This International Women’s Day, we take our hats off to India’s former Chair and Managing Director of Hindustan Petroleum Corporation Limited Nishi Vasudeva. We celebrate Vasudeva’s rejection of preferential treatment or positive differentiation which saw her become the first female Chair in the history of the resources sector in India.
By Shuchita Dua Dullu
According to the World Economic Forum Gender Gap Index, only five per cent of working women in India make it to senior leadership positions. In comparison, the global average is twenty per cent.
India’s ranking in the index that covers 135 countries is a sorry one; 113. However, surveys such as the one conducted by Randstad India, shines a ray of hope, with the claim that 43 per cent of Indian organisations believe that women in leadership positions is a key metric for success. India’s recent change to Company Law legislation now makes it mandatory for all companies to have at least one female director on a Board.
Prior to this mandate however, few women managed to beat all odds, with the exception of one particular stand-out performer in the Oil and Gas industry in India – former Chair and Managing Director Nishi Vasudeva; an internationally acclaimed leader and the first female to Chair Hindustan Petroleum Corporation Limited (HPCL) in India.
With the exception of Vasudeva, there is currently no female board directors within the top three oil PSUs in India – Indian Oil Corporation Ltd (IOCL), Bharat Petroleum Corporation Ltd (BPCL), and HPCL. Globally, senior management in the resources sector remain scarce. Two notable exceptions include Maria das Gracas Silva of the USD 144 billion Brazilian oil exploration major Petrobras and also Yasmine Hilton, whom headed Shell’s operations in India.
With a background in Economics from Delhi University along with a MBA from IIM Calcutta, and with over 38 years’ experience in the petroleum industry, Vasudeva, born in 1956, first rejected a job offer from HPCL during a campus recruitment drive in IIM Calcutta. After completing her internship with HPCL, Vasudeva says she was not offered her role of preference.
Vasudeva kick-started her career in petroleum with Engineers India Ltd; however, HPCL came knocking again a year later, and the past three decades saw Vasudeva climb the ranks.
Prior to assuming responsibility as Chairman and Managing Director, Vasudeva served on the HPCL Board as Director of Marketing and was responsible for pan India sales – B2B & B2C segments, Brand building, Efficient Supply Chain Management, Infrastructure Development and leading HPCL foray into new business lines.
Vasudeva was selected for the top job at HPCL from among seven potential candidates, with her appointment being both reflective of her organisational achievements as well as a drive for Government-owned organisations to inspire female employees by appointing deserving colleagues in highly visible senior management roles.
HPCL is the fourth-largest in India by revenue, making Vasudeva unquestionably one of India’s most influential in the resources sector. Direct competitors include IOCL, Reliance Industries and BPCL. HPCL operates and maintains three oil refineries, including one joint venture, 127 depots and terminals, 45 LPG bottling plants, and approximately 13,200-plus fuel retail outlets.
As Chair and MD, Vasudeva led key business transformation and organisational restructuring projects; steering HPCL through periods of uncertainty. Vasudeva has been described by colleagues as the consummate professional; she was known for eschewing preferential treatment or positive differentiation on the basis of gender throughout her career.
Vasudeva’s achievements are many. She played a key role in the development of several high impact strategies as well as in design and implementation of mission critical initiatives at HPCL which helped HPCL achieve an industry lead position in terms of growth. Vasudeva was responsible for selling 30 million tonnes of petrol, diesel and lubricants during her tenure. Her focus on automation and Information Technology upgrades – most notably the LPG terminal upgrade in Mangalore, were all aimed towards reducing operational inefficiencies.
Within a few of months of Vasudeva taking over the reins at HPCL in early 2014, Brent crude prices, which were about USD 110 a barrel, started their downward journey, and by March 2016, it had crashed to about USD 39 per barrel. To counter the continuous fall in the global price of crude oil Vasudeva implanted an Integrated Margin Management (IMM) platform to maximise margins from every barrel of crude oil sold.
Vasudeva also played an instrumental role in strengthening the company’s primary distribution infrastructure, commissioning new depots and revamping facilities.
Like its direct competitors HPCL benefited from the freeing up of diesel to market prices, and direct benefit transfer for LPG distribution. During Vasudeva’s tenure as MD, HPCL’s liquid petroleum gas (LPG) bottling plant produced 1,554 LPG cylinders per hour in June 2015, compared to 1,140 in June 2009; reducing operating cost from INR 573 to INR 520 per metric tonne.
Vasudeva’s reign also saw HPCL post a 1.9 per cent net profit margin to clock INR 3,862.74 Crore net profit, in the 2016 fiscal year. Also, its consolidated profit hit of INR 4,929.41 crore from INR 1,498.58 crore in the year prior. HPCL reported a CAGR of 62.2 per cent in net profit – outperforming its competitors: BPCL, at 41.1 per cent and IOCL, at 21.8 per cent. This was even though BPCL clocked 3.4 per cent and IOCL posted 2.4 per cent net profit margins, much higher than HPCL’s numbers…
Perhaps Vasudeva will best be remembered by former colleagues for creating a team that had control over cross-functional processes which maximised margins across the value chain, capturing opportunities and reducing margin leakages by introducing the concept of net corporate realisation.
This team, comprised of heads of retail, operations, distribution, refinery and IT, among others, worked together to gauge approximate quantities of prospective sales. The said analysis allowed the team to determine the exact quantum of products required at each depot and terminal. Based on accurate sales forecasting, the team was able to calculate backwards to know how much crude they needed to buy.
During her tenure, HPCL increased its market share by 0.31 per cent to reach 21.25 per cent of the 51,870 petrol pump outlets across the country within the 2015-16FY. In addition, in India, petroleum product sales grew 9.3 per cent in comparison to the previous year.
Vasudeva made plenty of headlines over her career, featuring as the Most Powerful Women in Asia Pacific by FORTUNE magazine at fifth position in 2014 and Business Today ranked her among the Most Powerful Women in Indian Business for three consecutive years. Vasudeva is the only female Indian to be awarded the prestigious Platt’s – Global CEO of the Year in the energy sector.
In acknowledgement of her contribution to the resources sector India, Vasudeva was presented the prestigious SCOPE award in the Individual Leadership Category by the President of India for Excellence and Outstanding Contribution to Public Sector Management for 2014.
While Vasudeva retired in 2016, we have no doubt her legacy will continue to inspire young female graduates to find their place and make their mark – wherever and whoever they may be.
Happy 2018 International Women’s Day ladies!