Caring for her family and carrying on her late husband's public work is what India's richest woman, Savitri Jindal, with a net worth of $14.4 billion, is content doing.
She is the quintessential Indian woman with a simple saree draping her diminutive frame, with its edge arching over the forehead. She is happiest when talking about her sons and late husband. None of the trappings of wealth in her sprawling glass and concrete bungalow in Delhi--the MF Husain on the living room wall or Tyeb Mehta or Manu Parekh--seems to affect her.
The 60-year-old is as traditional as an Indian woman can get. Until her husband OP Jindal’s death in 2005, she didn’t even ask how much money he made. She was quite happy playing the role of the mother and wife.
“In our family, women do not venture out. We remain in charge of the house while the men take care of everything outside,” she says.
But the death of her husband in a helicopter crash in 2005 catapulted this mother of nine to the chairmanship of the $12-billion (revenue) OP Jindal group with extensive interests in power and steel. In practice, however, it is her four sons--Prithviraj, Sajjan, Ratan and Naveen--who run the businesses. But the matriarch is the glue that binds the entire family together and the inheritor of the late Jindal’s political constituency.
Savitri Jindal’s ascent to the top has proved lucky for the group. Its turnover has nearly quadrupled in the last five years; her sons are coming into their own, taking companies public, striking foreign alliances and making acquisitions.
But Savitri Jindal herself remains focused on her public life. She typically keeps away from the hurly burly of business and spends three days a week in Hisar constituency which she represents in the Haryana Legislative Assembly and where her late husband had begun his career five decades ago by setting up a bucket manufacturing unit.
OP Jindal was one of India’s greatest uninstructed engineers, his biographer Anil Dharker writes. He often would de- sign most of the machines at his factories himself. It is this engineering acumen that helped him set up a vast industrial empire within a few years. Jindal set up factories across India, including Jindal Ferro Alloys in Visakhapatnam and an integrated steel project in Chhattisgarh (then Madhya Pradesh).
Much later in life, OP Jindal brought this innovative thinking to succession planning. He devised a structure in which each of his four sons would hold one-fifth of the promoter shareholding in each company. He would hold another fifth. This meant each son would be in charge of his own slice of the empire, but have a share in his brothers’ businesses as well. The philosophy extended to the house that Jindal built in Delhi where there are four separate quarters linked by a common kitchen. All four sons (Sajjan when in Delhi) and their families stay in the same house.
With inputs from Forbes.com