The stereotype of women interacting in a group—which the latest Big Boss series tries to propagate—is that when too many women come together, fights and misconceptions ignite with ease. Thankfully, the Reddy sisters have done enough to put this myth to rest.
While the Ambani brothers will go down in history for their lengthy, acrimonious legal dispute over their father’s legacy, the four daughters of Apollo Hospital’s founder Pratap C Reddy — namely, Preetha, Suneetha, Shobana and Sangita — can give them a few pointers in familial harmony and effective management. These four women have been effortlessly coordinating and running the hospital empire that their father built. While the succession plan for the hospital has been clearly spelt out—Preetha, the eldest and current Managing Director—will take over from her father, Suneetha Reddy joint MD is responsible for the entire financial operations of the Group, while Sangita Reddy is Executive Director of operations while Shobana Kamineni looks after health insurance and new businesses initiatives. Together, they form a formidable and united team.
What started as a 150-bed hospital in Chennai in 1983 by Pratap Reddy is now perhaps one of the largest healthcare providers in Asia with over 8,000 beds across 46 hospitals in India and abroad. Apollo hospitals also boasts of neighbourhood diagnostic clinics, a chain of Apollo Pharmacies , a medical BPO , health insurance services as well as clinical research divisions. All thanks to the vision of the four sisters which has propelled the Group to new heights and includes investing Rs 1,290 crore for the addition of 2,418 beds across metros, large cities and semi-urban and rural areas in the next few years.
“Women have capability and skill, but they don’t get opportunity to demonstrate it, which my daughters had and they have done extremely well,” says Reddy, who said he never allotted any portfolio to any of his daughters. They simply migrated to the different functionalities on their own. Reddy says that each of his daughters has her own strengths. Preetha, for instance, is very good in people management. He recalled an incident at Apollo Chennai, nearly two decades ago when she was asked to help resolve a strike called by the employees. Although a raw recruit at the time, she, somehow managed to end the strike quickly. “Their biggest strength is that although they are different personalities, they complement each other’s skills. Preetha has the ability to bring a personal dimension to her management style and Suneetha’s skill lies in analysis and Sangita’s on strategy,” he added.
Getting to the top was hardly a piece of cake, say the sisters. “Most people think life is easy for women who are born into influential families.That is a misconception. Life is a struggle for us, especially if we decide to join the core part of our family business,” says Sangita Reddy, she was talking in a seminar titled “Fathers and Daughters in Indian Business Families” organised by the Young FICCI Ladies Organisation (YFLO) held recently.
Sangita recalled her first day at work when she had close to 3,050 men staring at her. “I knew they were thinking what a woman like me would know about a sector that has been a man’s domain so long,” she says. “I have heard people say ‘Poor Doctor Reddy! He has four daughters. Our task was to make people say ‘Lucky Doctor Reddy! He has four daughters.’ After 27 years in the business, I think I have proved those people wrong. Envy has replaced sympathy when people look at my father and us”, says Sangita.
Plus, there were other pressures. “Living up to Dad’s expectations was a challenge and has become an important part of life,” says Sangita. “The problem was and is, if it becomes the defining moment in your life and it takes a while to try and realise how much am I doing for him and how much for myself. You have to evolve yourself beyond Daddy’s little girl,” she adds.
What could explain such a profusion of women leaders in the south? Abdul Majeed, partner in Price Waterhouse says, “Education is the one key differentiator. Be it small households or big corporate houses, when it comes to education they don’t distinguish between a son and a daughter. They give the best of education to them”. Plus, in the current business era, where shareholders and other investors are seeking a good return on their investment, gender really doesn’t matter, says Majeed. All they want is a good leader, he adds. Yet, there are considerable challenges. Women have to constantly strive to negotiate and balance out the work-home dichotomy, while men in India don’t. There are many brilliant women out there, says Majeed, but they are never able to achieve their goals because of family commitments.
Clearly, Apollo’s philosophy has been picked up from the patriarch Reddy’s example of empowering his girls. Currently 53 per cent of employees as well as 15-17 per cent of senior management at Apollo are women.