Samar Srivastava/ Forbes India
Inside the corridors of power at Godrej Industries, Adi Godrej's younger daughter seems determined to make a mark.
Name: Nisa Godrej
Profile: President, human capital and innovation
Education: BSc, The Wharton school of Pennsylvania; MBA, Harvard Business School
How she is changing the way the company works: She is bringing in a more performance-oriented culture
Nisaba, or ‘Nisa’ as she is called, may be 10 years younger than her sister Tanya Dubash. That simply meant that Tanya had a huge head start over her. Yet, every time there is any water cooler conversation around a possible successor to chairman Adi Godrej, Nisa’s name is likely to emerge as the hot favourite.
The reasons aren’t hard to find: She is bright and intelligent, with a mind of her own, as one would expect of any Harvard Business School graduate. At 34, Nisa is willing to put in long hours at work, displaying the kind of aggression and drive that neither Tanya, 44, nor her younger brother Pirojsha, 31, have so far demonstrated.
Tanya may be temperamentally different, but she’s also calm, pragmatic and a good listener—qualities perhaps inherited from her father and uncle Nadir. Nisa, on the other hand, is known to be pushy and almost always able to get her way. Insiders say that one of her biggest strengths is that she has her dad's ear and is able to influence his big decisions with her logic. In the past five years, almost every major senior management change in the Godrej group is said to be, in some way or the other, engineered by her.
Surprisingly, almost all senior level exits have been that of loyal confidants of her father. As a result, a spate of CXOs across the group is said to have suddenly fallen out of favour with the mercurial Nisa and ended up being shown the door by her father. So much so that the group’s warm, fuzzy and paternalistic image as an employer has been replaced overnight by an almost tough-as-nails culture that spares no one, especially those who don’t see eye-to-eye with Nisa. (Nisa Godrej declined to participate in this story.)
This obsession for radical surgery was evident even during Nisa’s very first assignment at Godrej Agrovet, which was a sleepy little part of the group’s portfolio, till Nisa began to shake things up.
Run by a Godrej lifer Chandra-sekhar Vaidya, it had been an underperformer: Its main feeds business had been hit hard due to bird flu and sales were stagnant. Aadhaar, a rural retail initiative, was struggling to stay afloat and people were beginning to jump ship.
Something urgent had to be done, but what happened shocked even the company loyalists. The top management was changed overnight and Balram Yadav was moved three rungs up to take over as chief executive of the company. It sent a shudder through the organisation but the message was clear: Only those who perform will be rewarded. More importantly, seniority was no longer a ground for promotion or staying on in a job. “While it was Adi’s decision, it had Nisa’s fingerprints all over it,” says a company insider. “From that day we knew things would never be the same.”
Her next move was to gradually take control of the human resource function, which was till then the preserve of Visty Banaji, an HR veteran from the Tata group. Nisa inserted Mark Kahn, a batchmate from HBS, into the department. And before Banaji could figure it out, the duo began to quietly hijack the HR agenda he had set. At an apex management council review of the group, they even proposed scrapping one of his pet projects—to hire bright undergraduates—and instead suggested that they gun for top-tier talent from the IIMs. On the face of it, it seemed like it was without any prior discussion with the head of the department.