The Woman On Top

The Asian Age, Sunday, May 5, 2013 

When Rekha Pamani Gulati was named COO of Mumbai-based brand strategy firm DY Works last week, it was yet another high point in an 18-year career. Speaking to us days after the announcement, Rekha was clear on what her priority would be — facilitating employee growth. “Employees are our greatest asset and if they are happy, then business will be good,” said Rekha, who lives in Mumbai with her husband, filmmaker Vikas Gulati, and their children: Gia, eight, and Ahaan, five.

After 18 years in the industry, what do you find exciting — and challenging — about the business of branding?
People! The way they behave, the constant change in their needs and expectations are the most exciting aspects of branding. They are the very reason brands are built. Never a boring day when you’re dealing with the lives of different people or consumers!

What is the one misconception consumers have about branding?
People consider branding to be just a mere logo designing and tagline creating exercise. Many people get confused with advertising and branding. Both are required by brands but the former cannot precede the latter.

What are the top-five insights about branding that you’ve gleaned over the years?
Commanding a premium for the product becomes much easier with branding. The resultant outcome is the increase in brand equity and valuation of companies. Branding also reduces the risk for consumers while they make purchase decisions. Claims become credible when they are made by a brand rather than by any generic local manufacturer. Companies/products humanise themselves by becoming brands and add a definitive meaning to their products and services. Branding exercises help companies create legacies rather than short-lived entities.

You grew up in Ghana, studied in Europe. What prompted you to settle down in India?
I was born in Accra and I lived there for 16 years. I moved to England for further education and I stayed there for 11 years. After my MA, I worked with GE for a year, and then I moved back home.
While I visited Mumbai over the years for summer holidays — it was the monsoon here and not the best time! — I had my “India Calling” moment in 1997. Africa was home; England was... England! And I wanted to be where a lot of the buzz had started moving. I was not certain if I would stay here over a year but I have never looked back. I often tell my husband if he were not from Mumbai I would have never married him!

Some women executives feel a little affronted when asked about the “being a woman in the corporate world” experience... do you think gender has ceased to be a talking point when it comes to corporate success?
When you see the 100 top paid executives in the country, just a handful of women feature. But I do not believe that the gender barrier exists any longer. The change has been ongoing and will continue. However, I don’t think the ratio of women executives will ever match men. Men homemakers as a phenomenon won’t exist — this is not acceptable in our society — so the number ratio is self-explanatory. Personally, I don’t think that it is a criterion as long as those women who are qualified and the best choice for the job are not ousted just because they are women.

As someone at the top of the corporate ladder, how do you deal with the stress that’s part of the profile?
To me, the word “stress” is a fashion statement. It’s almost like if you don’t say you are stressed you are not working hard enough! Stress is part of life, not just corporate life. I acclimatise.

What else do you enjoy, apart from work?
I am the youngest of five sisters. We live on different continents and meet up once a year. So getting out of India when I can — between work, school PTAs, annual days etc — even if it’s just for three days is a must. And I am an adrenaline junkie so bungee jumping, skydiving and skiing are all things I never get enough of!

Rekha Pamani Gulati is the COO of DY Works, a leading brand strategy and design firm.

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