With the world order upended by the Coronavirus pandemic this year, a lot of the discussion has come to be centred around leadership and how leaders across the spectrum have navigated the debilitating impact of the event. A study published by the Centre for Economic Policy Research and the World Economic Forum found that countries with women leaders acted quickly and decisively in the face of potential fatalities in the initial months of the pandemic, and fared better than many which had male leaders.
This finding shouldn’t surprise anybody. The pandemic has thrown up several examples where women leaders have shown grit, determination, and the agility to take the toughest challenges head-on. As we at Fortune India began to work on the 10th edition of the Most Powerful Women (MPW) in Business list, it became clear that there were several instances where women leaders across businesses had remained undaunted in the face of adversity and taken their companies forward.
(For the full Fortune India MPW list, click here)
Nowhere is this more evident than in healthcare, where the women at the helm came forward and made a difference, and the impact of their efforts extended well beyond the profit and loss accounts of the companies they led. Biocon’s Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw, Apollo Hospitals’ Suneeta Reddy, Cipla’s Samina Hamied, and Metropolis’ Ameera Shah are leading the fight against the Coronavirus, while Natasha Poonawalla’s company, Serum Institute of India, is at the forefront of the movement to provide India a vaccine.
This year’s MPW list, then, is a reflection of our times—testimony that despite all odds, there will be a bunch of people who will not hesitate to take on challenges, and win. Consequently, the MPW 2020 list has a good degree of churn, with many names moving up the ranks as they become symbols of India’s fight against the virus. There are also 13 new entrants, from sectors as varied as technology, media, entertainment, and financial services. But typical of MPW, there are also those who have figured on this list in all the 10 years, demonstrating the lasting impact of their efforts on their chosen fields.
This year, we have a new No. 1—Nita Ambani, whose achievements within and beyond the world of business have made her a force to reckon with in her own right. Whether it is as the chairperson of the mammoth Reliance Foundation, as co-owner of four-time Indian Premier League cricket champions Mumbai Indians (brand value upward of ₹800 crore), or by way of her influence in the areas of healthcare, art, education, and sport, Nita Ambani is undoubtedly a powerhouse whose success story is bound to inspire several others across the country. Another exciting story is that of Divya Gokulnath, co-founder of India’s most-valued edtech company, Byju’s. Divya’s journey from being a student to becoming a key contributor to the success of her husband’s eponymous company is stuff of legend.
And then there is Arundhati Bhattacharya who, at 64, has seamlessly made the transition from leading India’s largest bank, the State Bank of India, to taking charge as the India boss of Salesforce, one of the world’s best-known tech companies. If there’s one example of a makeover, hers would be it. But then, power women are no strangers to dramatic transformation.