Lead Like a Girl: MBD Group MD on Business Expansion and Social Perceptions

She always wanted twins, and so when her first son was born 19 years ago, she quickly had another. Even today, Monica Malhotra Kandhari, managing director of the MBD group, loves talking about her children.

“The elder one is doing his degree in English literature; he’s a ferocious reader. The younger one, who is in class 12, is the more balanced and sorted of the two! Both are very independent kids,” gushes the proud mum.

It is interesting to note that no matter how wealthy or successful some women are in their professions, family continues to be their top priority. Today, Monica heads one of India’s most reputed publishing houses with interests in educational tools and technology, luxury retail, five-star hotels and real estate, but her corporate leadership has an empathetic quality about it and her role as head of her household is intact.

“Motherhood has made me superwoman,” she says.

Monica Malhotra Kandhari with sister and mother.jpgWith her roots in Punjab, Monica studied in girls’ convents in Delhi and joined her father in his books business when she was 15. “I wasn’t an avid reader but I observed everything – how my father handled his business, pre-press and post-press functions, accounting, marketing… I spent time in each department,” recalls Monica.

She commissioned and published her first book – a picture dictionary, which also won an award – when she was just 18. Today, MBD owns almost 10,000 titles, some of which are the bibles in their domains.

Coming from a society where women were not expected, or even allowed, to work, Monica gives her father Ashok Malhotra great credit for encouraging his two daughters to take on the mantle after him.

Monica Malhotra Kandhari and Sonica Malhotra.jpg“I had that fire to prove my mettle as a girl,” she says. After joining her father in his printing-press business, the father-daughter duo expanded to hospitality (they own the Radisson Blu MBD hotels in Noida and Ludhiana), paper mills, manufacturing, two luxury malls, and are now setting up fully serviced apartments.

After her father’s death in December 2009, Monica and her younger sister Sonica handle the entire group with over 5,500 employees. Interestingly, Monica has designed the hotels herself, and her interiors have won two awards.

Both sisters are married to two brothers – “Why look very far?” says Monica nonchalantly of their arranged marriages – and have two kids each. “We handle different functions in the business,” explains Monica. She constantly pushes the company towards innovation in education – whether it is the use of virtual reality in their educational apps, 3D printing, robotics, or assessment and teacher-training portals.

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Having partnered with the Indian government as the official printer in 15 states, and with a nationwide presence in South Africa and Sri Lanka, Monica says MBD’s differentiator is that, with a huge investment in e-learning, they are a step ahead of the curve.

“I see what today’s kids are doing, and I think ahead. We have to move fast to keep up with them,” she explains.

Believing that women in conservative societies need to ensure that their families don’t feel neglected while they pursue their ambitions, the 45-year-old has reached a point of self-knowledge and confidence in her personal and professional life: “I look eye-to-eye at myself in the mirror. I have earned my space.”

First published in the February issue of eShe magazine. Read it for free here.