By Shilpi Madan
There are a flurry of small bicycles and cars in ruddy reds and cheerful yellows parked meticulously in a single file, outside the foyer at the Parle Agro office, as I make my way up to meet Schauna Chauhan, the trailblazer CEO. Listed as one of the most powerful business women in India by Fortune India 2018, Schauna Chauhan is also hands-on mom to five-year-old Jahaan. Excerpts from a conversation:
So Jahaan loves cars…
He is absolutely passionate about cars. We are done with bumper cars, and now go for go-karting. On the weekends, I sometimes even take him to the swanky car showrooms where he soaks up all the information on the latest wheels, sits inside the cars…everyone indulges him, explaining the working and the mechanism of the cars.
That is one of the best things about being Schauna Chauhan, isn’t it?
(laughs) Yes, it is, I guess. God has been kind.
What is that one thing that you keep telling Jahaan these days?
That if you start something, finish it. Like he went for a football class, and then doesn’t want to go again. Yet, I do not want to be one of those annoying moms, breathing down his back. I like to expose him to different things and let him discover his interests on his own. But I always encourage him to finish what he starts. I tell him we will finish it together as a team: it could be wrapping up a jigsaw puzzle or learning to cycle without his training wheels. He was so apprehensive, and a little nervous, when I removed the training wheels and convinced him to cycle in the office compound. First, I made him comfortable with the cycle, and with the idea that if he fell off, it did not matter. What mattered was getting back on to cycle again. He did it, and it was such a proud moment for me; I have it on video. I had tears in my eyes and he himself was amazed that he could do it, with the security guards clapping to encourage him…it was such a beautiful feeling watching him go. I was simply overwhelmed.
What is that learning that you share with him every day?
That if you falter and fall, no problem. Get up and start all over again to power ahead. No matter how hard you fall. That is my mantra at work too.
Is Jahaan an outdoors kid?
Absolutely! Jahaan loves going to our farm in Patalganga, near Karjat. We go for all these crazy rides as well–I love the rides too–we enjoyed ourselves at Disneyland in Paris. Now his summer break is coming up and we will plan, last-minute, as always (laughs). If his cousins are joining in, we do a beach vacation in Maldives or so.
Are you a single mom?
I have been a single mom for the past five years.
You can’t have it all. That is a reality.
Very true. But I am in a happy space. The separation has been amicable.
How involved is your husband, Bikram (Saluja), with Jahaan?
They spend a lot of time together. Bikram comes over whenever he has time. We do Sunday lunches together, we talk every day.
You are the successful CEO of one of the most innovative and rapidly growing companies in India. How do you manage to be a hands-on parent at the same time?
That I am a single, working mom makes it a hundred times more challenging. I feel blessed to be able to make it work. Of course, it is my company and I am the boss here (laughs), so I can put my infrastructure in place, like I have staff to watch over Jahaan.
Your day starts pretty early, at 8.20 am?
I drop Jahaan off to school and head to office. I have four assistants. We review the work plan and meetings slated for the day as I like to maximise my time. My assistant picks up Jahaan and gets him to office. He has been coming to office with me since he was three months old and is used to it. He was the only kid in playschool to say that he wants to go to office (and not home!).
Tell us more.
Well, Jahaan thinks he is the boss around here. He is very familiar with the place, the people and spends a good chunk of the day here. It is also very important for me that he sees me working. He needs to understand the kind of effort and focus I put into my work. Nothing comes easy in life. I want to carry this learning with him as he grows up.
Do you involve Jahaan in your work?
Yes. When he hears me talking on the phone or a conference call about some malfunctioning of a machine, he will ask me about it later. He accompanies me to Vijaywada where we are setting up another manufacturing plant. He is a very observant child. I have learnt as a mother that children see, listen all the time, even when you think they are not paying attention.
So he doesn’t grudge your work?
Not at all. In fact, he loves being around me at my workplace. There have been occasions when he has been unwell, and has had to skip school, and I have had to carry on with my scheduled meetings for the day while he rested it out. He himself tells me to go to work as he knows it is important for me. I work without any guilt. But then as I said, I am lucky to have been able to organise things at my own pace, in my own work environment. I can understand the stress other mothers go to for the simple lack of a good, safe, affordable system of daycare for their kids.
Have you thought of facilitating the same for your employees?
Actually, we did conduct a survey to ascertain the need. I was keen to set up a creche or a daycare centre for our employees. Very surprisingly, the survey told another story. People are still more comfortable leaving their kids with their parents, in laws…so I gave up the idea.
Do you have a nuclear setup at home?
Yes. It is just me and Jahaan. Of course, my mom is a huge support, she is only a phone call away, just like everyone else’s mom (smiles).
And you never carry work home?
No. With whom will I discuss it anyway? But seriously, I have never carried work home.
He is a single kid, what about his bond with his cousins?
Jahaan loves spending time with them. Tonight, I am taking all the kids out for dinner. I take him for playdates as well.
God takes care of all. We are three sisters, and we are very close-knit. In a way I am glad that I have a son. I do not wish to sound biased, but the way it has worked out, it is simply easier to balance work and Jahaan, as most of my staff is male. Yes, I would have had to be extra cautious and careful if it would have been otherwise.
I am focussed on bringing up Jahaan, and on making Parle Agro the numero uno, most trusted brand in the beverage market in the country.
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