A woman's best source of advice can be her dad

My father has always mentored and encouraged me. Now I run his business.

by Smruti Sriram
Last Updated: 08 Mar 2016

In this age of man-bashing, let's not forget about the men who champion us. My biggest male cheerleader has been my father. He often tells me that if I were a boy, he would not have treated me any differently.

I now run the company he founded decades ago - ethical bag manufacturer Supreme Creations - and am his trusted business partner.

Professor Denise Kenyon-Rouvinez of Swiss business school IMD claims that although the familiar father-son combination has existed for centuries, there is a growing incidence of fathers and daughters working together, sometimes with daughters eventually succeeding their fathers - just as in our case. The special 'father-daughter club' has produced superstars: Beyonce, Angelina Jolie and Nancy Sinatra from the world of music and entertainment; L'Oreal's Liliane Bettencourt, champagne producer Virginie Taittinger and Stella McCartney in business; Laila Ali for boxing and Bernice King for civil rights. Bold and industrious women have emerged in the world of politics, with Benazir Bhutto, Indira Gandhi and Aung San Suu Kyi all following in their fathers' footsteps.

Dr Meeker, author of Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters, says that a father's influence is a major factor in the development of a woman: 'From the first years of a girl's life, a daughter looks up to her father, and craves his admiration, respect and affection.' Meeker believes that if these are present, it's a recipe for a successful woman.

When I was a little girl, my father used to tell me about the small desk that Bill Clinton set up for Chelsea in his office, allowing his daughter to work alongside him in the governor's mansion. They even had mock debates. She was made to feel just as important as her father, the future US president. My father, too, respected my abilities from an early age - there were always dinner-table discussions that created a sense of intellectual parity.

After school, I'd go straight to my father's office. After stealing a few biscuits from the staff kitchen, I'd chat to the employees, answer phones and help pack samples. Upon graduating from Oxford, I thought I would become a management consultant; I'd done several internships and got to the final round at McKinsey. But then I realised that I wanted to get first-hand experience in business and thought I could learn from my father for a few months. I worked at Supreme Creations with no sense of entitlement as the founder's progeny. I answered calls on reception to get myself stuck into customer service and was gradually given the chance to carve out my own role, developing clients, expanding markets and hiring talent.

My father never fails to teach me something new every time we speak or exchange emails. 'Smruti, you must read this article on kaizen - it applies to our supply chain.' 'When chalking out a vision, keep things simple, just like Steve Jobs.' Or: 'Use checklists: it's a sure-fire management technique.'

Jawaharlal Nehru espoused the same ethic as he wrote series of letters to his then 10-year-old daughter, Indira, while campaigning for India's independence from British rule. His letters sought to explain the world, spanning topics from the Big Bang theory and the division of labour to the origin of races and the perils of stereotyping. What he taught her helped her become India's first female prime minister.

I've had to earn my stripes. I work long hours, negotiate contracts and am responsible for 700 employees. I never address my father as 'dad' in the office, in meetings or in emails; he is Dr Sri Ram or 'the chairman'. My clients do not know this is a family business (although they will now!) and I rarely sign off my emails with my surname.

There are challenges to working with your father. We are brutally honest with each other. He will often pull me up if I am not gracious or generous. I, too, don't hold back in my feedback to him, whether it's about new ventures, investments in technology or if his tie and shirt don't match. However, as there are no office politics to contend with, we appraise each other only with pure intent. I doubt any other CEO/chairman relationship involves that level of frankness.

So to all the fathers and future fathers out there: nurture your daughters and encourage them to dream big. Teach us how you make decisions and how you practically solve problems. Female equality in the workforce is essential, but musing about boardroom quotas and extended paternity leave won't cut it. Paternal pedagogy and respect for your daughters is vital. It will give them the confidence to address tough issues in and out of work.

Smruti Sriram is CEO of Supreme Creations, the world's largest manufacturer of reusable bags, and a former 35 Women Under 35 cover star.

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