and ofcourse hardwork.
Q: One question which I wanted to ask you is as a leader today who has built such a force to reckon with enterprise, to rise and scale up somewhere you have to be more thick skinned and less emotional. I hear 2 sides of the story about you that you are very passionate and emotional and some say that you are a tough nut to crack.
A: I think I am a bit of both few I think surprise me, I think I am quiet tough and am able to say No now, when may be 10 years ago I was more difficult. I think its easier for me to talk straighter simply because I follow the philosophy that I just don't have time so point beating around the bush, its better you come down to grass facts. But then I still remain emotional in the sense that I am woman at the end of the day I believe that I have a fairly high sense of EQ, I get upset if my lawyers are upset if my partners are worried about something I want to try and resolve it, it's a very mumma kind of EQ I still have.
Q: Talking about being thick skinned as a lawyer, lawyers are generally not regarded as an emotional people. When you go to work a client is a client.
A: What lawyers tend to do and it may not be a bad thing, you should not take your client's problems home too much. Its easy to say and it depends, for myself if I have a negotiation that I am doing and if it carries over the next day I don't take it home, but if I have a litigation when my client is losing and I have to be strategizing and I have to be thinking I take it home with me. It depends each one, I live with the litigation I don't live with the M&A. M&A I can do it I can switch off litigation consumes me.
Q: You are talking about passion, how have you remained passionate over the years.
A: One I think its God's blessings two I always love what I do. I always teach my partners that if I stop liking coming into the office more than 20% of the year then there wont have to see me again. But I enjoy the infectious energy of the youngsters, I love the debate the with our partners, clients are now willing to engage in new debates which there were never before. Everyone wants to be dearest no one wants a problem in life and so its constant innovation, thinking one step ahead wearing a regulators hat how would he think
Q: So you are saying that I thought that at your stage everything would come very easy.
A: Its almost never a day when I am not doing something different.
Q: Is that also the secret of all the energy and enthusiasm?
A: Its just everything is never the same, something new hits you everyday, you may put it in the corner you may park it you may put it down on a notepad but it will come back again.
Q: Zia one thing, if you had to say YourStory what's your story, Zia Mody's story what would you say?
A: It's a journey of extra ordinary bounty from the almighty. I was the only girl and the eldest child and was given the opportunity to study in the best schools, I experienced the joys of working in Manhattan for 5 years and a husband who is completely supportive and proud, the two daughters who are fantastic and I have two parents to die for. My story is really one of being provided an ecosystem which at every single milestone in my life allowed me to be my profession best.
Q: Do you also think that you have an attitude which sees things in a positive way?
A: Sometimes most times, but I can also switch if the mood is wrong. But generally I bounce back in terms of my mood.
Q: One thing which people say about the top firms in India that there is a huge weightage given to the personality like Zia Modi is a big personality. What do you have to say about it?
A: We are all young firms, in the sense people are surprised to know that we are less than 20 years old. We have run very well fast and we've worked very well hard. Are there young partners who are now my senior partners who have worked with me for 10 years 15 years, yes there are. Its just that sometimes my personality over shadows just because I am so big and talkative, but there is definitely a very visible, atleast to the others in the firm, rank of senior succession that is definitely taking their place, let me not do unloyal things that I should not be doing, stepping in terms of making the cut. I think like me other firms have dominant personalities and we've been on the road for 20 years longer than our younger partners.
Q: What does failure mean to you?
A: Not having somebody trust me, having a client feel let down having a partner feel let down.
Q: Does it effect you?
A: Yes, terribly.
Q: Have you failed?
Q: But you believe only in success.
A: Cant have it all the time. You learn from failures. I have had my share of set backs which I have gone back and introspected. The challenge is to learn form it.
Q: What do you do other than law?
A: I chat with my husband, I see couple of movies sometimes, go on holidays. We love going on short holidays to Kenya, to Goa to America.
Q: What is your messages to youngsters and entrepreneurs what should they do as they charter through their journeys?
A: The main thing is no shortcuts, they are just no shortcuts. I don't mean short cuts in term of time I mean shortcuts in terms of thought process, shortcuts not to say the wrong things just to get things done quickly. Once you start having small lies they become big lies and you forget what you lied about but you don't forget the truth. But you hadn't figured out which story you told in your story which is the story right. Being committed towards what you are doing, if you don't like what you are doing change it, don't stick with it because it will not stay. Find exactly what makes you thrilled everyday.
Q: First you are a lawyer, a professional and a woman do you think your surrounding at any point made you feel that you are a woman first and a lawyer second?
A: I think we grew up very equally, atleast at home I didn't feel unequal. When I came back to the Bombay High Court I realized I was one of the very few women, but not being shy I persevered. Just hanging there go back and be better and stronger, harder working and be more visible get more noticed and stick to it.
Q: Are you spiritual?
A: I am a Bahai by religion, I believe in Bahai faith. Definitely believe in God so I hope so.
Camera person: Manoj Upadhyaya
Video Editor: Anjali Achal