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BW Businessworld

Empire Of Steel

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Sminu belongs to one of the leading industrial families in the country. Her grandfather O.P. Jindal was a first generation entrepreneur who laid the foundation of the Jindal Group in 1984. Today, the group is being managed by his four sons, each of whom heads his own respective business. Sminu's father Prithvi Raj Jindal is the eldest and is vice chairman of Jindal Saw Limited; Sajjan Jindal, eight years younger to Prithvi, heads the JSW Group; Ratan Jindal heads Jindal Stainless Steel; and the youngest, Naveen Jindal, is the executive vice chairman and MD of Jindal Steel & Power Limited and also an MP from Kurukshetra. After O.P. Jindal's demise in 2005, the chairperson for all these companies is their mother Savitri Jindal.

What is it like being the granddaughter of a visionary and living with successful entrepreneurs as family members?
Sminu acknowledges that she has imbibed a lot from her grandfather. She reminisces how her father and chachas were quite in awe of him. Sometimes Ratan, but more often Naveen, could gather courage to discuss and argue with him but the older two would almost never do that and invariably maintain a more traditional approach of respect and regard. She would be the only other person in the family who would have the guts to have a discussion with him. OP used to affectionately call her 'kamau poot', the son who earns.

She recounts the pearls of wisdom handed over to her by her grandfather when she was going to make a start in the business. He was very open-minded and supportive of her decision. 'He said,' recalls Sminu, "Beta, ek to tera darwaza hamesha labour ke liye khula rehna chahiye, kabhi uske liye band nahin hona chahiye. Manager log to kaise bhi karke tere paas pahunch jaayenge par woh labour nahin pahunchega. Doosra, kabhi yeh mat bhoolna us labour ki vajah se aaj aap apni roti rozi kamaate ho. Agar aap uska dhyaan nahin rakh sakte toh aapke ghar mein lakshmi kabhi nahin aayegi" (My dear child, firstly, your door should always remain open for your workers; it should never be closed for them. The managers will somehow reach you but those workers will not be able to. Secondly, never forget that it's because of these workers that today you are earning your livelihood. If you are not able to take care of them, then you will never get prosperity in your house).

 'Taking good care of our people is the basic philosophy that runs through the entire Jindal Group,' says Sminu.

'We have schools, housing and medical facilities at each of our units. My grandfather used to say that "Agar roti kapda aur ghar ki chinta apke labour ko nahin hogi to woh apna pura man kaam mein laga sakta hai" (If your workers are not worried about food, clothing and shelter, then they can devote their hearts completely to work). We are proud of the fact that there is no labour union in any of the Jindal group companies. We never lay off our people. When during the shutdown at Nashik or more recently during the recession, not a single employee was asked to leave. We believe in taking care of our people and I guess that gets returned,' concludes Sminu.

There are other members of the family too whom she admires. She respects her grandmother's generosity and humble attitude towards one and all regardless of the person's stature. She feels amazed with her father's resilience. No adversity can shake him. He has a very calm temperament and a cool demeanour. She appreciates Indresh's ability to absorb and analyse large amounts of information and create the right focus. She also admires her chachas-Sajjan's engineering bent of mind, Ratan's financial acumen and Naveen's abilities as a great communicator. 'He excels at everything he touches,' she says.

Sminu's own management style is very hands-on. She considers herself quite 'fiery' compared to her father and one who is a tough taskmaster if the occasion demands so. She likes to go into the depth of the problem to arrive at a solution. She believes that teamwork is what takes the organization forward and likes to consult her team members on important issues. While she recognizes that more minds are better than one, she also brings in the delicate balance by ensuring that too many cooks don't spoil the broth.

Her after-work hours are completely dedicated to the family. She also loves to indulge in her hobbies of painting, singing and interior decoration as and when she can make time for them. She enjoys travelling and Venice remains her all-time favourite destination. She believes that, 'a little bit of courage, lots of love and support from family and friends and God's grace is what it takes to make life beautiful. Her single most important mantra that keeps her going is that 'where there is a will there is a way', and it is her unshaken faith in this phrase that has enabled her to succeed in difficult situations whether it was turning around the sick units or even starting Svayam. People who have worked closely with her say that she has crossed the stage of being called a determined human being. She is a tenacious one.

Well into the conversation and spurred by her self-assured bearing, I ask her how did she develop so much confidence and cope with those days when life took an onerous turn for her about seventeen years ago?
After completing her elementary schooling in Delhi, Sminu had joined the boarding at the prestigious Maharani Gayatri Devi School in Jaipur with a view to acquire holistic quality education. It was on one of those drives back home from Jaipur to Delhi that she met with a near fatal accident. She was fortunate to survive but sustained a severe spinal cord injury and brain hemorrhage. The spinal injury left the lower half of her body paralysed. The next few years were very difficult and traumatic for her. She was just a young child of eleven in class six. As she woke up to the reality facing her, she shuddered at the thought that it would no longer remain the playful carefree life she had known. What hurt her most was the realization that she would no longer be able to dance. She was a talented Kathak dancer and a distinction holder at Bhartiya Kala Kendra at the age of nine.

Sminu does not flinch a bit while talking to me about this agonizing phase of her life and recalls with serene equanimity that it was indeed a period of complete personal mess. It was her family that became a deep source of emotional and psychological support for her in those moments. Her parents, especially her mother Arti, instilled the confidence in her that she would be able to go to a normal school and continue the day-to-day activities. They would encourage her to do the small routine things on her own without seeking anyone's sympathy or support. She would carry her bag to school, go for tuitions outside home like her sisters did and later joined a regular co-ed college after studying in a convent. Thus she 'was cared for but was not pampered'. This significant training at home toughened her mind and made her self-reliant so that she could face the life ahead with courage.

My interaction with Sminu left me with a beautiful feeling of having met a cheerful, spirited and an iron willed individual whose approach in life is to focus on her abilities rather than her disability. She is true to her name-Sminu incidentally means someone who always keeps smiling. Regret, sympathy, pity are words that are banished from her dictionary. 'One moves forward or backward in life depending on how the person looks at the situation,' she says emphatically. She suggests that instead of sympathizing with people or protecting them too much, the focus should be on empowering and enabling them to live with dignity.

The Jindals are widely admired for being wealth creators and building a large business empire. They are also known for their family values, spirit of camaraderie and progressive thinking, which is reflected in Sminu's successful journey and in the status and opportunities available to other women in the family. For instance, Sminu's grandmother Savitri Jindal is a member of the Haryana Vidhan Sabha besides being chairperson of all the companies of Jindal Group. She also served as minister of Power in the Government of Haryana. Her chachi Deepika (Ratan's wife) has pioneered the enterprise Art d'Inox which is into stainless steel tableware and home décor products. One cannot help but wonder at the paradoxical coexistence of liberal and progressive views and extreme conservatism in the same society!

The next decade will possibly accelerate the growth for the country as never before; thanks to the information boom and technological advancement that has the potential of touching lives to the last mile. If those who are fortunate can give back to the communities to which they belong just the way Sminu is attempting to transfer the best practices of the advanced world to our social environment, it can go a long way in driving an ideological change. The reward will be evident in enlightened surroundings for oneself and for our future generations.

Excerpted with permission from Penguin Books India