It was a bustling evening. The first Starbucks café had opened its doors at Koramangala in Bengaluru. A charming young lady made an unobtrusive entry in a business suit. She smiled and politely greeted guests, but maintained a low profile all through the evening. At 33, Avani Saglani Davda is the youngest CEO in the Tata group. Later, we caught up with her over a pre-fixed telephonic chat.
She is punctual and calls at the specified time. Her tone is crisp, but warm. But she wears her success lightly. “My mother taught me how to stay grounded. I was involved in student counsel activities in my schooldays and have always led an active life. But my mother made it clear that irrespective of my role outside my home, once I return home, I am just a daughter to them. So even now, I may be a CEO at work, but I slip into different roles once I get home.”
Avani is clearly not enamoured by her success. She sees her current role “as a fantastic opportunity and a responsibility” and feels truly blessed to be spearheading this joint venture. “I have been with the group for 12 years, and in all humility, while I do respect my position, I’m not the only young CEO in the Starbucks group. Even my counterpart in China is very young,” says Avani.
Her success story is simple but inspirational. Avani joined Tata Group as a Tata Administrative Service Probationer in 2002 after graduating from Narsee Monjee Institute in Mumbai that same year. She soon rose to the post of GM, which she held for five years before being handpicked by R.K. Krishna Kumar, the chairman of Tata Global Beverages, to work as his executive assistant. Avani refers to him as a mentor who nurtured her for a bigger role within the group. “It was a very good opportunity as it gave me a chance to see the organisation from a different light. I was looking for a challenge at that time and this worked well for me,” she says.
Avani took over as CEO at Tata Starbucks Limited at Starbucks Corporation since September 2012. Currently, Starbucks operates 31 cafes across Mumbai, Delhi, Pune and Bengaluru.
At a time when it’s fashionable amongst Gen Y to change jobs every couple of years, Avani has steadfastly remained with the Tata group. “I come from a simple family and am not driven by economic compulsions to work. I can quit anytime I feel dissatisfied. I’m somebody who will work with an organisation as long as I enjoy what I do,” she says.
But her ride though smooth, had its share of challenges. Avani’s son Param was only one year two-months-old when she joined Mr. Krishnakumar as EA. “I had the backing of my family and my mother-in-law was a huge help. Also the organisation understands the challenges of having women leaders at the helm. They believe it is important for people to lead a satisfied and peaceful personal life. I was fortunate to work under a female boss in my earlier years and was given flexi-time options. In fact, even Mr Krishnakumar is someone who respects family values and encourages employees to bond with their families,” she adds.
But make no mistake; there is a life that extends beyond work. “My weekends are for my son Param and husband Vishal. I switch off the phone and focus on my family. I always find the time to attend my seven-year-old son’s PTA meetings and other cultural activities. I like spending time with Param because he is energetic and full of life. I love reading and have inculcated the same habit in him. So I read to him on weekends. My husband and I bond over music and theatre and as a family our holidays are sacrosanct. I ensure that I take a week-long vacation each year and love planning my holidays in advance,” she shares.
Avani believes that it is important to see life from a larger perspective and while she is clear she wants to see the Starbucks brand firmly entrenched in India, she also wants to lead a more meaningful life as she believes that success is transient. That sense of balance is what makes this young lady stand apart.