Aug 14, 2008

Business - Take stock of her share

The stock markets are giving the poor unsuspecting investor the jitters. Dalal Street, home to the benchmark Sensex, seems to be in a state of shock. Yet there seems to be an air of peace and tranquility about Deena A. Mehta, Managing Director, Asit C. Mehta, a well known financial services company.
Deena should actually know all about the stock markets which have raised people to dizzy heights and hurled them to bottomless depths with equal dispatch. She was the first woman to hold the prestigious chair of President of the Bombay Stock Exchange, albeit for a truncated period.
But life wasn’t all about bulls and bears for the young Deena who actually nurtured dreams of wanting to be an engineer. Her parents dismissed this idea and Deena went on to pass her Chartered Accountancy exam by the age of 20 and proceeded to add a post-graduate degree in management thereafter to her educational qualifications. Her induction into the world of finance was modest. “I started by writing my husband’s book of accounts,” says Deena, while applying for membership to the Bombay Stock Exchange.
Once she was inside the precincts of the stock exchange, there was no stopping Deena. “I am most happy solving problems, and have a nose to spot a mess. Then I go to the root of the problem and come up with solutions.”
Well, there were problems galore in the stock exchange in those days. She is credited with analyzing the problem with reconciliation of settlements and coming up with a triplicate-slip system that managed to compress the 15-day settlement period into a mere four-day affair. This was to be just the beginning of Deena’s problem-solving phase.
Addressing the problem of inter-member objections that had mounted to a daunting 38,000 complaints, Deena tabulated all the complaints into 13 categories and then proceeded to spell out a settlement procedure followed by an arbitration procedure to solve the problems created by these complaints. To her credit, every single complaint was settled.
The young Deena worked with a broking firm and became the first ever woman to enter the famous trading ring. The stock exchange viewed her application to enter the ring with trepidation and subjected her to a gruelling two-hour interview before succumbing to the inevitable. This was to give her invaluable first-hand experience in every aspect of stock broking and was to hold her in good stead when she and her husband began operating under the name and style of Asit C. Mehta in 1986.
By 1994, hers was the first “limited liability corporate member” of the Bombay Stock Exchange. In the meanwhile she was an active member of the core committee on computerization in the stock exchange and in all her various roles in the stock exchange, including that of the first woman Vice-President, earned the respect and trust of her peers. Trust that saw her sitting on almost 1,000 arbitration cases. “Integrity, knowledge and perseverance are the key attributes that I have endeavoured to have” says Deena.
“What about the glass ceiling?” I ask, wondering how this lady broke through in a completely orthodox male-run environment.
Deena is candid as she replies: “ So long as you are a peer, there is no problem. The moment I was perceived as a boss, there was active resistance from some quarters.” She hasn’t let that bother her though. “I’ve just been myself,” she declares with confidence.
Yet, there is so much more than stocks and shares to this peppy woman. She has been a trustee of the Prempuri Ashram for about six years and plays an active role in this spiritual institution that organises a plethora of programmes every year. This includes a TV serial on Sanskar channel where she delivers talks on spirituality and management. “I am not ritualistic. I am spiritual,” says Deena. “I listen to my conscience and stick to what is right.” She attributed this trait to the inspiration she draws from her husband whom she describes as “fearless”.
“Our biggest wealth is our potential. We are happy with what we have. God gives you what you need and what you deserve. If it goes, you probably didn’t deserve it,” says Deena, who, incidentally, was officially the highest woman taxpayer in the mid-Nineties.
There is a community-welfare-side to Deena too. Her company has surveyed 250 villages in Kutch and all the physically challenged people there have been identified. As a follow-up, 1,500 people have been medically examined, 90 surgeries have been performed and hundreds have been given callipers and wheel-chairs. This is an on-going programme with a target to cover 980 villages.
“Where do you find the time for all this?” I enquire. Her answer is revealing. “We all have 24 hours in a day. We need to prioritize!” And it’s not that Deena is all work and no play. She loves travelling and has visited almost every part of the world except South America.
Deena avers that good management is a game of patience. One should not just build up steam and get burnt out. It is more important to run the course. She advises young managers to stay relevant, and concentrate on building a career slowly and steadily. She does not recommend jumping jobs for those few extra bucks.
“If you are offered more money ask yourself if you will be adding more value. If not, you are no better that the man who diluted your milk with water or adulterates your rice with pebbles”.
Tough words indeed. At the end of the day Deena advocates humility at all times. And practices what she preaches. As I leave I couldn’t resist asking her for her forecast on the state of the markets. “It will take six months more for us to be on the right side of the U curve,” she says readily. Well, I think to myself, Deena has always advocated patience.
(Ramesh Narayan is a communications consultant.)

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