Mini's Momentum

One Clariant

Mini's momentum. Everyday life resumes quickly when one returns from a long trip; it hits like a whirlwind. This turns out to be the case for the woman in the pumpkin-colored blouse, whose plane from Paris has just landed at Mumbai's International Airport. She has the style and the attitude of a globe-trotting lady who likes to be noticed: sunglasses pushed back in raven-black hair, chin resolutely stretched out to greet the morning.

Mini Nair has numerous messages waiting for her in the mailbox of her smartphone and she listens to them as she sinks back into the seat of the car, surrounded by the familiar chaos of the streets. Hooting motor rickshaws and taxis, heaving buses and whole families on scooters. Most of the messages are the usual office gossip, as she calls it. The stuff that is always circulated in a global company where decision-makers pop up at every level.

In the Paris office, her international boss, Andy, has news about a French-Indian joint venture project. A colleague from Paris asks if she could be at an upcoming appointment in Slovenia in order to possibly initiate a very promising business deal. In New Mexico, USA, there are a few details about regulatory aspects of the products indented by pharmaceutical companies in India. And here in Mumbai, her Indian boss, Ketan, would like to hear how it went in Paris.

So the woman in the back of the white car immediately decides to return the calls in order to get a clearer picture of things. But waiting until the driver brings her to somewhere with a landline could last the good part of an hour at this time of the day. But she knows this Moloch of a megacity better than anyone else. It might get on her nerves and she might curse it regularly, but she never despairs.

Mini Nair was born into this seething mass and isn't going to leave it voluntarily. »This city created me,« she says, »it is my spirit and my energy. Mumbai gets to everyone, invokes a reaction but never lets anyone give up.« And the building sites between time zones, that seem to be almost incessantly underway – in fact, quite correctly: »That is the best thing about my job. I love it!«

Dealing with issues as they arise across all borders, contacts, and customers, caring for and maintaining alliances: That is just part of the description of Mini Nair's job as Global Topic Expert & Sales Manager. She is said to be quite talented in this job. This is because she is never rigid or dogmatic, but appears conciliatory and flexible. Therefore, all parties concerned quickly get the impression they are positively and directly linked with her.

Strategic empathy is also part of the game, when the qualified chemist worries about the product turnover in her business line. »Medical Specialties«: this includes tubes, canisters, and stoppers as well as desiccants that protect the drugs from moisture. A business line where a significant increase is anticipated.

For nine years Nair carried out a similar mandate for Süd-Chemie. After the acquisition of the company she was the first face of Clariant Chemicals (India) Ltd in her business division. It was more modern and with more amenities. The people in the headquarters continue to be engaged in driving change forward. Dare more, wait less; higher efficiency through flatter hierarchies. And last but not least, well educated women who are keen to take on challenges.

»I think differently and creatively,« she says emphatically, »my out-of-the-box thinking and my determination to get things done, however great the obstacles may be.«

So what is still traditional here, and what is modern? Mini Nair prefers to switch between the two, depending on mood and situation. Just like her appearance: One day she might wear a folksy blouse from the Kashmir region and then the next a designer shirt with faded jeans. Sometimes she finds herself humming a kitschy Bollywood tune and at others she'll sing old Beatles favorites. »Yesterday, all my troubles seemed so far away...«

And when she needs time for reflection she takes advantage of the many options available: a Hindu temple, a mosque, a Sufi shrine, an old synagogue. She doesn't believe in any one God she says, »But I do believe in the power of work.« In this sense her postmodern life is a cornucopia of cultures and styles, in which the qualified chemist picks and chooses: »We are less dogmatic about this than anywhere else in the world.«

Definitely further along than 15 or 20 years ago. Whilst the West was mesmerized by China, the subcontinent quietly developed into one of the twelve most important industrial nations in the world. With annual growth rates of between four and nine percent and a new, predominantly urban, middle class, which in ten years is estimated to represent 130 million households. This represents not just buying-power but also a middle class that is receptive to the rest of the world.

Mini Nair is already in the second generation of this middle class, and she has a serious hobby. She writes, as often as she can find time for it. Her first book was a children's story, which was followed by a biography of the Indian pharmacologist B. V. Patel. Then there was a novel in 2011 »The Fourth Passenger«: a story of four women who overcome fundamentalism and riots during the clashes between the Hindus and the Muslims in Bombay in 1992. In addition she writes a blog (http://minieatsinbombay.blogspot.com), in which she can be almost anything: socialist from a sense of justice, fashion icon, poet, patriot, feminist, and passionate cook.

Colleagues and lecturers, companies and publishing houses: these are all very different worlds that she flits between, but this isn't a problem for her. On the contrary: »As an author I can read the subtext of what isn't said in negotiations. That's a distinct advantage for me in my job.« And what does it mean to her apart from the salary? »A platform for me to prove myself, to express myself... effectively where I can be myself.«

Bom Bahia, good bay – this is what the Portuguese sailors are believed to have named the area with the seven islands off Maharashtra's coast. The marshland between the islands was reclaimed and later the British were to found a complete city on it, from where they shipped what effectively turned into gold to the rest of the world: ginger, silk, saffron and tea. The first global trade was with very one-sided preferential treatment. Over time this has grown into the largest city in the subcontinent, with more than 18 million inhabitants. This is where the heartbeat of the world's largest democracy beats: 1.2 billion people in 36 states including union territories. Only now it's no longer spices, but software, pharmaceuticals, and entertainment that drive the pulse.

The chemical engineer T. N. C. Nair also tried his luck when he moved here in the 60s with his wife. From Kerala, the state with the green landscape and red soil, he brought with him an excellent education and the original spirit of the south. He passed both on to his daughter, who grew up in central Bombay with all the privileges of a son: school, college, university. A »pampered only child,« she admits with a laugh in order to deflect possible criticism. »My father taught me to break all the barriers,« she says. »He was also the person who said to me, the world is your oyster...«

The early years come flooding back when Mini Nair travels through her old stomping ground of South Mumbai (her index finger still bears the mark that she was given that morning when her vote for Maharashtra's regional assembly was registered). She points out the »Metro« and »Regal« cinemas with their art deco facades, where she saw her first films on Sunday afternoons, her favorites being those of Charlie Chaplin. Or Kyani & Co, the spacious café with the wooden framed vitrines that the Parsis (followers of an old Persian religion) opened more than a century ago: College girls with a few rupees could sit around here for hours over their masala chai. 

And on to the promenade on Marine Drive with its numerous benches where she devoured so many books from Dickens to Dostoyevsky, caressed by the gentle sea breeze. Then on to the Rhythm House in Kala Ghoda, the first port of call for every record from Pink Floyd to movie soundtracks. Her taste has always been »eclectic,« she explains, before she dons the headset. As if it weren't already abundantly clear that this is her guiding principle.

From an early age Mini Nair lived in numerous worlds, a true Mumbaikar, which has given her the ability to switch levels so effortlessly today. And as for languages: first English then Marathi, then four further Indian idioms and a smattering of French. She seems to be perfectly cut out for India's »new way«, which aims at breaking down barriers. It is a path to the future but at the same time harks back to the maxim of Mahatma Gandhi: »Think globally, act locally.« But the city in which she now spends the vast majority of her time is no longer on the peninsula. It lies east of it.

Navi Mumbai, new Mumbai: founded in the 70s under the direction of a state company. On the mainland beyond Thane Creek, one of the world's largest planned cities was built, intended to relieve some of the density of the population of Mumbai, which was full to bursting. It has separate city districts and industrial parks for sunrise industries, which are accessible via two interchanges and several railway lines.

Vashi quickly developed into the most popular district. With its tree-lined streets and small parks it offers a safe, nevertheless lively retreat. This is where Mini Nair and her husband, who works at a bank, have set up home with their eight-year-old twin daughters Aaliyah and Aaria, and a household help. The day often begins there in the dark when Mini gets ready to jog in the park.

After breakfast, mother and daughters jump into the car that is waiting for them in the street. The girls are dropped off at the Delhi Public School, a vast institution with riding arenas and British-style hockey pitches, whilst their mother is driven further northwards to Airoli. There, in one of the industrial parks, is where she works: She has a separate office on the eighth floor, which is full of dynamic open-plan offices and laboratories. On her desk there are a few paintings and pieces of craftwork made by her kids next to her thermos. From the window, the foothills of the Western Ghat are visible, before which lies a settlement of improvised huts.

Four men form her staff. Together they account for the diversity of faith that is tradition in the Indian republic. At best, groups with the same objectives could only benefit from this diversity. »If you respect people's dignity, teamwork becomes incredibly finely tuned,« she believes. »You don't make the person at the bottom of the hierarchy aware of his position, nor do you make the person at the top of the hierarchy aware of his position. This egalitarian way of dealing with people makes teamwork totally undogmatic.«

However, a lot of the time it is difficult for her to maintain her noble outlook. This is when everything moves too slowly, with too much bureaucracy and red tape. At the end of the day – and of the quarter – it is not a case of gender or belief, as she knows, but about targets and the bottom line. What is fundamentally important for her: »I would prefer to be remembered as the lady who broke a new turnover limit rather than just a woman.« 

However, there is still another India, and Mini Nair finds it of great importance that her visitors get acquainted with it. The car hardly takes up speed as it negotiates the potholes of the small streets beyond Navi Mumbai towards the south of Maharashtra. It drives along the gently undulating Sahyadhri Hills and through towns on the coast that were founded by the French and the Portuguese. Green fields with the lushest rice in the country, white beaches populated with happy young people.

It takes almost four hours to reach Murud, a sleepy little town by the sea. This is where Mini and her husband had their modest house built over ten years ago by a German architect. In the center of a slope covered with mango trees and coconut palms, some of which were uprooted in the last storm. The lady of the house wants to check just how many these are.

»This is where I would like to put my feet up one day,« she says. Until then it's a question of good, honest, hard work. To be carried out by them all, when they are there for the weekend (and not just relaxing), as well as primarily by Sandeep and Supriya – the long-established couple who manage three fields further on and who take care of the house and the orchard throughout the year.

It is precisely such farmers, with their lives of hard labor, who contribute to the national well-being. Thanks to them India is still able to provide enough food for its population and so retain its independence. In addition, her twins get a taste of a modest lifestyle here from time to time. In Vashi they are too often caught up in a bubble of luxury, »and I'm not particularly happy about that.«

This time only three trees were blown down on the plantation. The lady of the house can visit Sandeep and Supriya with a light heart and leave them some money for their hard work, and also admire the refrigerator, which is the magnificent new arrival in the little house. Supriya beams as she relates how she no longer has to bother her neighbors when her husband asks for a glass of cold water in the evening. The academic in blue jeans thinks this is also a sign of the times. But there are millions and millions of Supriyas and Sandeeps who now want to have electrical appliances and televisions in their homes. A domestic market is therefore growing which will be highly interesting for many companies and sectors: like an elephant that suddenly rises at a secret signal.

Mini Nair is wearing her pumpkin-colored blouse again, as she once more runs through Mumbai’s Airport terminal a couple of days later. The plane for Ahmedabad, the city in the state of Gujarat with seven million, already leaves shortly before six in the morning. That is no problem for the declared »High Performer«: The main thing is that she can stay in contact with the resident pharmaceutical company for which her company supplies various pharmaceutical packaging solutions.

An important customer, she notes, and lets her long fingers slide over the smartphone again until she finds the page about the Ashram where Gandhi lived for 12 long years. It was long ago developed into a memorial in Ahmedabad. She wants to sit on the bench there between the buildings and meditate again today before business begins. Because here, peace and tranquility reign that could be infectious. »This is my favorite place,« she says while she shows the photo. Then she disappears in the direction of the gate, with the confident stride of a lady who wants to make a difference.

»Think globally, act locally.« This is part of Mini's momentum, just as it is the momentum of the country that can no longer be stopped. »We have our own spirit and we fear nothing,« she says with palpable pride, »we are the creeping tiger.«

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