Agility, Resilience and Perseverance is the name of the game: Varsha Chainani

Chainani, Sr. VP, Group Communications, Mahindra & Mahindra, outlined that mentoring and coaching mid-career women can help them propel their careers, in the 2nd edition of ‘Women Achievers Series’

e4m by Nafisa Shaheen
Published: Mar 11, 2021 9:00 AM  | 7 min read
Varsha Chainani

Automobile industry has been conventionally considered a male-dominated industry. Unlike earlier days, women, breaking the glass ceiling, have made a place for themselves in the industry. Today, women are not only a part of the industry but also lead it. One such leader is Varsha Chainani who is the Senior Vice President, Group Communications at Mahindra & Mahindra. 

With a professional career spanning more than three decades, Varsha is a Senior Marketing and Corporate Communications Specialist with rich experience in reputation management, strategic communications, media and analyst relations, crisis management, public affairs and corporate social responsibility. She has been part of organizations like Abbott Laboratories, IBM and IHCL where she has translated business strategies to target audiences through her strategic thinking and problem solving skills.

In today’s interview of the 2nd edition of ‘Women Achievers Series’, we speak to Varsha Chainani, Sr. VP, Group Communications at Mahindra & Mahindra about her journey, her inspirations, her views on gender disparity, pay gaps, women in leadership roles and more.

Edited Excerpts:-

How did you enter the communications industry? How has been your journey ever since?

I thrive on opportunities and challenges, and have the openness to learn, unlearn and re-learn. About 25 years ago, I took on the challenge of moving to Corporate Communications from an operations role.

Every part of my professional journey has given me a wealth of knowledge and the opportunity to hone my skills. Cathay Pacific helped me with the problem-solving skills, taught me to ‘own’ the company approach, and presented me with the passion to deal with people across cultures, ages and backgrounds and relate to them as equal. From operations, I moved to the Taj Group of Hotels and then when the Indian economy was opening up, I moved from operations to establishing Group communications function with them. Having a post-graduate degree in Marketing and Communications and the requisite skills, as well as experience in the organisation, truly helped me. I found my groove and there was no looking back thereafter. In 2000, IT was getting to be the sunrise industry with Y2K and as luck had it, IBM India came my way and with it the opportunity to work in another industry. Post 11 years, I moved to the Pharmaceutical industry with Abbott in India setting their Public Affairs function and now the Mahindra Group where again I have a huge canvas to work on. I enjoy my work, the companies I work with, the people I associate with, and take great pride in everything I do.  

What has been your biggest inspiration to serve the industry? Who has been your inspiration?

My professional inspirations have been people especially women who will stop at nothing to make a difference. I am driven to make a difference in the lives of people especially mid-career women, connect them to their growth, their potential and be unstoppable.

I have admired a lot of women and in the recent past, one of them has been Indira Nooyi who has impressed me with her ability to have it all. She epitomizes ‘reaching out to your own potential’ having juggled with her family life while using those very skills to strategise, lead a huge team globally, motivate and mentor employees and help her companies succeed.

What have been key learnings for you in the entire journey to work for the comms industry? 

My three decades of corporate experience has taught me to be truthful, authentic and credible always; prove your mettle with your actions and hard work; Listen; be better than the best of the man on the job; take pride in the work you do, and the fact that the company depends on it, and above all, through the highs and lows remain calm, patient and good humored.

2020 was a different year. What major changes did it bring into your life both professionally and personally? What were the major challenges faced?

2020 was a year that the world battled with Covid-19 pandemic and related lockdowns. The new normal is about living with ambiguity. Agility, resilience and perseverance, are the name of the game. Many businesses faced multitude of existential challenges and many re-focused business basics like cash, engaged employees and customers, preparedness and reputation.

These unprecedented times have brought in focus the power of communications which is being realized as a tool to reach out to all stakeholders. Employee safety is at the centre of everything we do. As communicators, our role is multi-fold and necessarily around creating a conducive environment for the businesses to re-boot and ‘thrive in this ambiguity’.

Our communications team at Mahindra’s has been working relentlessly, we had to be agile and think out-of-the-box during the lockdown, taking ownership of maintaining an authentic and thoughtful rhythm of communication, guidance, and wellbeing programs - helping live in these uncertain times. 

Personally, it gave me an opportunity to reflect on my life and get closer to my existential purpose of being.

How has the industry treated its women in the new normal? What paradigm shift have you noticed in the functioning with respect to women?

Work-life balance has really been a balancing act for women when it came to WFH. Hope the new normal opens up the floodgates for more conversation on gender inclusion and especially in our industry. Though for decades now, women form a larger part of the communication industry, there are very few women in leadership posts. Gender pay parity is another issue that we need to draw attention to. 

People have started appreciating leaders to have softer people skills, empathy, and understanding, which were traditionally classified as feminine traits. 

Why do we witness attrition in women's leadership as we go high above the ladder? 

While women enter the workforce in equal numbers they fall back as they climb up the management ladder. Research shows that maximum attrition in women is at middle management levels and pre-dominantly given that their organisations aren’t equipped to support them adequately during their life stage – getting married, moving towns, child care needs, etc.

Has there been any instance of gender bias in your journey? Is pay gap a major concern for the industry?

Gender-bias exists. Women take it in their stride to fight it and for some, it comes naturally. I have always been career focused and the task was what can I do, despite everything. 

Pay gap in our industry isn’t the largest of the issues. 

How did you convert a crisis into an opportunity for yourself, professionally?

I can think of two major points in my career that might be viewed as a crisis but have helped me professionally to develop myself. One was when I was to move from the operations side of management to communications. Still in a nascent stage, Corporate communications or PR was a fledgling function. I have been a part of its transformation to a strategic function that is responsible for the organisation's most important asset – its Reputation.

The other occasion was when I wanted to move out of being typecast as a ‘specific industry specialist’ into another industry. I created a tool-kit of skills and experiences that helped me transcend my career to be relevant across sectors and industries.

 

What are the steps that you would take to support other women in the industry and large?

I am a life and leadership coach. Coaching as well as mentoring mid-career women is something that I think can make a difference. It helps them in propelling their careers and push the boundaries that sometimes we all set for ourselves. This is a service I provide at no-cost for anyone who wants to make a difference in their own lives and unleash their potential. I am also a founding member of Global Women in PR in India whose objective is to promote women leadership in PR and communications. 

The content in this section is curated by the PR and Communications team. For any feedback kindly write to karan.bhatia@exchange4media.com.

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Intellectual capital is the new wealth of organizations: Dr Navneet Anand

In his keynote address at the e4m PR & Corp Comm’s 40 Under 40 Summit, Dr Anand, Founder & Director, GreyMatters Communications talks about his own experiences in the communications profession

By exchange4media Staff | Feb 2, 2023 2:59 PM   |   2 min read

Dr Navneet Anand

The world of PR and Corp Comm has evolved a lot over the years. It has become an integral part of a support system for brands. At the e4m PR & Corp Comm’s 40 Under 40 Summit, Dr Navneet Anand, Founder & Director, GreyMatters Communications & Consulting gave a keynote address and talked about the integrity and intricacies of being in the communications profession.

Through examples of his own experiences and how he began his journey in GreyMatters, he explained the challenges that come along in this profession and how you find meaning in what you do.

Anand talks about intellectual capital and how it is an extremely important part of the PR and Corp Comm industry. “The intellectual capital is the new wealth of organizations. There are many who look down upon our industry as something which is frivolous. We do come across many people questioning the integrity, the methodology, the ideas, and the campaigns. They think we only go to journalists, pay some money, and then come back and make merry with our partners (clients). That's not true."

"This gentleman called Carl Eric created a theory of knowledge capital, in which he spoke about customer capital, structural capital, and human capital. We have to realize that we are the human capital. It is our capital, our competence, our knowledge, our pride and our ideation, which will make organizations grow.”

He cited examples from his youth, his political campaigns and associations with companies like DuPont, which have shaped GreyMatters and brought in them a sense of integrity, confidence and pride for the communications profession.

Lastly, he says, “As millennials, you must understand, where we come from: starting with the classical PR, which was more people to people, personalized, defined audiences to conventional PR organization to organization and media-centric. And now today, in contemporary PR where your audiences are diverse, they want to communicate with the brand directly and so on and so forth. You have a huge challenge in front of you.”

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Kaizzen elevates Nikhil Pavithran and Prashant Subramanian

Pavithran has been promoted to Group President and Subramanian to the Head - North India

By exchange4media Staff | Feb 2, 2023 12:33 PM   |   3 min read

Kaizzen

In a bid to strengthen its leadership, Kaizzen, a leading integrated communications agency, announces the elevation of Nikhil Pavithran as Group President and Prashant Subramanian as the Head - North India. The announcement comes as the first step towards accomplishing the vision of expanding the agency’s national and international footprint. Earlier, Nikhil, based in Mumbai, was in-charge of operations in Western India while Prashant handled the Delhi market for Kaizzen. 

Nikhil and Prashant will continue to work closely with Vineet Handa, CEO, Kaizzen. Announcing the new leadership, Vineet Handa said, “I am delighted to announce the elevation of Nikhil Pavithran and Prashant Subramanian as Group President and Head North India, respectively. Both have been instrumental in Kaizzen’s meteoric rise, and I know that they will do everything in their power to grow Kaizzen to greater heights. I wish Nikhil and Prashant the very best for their new roles.” 

With Kaizzen for over 5 years, Nikhil joined the agency as Vice President in the Mumbai office and rose to the position of Group President in 2021 holding the global mandate for Kaizzen. 

Commenting on this development, Nikhil Pavithran said, “It is a matter of great honour for me to have been a part of Kaizzen’s growth over the last couple of years. I look forward to leading its talented team in increasing the company’s national and international footprint. As the Group President, I am excited to work towards Kaizzen’s holistic expansion, providing opportunities for its people, and diversification of the agency’s client portfolio across varied sectors.” With over 18 years of experience and working with various agencies across sectors, Nikhil brings with him a wide range of experience in brand communications and integrated marketing. 

On the other hand, Prashant joined Kaizzen in 2018 as Director Client Servicing and rose to become Vice President in 2021. In his current role, Prashant will hold the mandate for strengthening Kaizzen’s presence in Northern India. 

Speaking about this announcement, Prashant Subramanian said, “As the communication industry is subject to constant evolution, we aspire to leverage new-age technology and communication platforms to create newer opportunities Kaizzen’s Stakeholders. Their trust in us has been integral in this journey, and we look forward to their support in helping Kaizzen achieve greater heights in the future.” 

“It has been a privilege to be part of this journey with Kaizzen and I look forward to working closely with the management and team to expand our portfolio across North.”, Prashant added. 

Prashant has 17 years of experience in brand & product marketing and communications across various sectors.

The content in this section is curated by the PR and Communications team. For any feedback kindly write to karan.bhatia@exchange4media.com.

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Meet e4m PR & Corp Comm's Top 100 Influential Game Changers 2022

The achievers were chosen from over 250 nominations

By exchange4media Staff | Feb 1, 2023 9:30 PM   |   1 min read

e4m

The 4th edition of exchange4media’s ‘Top 100 Influential Game Changers 2022’ list was announced on February 1, 2023, in a grand event at The Leela Ambience Gurugram. The list recognised and honoured 100 + people from the PR and Corp Comm industry who have changed the dynamics of the industry through their hard work, vision, leadership skill and clout. 

The PR and corporate communications industry is an ever-evolving one. It navigates not only changing trends in communication and technology but also strives to roll out strategies that cater to a wide spectrum of audience. It is, therefore, only just to recognise and acknowledge how PR and corporate communication professionals have helped fire up brand images in the time of crisis, led by examples and are role models in their respective areas of expertise. 

The top 100 awardees were chosen and shortlisted from over 250 nominations received following a robust internal auditing process by exchange4media’s editorial team. 

This is a list and not a ranking. 

Here are the Top 100 Influential Game Changers:

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Announcing the trailblazers of e4m PR & Corp Comm’s 40 Under 40 2022

The winners were chosen from over 120+ nominations

By exchange4media Staff | Feb 1, 2023 9:30 PM   |   1 min read

40 under 40

Exchange4media group has unveiled the winners of the 4th edition of the e4m PR & Corp Comm 40 Under 40 Awards. These awards identified the next-generation leaders (professionals, entrepreneurs, game changers, achievers) - under 40 years of age – in the communication industry who, with their undaunting zeal and unflinching dedication, overcame all odds to become trailblazers.

Braving the odds and rising above has been the mantra that Public Relations and Corporate Communications professionals have sworn by during time of crisis. This prestigious and elite award is an attempt to recognise the fundamental role played by communication professionals in order to firewall a brand’s image.

The winners were chosen from over 120+ nominations and were selected by the members of the jury based on a number of parameters, including leadership/ mentorship skills, such statements of accomplishments as growth and recognitions, future potential and proven contribution to the industry.

This is a list and not a ranking.

Here's the complete list:

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Gear up for the 4th edition of e4m PR and Corp Comm 40 Under 40 Summit & Awards 2022

The day-long summit will be followed by a glittering award ceremony on February 1, 2023

By exchange4media Staff | Jan 31, 2023 10:31 AM   |   2 min read

PR & Corporate Communications 30 Under 30

The wait is over! On February 1, 2023, over 40 professionals (under the age of 40) of the PR and Corp Comm industry will recognise and honour the next generation PR and Communication leaders, who are shaping the industry through their forward looking vision. The 4th edition of the annual e4m PR & Corp Comm 40 Under 40 Summit and Awards 2022 that will be held on-ground at Leela Ambience, Gurugram, is going to be an event to remember.

The day-long summit will bring together stalwarts and experts from across the PR and Corp Comm fraternity to deliberate, discuss and engage in enlightening discussions and discourses on relevant topics, issues and subjects. The theme of this year's summit is “The Era of Millennials in PR” and the agenda features four panel sessions and five keynote addresses.

Adfactors PR is the event's 'Presenting Partner'. The 'Powered By' partners of the event are Hill+Knowlton Strategies, Kaizzen and Candour Communications, and 'Gold Partners' are Concept BIU, 80 dB Communications and Godrej.

 The panel sessions will delve into topical topics, like:

 

  1. Importance of Digital PR in brand promotion – Speakers: Anand Prakash, Senior Group Head, Adfactors PR; Akanksha Jain, Head- Public Relations & Corporate Communications, Bharatpe; Kritika Padhy, Account Director , 80 dB communications; Bhawna Gupta, Director, Client Relations, Hill+Knowlton Strategies; Moderator: Ruhail Amin, Sr. Editor BW Businessworld & Exchange4media

 

  1. What has been the success of PR agencies when they expand into regional market – Speakers: Nikita Nanda, Vice President, Adfactors PR; Karishma Sain, CEO, Goodword Media; Naina Jha, Associate Director, Grey Matters; Moderator: Rishu Singh, Senior Manager, Corporate Communications, Fortis Healthcare Limited

 

  1. How to make the youth industry ready? - Speakers: Ayushi Arora, CEO and Founder, Media Corridor; Madhvi Chaudhary, PR Manager, Media Mic; Neha Gupta, AVP, Value360Communication;

Moderator: Shrabasti Mallik, exchange4media

 

  1. Rules of engagement between PR and the brands, managing each other expectation – Speakers: Gehna Sawhney, Director - Communications, India & Europe, Pitney Bowes; Lovina Gujral, COO, Candour Communication; Tehseen Zaidi, Head Communications, Syngenta; Moderator: Ruchika Jha, exchange4media

 

The keynote speakers will include Dr Navneet Anand, Founder & Director, GreyMatters Communications & Consulting; Pooja Pathak, Co-Founder and Director, Media Mantra; Atul Raja, Executive Vice President, Global Marketing. Wadhwani Foundation; Sanjeev Handa, Sr. Vice President and Head of PR & Communications, Maruti Suzuki Ltd; and Atul Ahluwalia, Founding Partner, First Partners. There will also be a firside chat session featuring Rohit Bansal, Group Head of Communications, Reliance Industries Limited.

The event will simulcast on YouTube and exchange4media's social media handles.

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Cuemath appoints Lipika Kapil as Director & Head of Global PR-Comm

Prior to this, Lipika managed communications for Koo

By exchange4media Staff | Jan 23, 2023 2:55 PM   |   2 min read

Lipika

Cuemath has announced the appointment of Lipika Kapil as Director and Head-Global PR & Communications. Based in Bengaluru, she will set up the communications function and lead the PR and communications efforts for Cuemath across key markets - India,  MENA and the US. She will report to Varun Jha, Chief Marketing Officer, Cuemath.

Prior to joining Cuemath, Lipika  managed communications for Koo.

On the appointment, she said, “EdTech is one of the exciting industries in the startup sector and I am thrilled to be part of a mission and vision driven brand like ‘Cuemath’. What excites me the most is Cuemath’s sharp focus on teaching math as a life skill, beyond academic excellence and its ‘student-centred’ learning approach which offers a unique opportunity for storytelling. Another exciting aspect of the role will be to anchor communications across international markets and power the brand’s marketing initiatives that aim to take Cuemath closer to our customers across the globe. It's my pleasure to join the business at this juncture and play a critical part as Cuemath commences the next phase of its journey.”

Varun Jha, Chief Marketing Officer, Cuemath said, “As Cuemath aims for global expansion, we see Marketing and Brand Communications as one of the important business pillars for the company. Therefore, the role of PR and communications becomes more important than ever. With Lipika’s experience of managing PR and communications for a variety of brands across industries, her role will be beneficial in designing and implementing PR strategies for Cuemath across markets. She, along with her team, will also support strategic brand and marketing initiatives as the organization expands further. I am delighted to have Lipika on board and wish her a fantastic stint at Cuemath.”

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Rozelle Laha joins HT Media as Head – Corp Comm and Corp Affairs

Prior to this, Laha was Associate Director – Corporate and Strategic Communications at CoinSwitch

By exchange4media Staff | Jan 20, 2023 11:55 AM   |   1 min read

Laha

Rozelle Laha has joined HT Media Ltd as Head – Corporate Communications and Corporate Affairs. In this role, she will be leading communications and corporate affairs for the group.  

Laha is a business journalist turned communications specialist with over 12 years of industry experience. She has worked as a journalist with several publications, including Hindustan Times, Mint, The Ken, Fortune India, and others, and managed communications mandates across FMCG and emerging technology spaces.

Prior to this, Laha was Associate Director of Corporate and Strategic Communications at CoinSwitch.

 

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